Wednesday, 22 January 2014

As easy as falling off a bike?

Patched-up and back on the bike
You know when something is 'as easy as falling off a bike'? To be honest, it probably isn't. In my experience, very little is that easy. As a born again bicyclist I have turned toppling into an art form. I have fallen A-over-T so many times that I scarcely know which way is up.
The first few falls happened, rather embarrassingly, in exactly the same place and at roughly the same time of day. My early rides followed an eight mile circle from the house. I kept doing the same circuit until I no longer needed to have a lie down when I'd finished.
The majority of that route is on country lanes with just one part where the lanes meet an A-road onto which I needed to turn right. The problem was, reaching this road normally meant coming to a standstill, waiting for a gap in the traffic. And because I was turning right, I didn't have a kerb from which to push off when it was time to get going again. The half-pedal, half-scoot technique resulted, predictably, in a wobbly collapse.
On successive occasions the same group of women picked me up, dusted me down and saw me back on my bike. The third time it happened, they explained that they were on their way to the nearby pub: "Why don't you give up, love, and come for a drink with us?"
I was sorely tempted. In fact, I was sore all over.
My cycling partner is the most positive person I've met. She has been known to greet a near vertical climb with a delighted "Oh look, isn't this great? Think how brilliant it will be on the way back."
Angie has a similar approach to falling off a bike. As far as she's concerned, while you still have a pulse, there is a bright side deserving to be surveyed. Last year I took a tumble while out riding with her, having unwisely attempted to brake on a patch of loose gravel. Realising she could no longer hear me panting, she turned back and found me wedged under my bike at the side of the path.
"Oh gosh, weren't you lucky that the nettles were there?", she exclaimed.
Me, mystified and stinging: "In what sense is that lucky?"
"Well, they broke your fall!"
A repair job
Those and many other falls normally happened at low speed and left me shaken but unscathed. I finally came to grief just days before the London to Brighton ride last year.

Riding back from work I was pedalling as fast as my legs would spin, marvelling at the way that the wet road shone in the evening sunshine and singing a Queen song at the top of my voice. Stupidly, I forgot the sharp bend and only remembered that the shiny wet road would afford very little grip when I bounced across it sideways. 
I pushed my poor broken bicycle home, covered in mud and bleeding profusely. Hearing the sobs as I reached the garden gate my lovely husband took the bike, ran a bath and inspected the damage to see whether patching me up was going to be within the scope of our first aid kit. 
The mechanics at my local bike shop knew how hard I'd been training and pledged to get my bike roadworthy in time for the weekend. They worked on it while the shop was shut and true to their word, the bike was ready to ride. When we set off for London though, I still couldn't bend my leg past 45 degrees and was insisting that "It doesn't hurt very much at all."

I fell off at the London end of the ride, too. I'd been stuck, along with hundreds of other riders, at a busy junction. Each time the lights changed a few more cyclists would stream away, the rest of us inching our way forward.  Somehow, I'd ended up in the middle of the throng. No kerb again. So when it was my turn to creep forward once more, I fell sideways. It confused the hell out of the first aid marshal standing a few feet away on the pavement, to find that by the time he reached me, I was already bandaged.

This year I'm training for an even bigger challenge, the Ride London 100. I've chosen a sport to which I am manifestly unsuited and can't stop myself. Why do I do it? I have absolutely no idea. My only certainty is that I'll keep picking myself up, dusting myself down and getting back on the bike.

If found on the ground, please put me back on my bike.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

A cycling anthem from Morecambe & Wise

There has been so much rain in recent weeks I have been seriously considering turning the bike into an ark and starting to round-up animals, two-by-two.
Last weekend though, there was a break in the downpour. Enough blue in the sky, as my mother would have said, to make a sailor's handkerchief. Before Yahoo Weather, before that disappointing app on the iPhone that promises a blazing sun only to deliver rain clouds when opened, before even Michael Fish, we relied upon the sailor's handkerchief to tell us whether to wear shorts or sowester.
By 10am the sailor could have had matching underwear and when I started pedalling an hour later, an all-blue wardrobe was his for the taking.
Riding with my friend Angie, we cycled out through some of Staffordshire's loveliest villages, climbing on hedge-lined country lanes to hilltops still shining with recent rain. Raindrops hung like diamonds from spiders webs and the skeleton outline of  trees on the winter skyline reached for the first sunshine of the year.
The wind was brisk and the bare hedges provided little shelter from a cruel crosswind but it felt so good to be out, for the most part alone on the wet roads. After the dull greyness of the start of the year it felt as though we were discovering new places. "Look at that!" one of us would exclaim, on reaching the top of a hill or rounding a bend. "Aren't we lucky?" Even routes well-travelled felt different when seen in a bright new light.

And look what we found in a village called Croxton. A real windmill house straight out of Camberwick Green! This one didn't seem to be occupied by Windy Miller but I have since discovered that you can get the windmill experience yourself, with holiday accommodation on the top floor:

The windmill was at the top of another of the day's hard (for me) climbs and Angie very kindly pretended to believe that the only reason I wanted to stop at the top was to take this photograph. We both knew that the reality was that it was going to take a few minutes and a banana muffin before we would be able to hear ourselves think above the sound of my gasps for air.

Getting out on the bikes on what proved to be the only dry day before the rains returned sent our spirits soaring. With days so routinely gloomy, a glimpse of the bright skies had topped-up our reserves of happiness and made us feel lucky to be on two wheels. All it takes, as Morecambe and Wise sang on behalf of cyclists everywhere, is a little sunshine. 

Bring me Sunshine, in your smile,
Bring me Laughter, all the while,
In this world where we live, there should be more happiness,
So much joy you can give, to each brand new bright tomorrow,

Make me happy, through the years,
Never bring me, any tears,
Let your arms be as warm as the sun from up above,
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love.

Bring me Sunshine, in your eyes,
Bring me rainbows, from the skies,
Life's too short to be spent having anything but fun,
We can be so content, if we gather little sunbeams,
Be light-hearted, all day long,
Keep me singing, happy songs,
                                                         Let your arms be as warm as the sun from up above,
                                                         Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love.

                                                         Words - Sylvia Dee, Music - Arthur Kent

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"

IT was my first day back at work yesterday and at the end of the longest holiday of my adult life, I felt strangely nervous about returning to the daily routine. Even my feet were a little daunted. After almost a month in comfy shoes they soon protested against being forced into the rigidity of the smart(ish) boots that pass for formal footwear in my wardrobe.
I opted out of cycling to work. The country lanes where I live are flooded in places, no problem in my Land Rover but not ideal for the bike. To make matters worse, more rain was coming down as I set off, angry drops bouncing onto my windscreen.
The hours in the office passed without incident, as they always would. The forgotten copy deadlines of my sleepless nights hadn't materialised. No empty white spaces. Nobody shouting. All I ask out of my working life.
It was on the way home that things turned surprising. Firstly, there were lots of cyclists obviously making their way home from work. Seriously, lots. Normally there is just me, a man in overalls and a really irritating bloke who I can't catch. Last night I passed around eight or nine cycling out of the town and into the unlit lanes.
All but one of the riders were well prepared for what I took to be their commuting resolution. Great lights and high visibility jackets. One, though, was dicing with death. As I came upon a sharp bend, flooded to three-quarters of the way across and with oncoming traffic searching for dry land on my side of the road, I spotted out of the corner of my eye, something moving. More than moving, pedalling. A cyclist, clad entirely in black, riding without lights. Even his bike was black. He was a veritable cycling ninja.
I managed not to hit the Milk Tray man and by signalling, ensured that the following drivers also missed him. The rest of my journey passed without incident, except for the three dashboard warning lights that have been flashing for weeks.
One my return home I collected spaniel number two, put her in the back of the car and set off for the vet's surgery. Poor Flossie, the most accident prone dog, sustained a wagging injury and is currently wearing a tail guard. "There are some dogs you only see for their booster shots and at the end of their lives," mused the vet. "And then there's Flossie."
Back home again and my mobile was flashing. Four missed calls. The house 'phone had been called, too. Before I'd had time to check my messages, there was a knock at the door. A former neighbour was on the step, rushing forward to hug me: "Thank goodness you're OK. I was convinced you were unconscious in a ditch!"
It seems that, some minutes after I made my own journey along the lanes, an accident occurred. Motorists making the same trip afterwards found themselves diverted along even narrower, wetter lanes, their path blocked by numerous flashing blue lights.
The messages on my mobile had all come from people using the same route, who glimpsed members of the emergency services attempting to recover something or someone from a gulley at the side of the road. With no more information forthcoming, they jumped to the conclusion that a bicycle was involved and that the rider formerly on that bicycle, was me. Finding the house 'phone unanswered merely turned their fears into certainty. One of them had already called my husband.
Now obviously, my first thought was gratitude for such concerned friends. I wondered, too, whether one of the novice cyclists had indeed been involved in an accident. Perhaps the man in black had run out of luck?
Later, though, I felt increasingly guilty. Am I really worrying everyone that much? Do they think that every ambulance is transferring me to hospital? The 'If found on the ground, please put me back on my bike' T-shirt probably doesn't seem so funny for my nearest and dearest.
I love cycling and I can't imagine giving it up. But with news reports highlighting terrible accidents to riders and the unequal reality of a collision between metal and Lycra, is the true cost of pedalling not the carbon frames and technical fabrics but the heart-in-the-mouth anxiety of friends and family?