I first learned to ride a bike at my cousin’s house when I was twelve or so. My aunt and uncle lived in a quiet part of Surrey where we could take it in turns to ride our cousin’s vehicle. We never had bikes as children, either because London was dangerous (a child in my class was knocked down and killed) or it might have been cost and the lack of a second-hand market. So I learned to ride on that quiet Surrey cul-de-sac and never did the cycling proficiency test all my classmates went on: in fact I never actually owned a bike until I was an adult.
I’ve had very much an on-off relationship with bikes. I’ve only once owned a new one, otherwise going through a variety of second-hand models all of which succumbed sooner or later to some mechanical malaise which I was unable to fix. Still, over the years I’ve got better at maintenance and so it was that today I got my son’s much-abused black beast out of the shed and began to fit it for the road.
It’s a mystery what happens to these vehicles: somehow or another he manages to flatten the tyre without causing a puncture (our theory is that by means of violent jerks he forces the air out of the valve) usually only a day or so after I’ve fixed the damned thing. Anyhoo, I consider the bike to be now morally mine after all the work I’ve put into it, and today I pumped the tyres up again, adjusted the saddle, gave the whole thing a good oiling and off I jolly well went.
Riding a bike is like a long-standing relationship. No matter how long you’ve been apart, the moment you come into contact again you just take up from where you left off. I swung my leg over the crossbar, grasped the handlebars and set off: my legs pumped just as they always had, my body balanced itself in the old familiar way; and in short my bike and I had a brief but very invigorating cycle ride. Loughborough is pretty good for cycling as there are lots of paths and it’s fairly flat – so I shall be Out and About on a daily cycle ride from now on, consulting my trusty cycle map as I go.