Day Two, By George, he’s got it!

He was the last amongst his peers to learn to ride without stabilisers, always very worried about falling off, but then he is the youngest in his year. I had tried the ‘correct’ technique of taking the pedals off so he would learn his balance before pedaling, but he just never got on with it, too panicky about wobbling and falling over to even get the bike going. I got a secondhand BMX for his birthday it was heavily in need of some TLC which I duly supplied, along with a sweatband and a t-shirt with ‘BMX’ on, his Grandma got him a full-face helmet. I hoped it would stimulate him into wanting to learn to ride again. Yesterday he got his first bike out, with the stabilisers and started rolling down our garden path. As we were set to go and see Lucy’s parents, I casually suggested that he might like to take the little bike with him. He did, he even rode it down to their house (with stabilisers on). The whole afternoon he just rolled round and round the drive, until late in the afternoon I said “Hey let’s have a quick go without stabilisers ok?”. His grandad took them off, then pumped up the tyres. I just held onto the rack, not letting go for about thirty or so runs, then he naturally started pulling away from my hands so he was riding without me for a couple of meters. Emboldened by success he got me to let go earlier and earlier, until all I was doing was holding him steady while he got his feet on the pedals. That’s how we left it yesterday,  he was pedaling ten meters or so on his own, wobbling a bit, but absolutely elated. Before he fell asleep that evening he said “I rode my bike today”.

This afternoon he took the helmet down again, within ten minutes he was setting off by himself without anyone holding the bike, five minutes later he was turning corners, and ten minutes after that he was cycling round and round, swooping in and out of the car port, up and down the drive without putting his feet down.

What amazed me was just how quickly he took to it, the absolute pleasure of riding a bike, the ease of it. Even he could not believe how quickly he’d learned. In his mind, riding a bike had been a seemingly insurmountable problem, blown up to huge proportions, but all of his anxiety just melted away over the last twenty four hours as he learned how to ride.

Mind you, he hasn’t properly crashed yet. Just as you never forget how you learned to ride (Owain Carter, a year above me, running alongside me as I eased my red vindec down the weed infested gravel drive of our house he was shouting ‘you’re doing it, you’re riding!’) you also never forget your first crash (straight over the handlebars five seconds after Owain Carter shouted ‘now use your brakes!’ I looked back ‘my whats?’ crump! Into the sandpit!).

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post when the stabilisers first came off.

Published in: on August 26, 2008 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My First ‘Proper’ Bike

My first proper bike, on a beach in France.

Everything about the bike looked heavy, from the metal mudguards and massive deraileur to the steel rack and thick tubing. The too-wide drop handlebars were covered in some strange deteriorating, rubberised red tape with suicide levers hanging limply and ineffectively beneath. Rust-spattered cables slewed off the hoods at awkward angles that spoke of improvised repairs by gradual shortening. Dull black paint-work, flaking decals and a maker’s badge so nondescript that my memory would eventually hold not even the faintest possibility of recalling it’s providence, even to my untrained eye the bike looked somewhat woeful. Yet as I stood watching my father begin his negotiations with the assistant in the secondhand shop, I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers, hoping the bike would shortly be mine. Earlier, having checked the bike over (a shake of the handlebars, a spin of the wheels, a surprisingly smooth run through the five gears followed by a tut as pulling on the brakes had no effect whatsoever), my father had surreptitiously removed the price tag and now, he was slowly screwing the card into a ball behind his back as he spoke, I watched the biro numbers disappear, £15, before he casually slipped it into his back pocket.

“So ten pounds is the asking price, yes” It wasn’t a question, the assistant looked confused.

“Uh, yes”

“But the brakes don’t work so let’s call it five”

Minutes later we were wheeling my ‘new’ bike towards the carpark in Devizes, my hand was almost shaking as it rested on the saddle.

Previous to this bike, I had owned only one bicycle, the one I learned to ride on, my Vindec. This was a sit-up and beg roadster with a nasty white saddle, but a firey red paintjob (this was let down by the mustard-coloured metal mudguards), basically I had killed it before I had outgrown it. This poor machine had been ridden it into not only the ground, but various trees, rocks, hedges and streams. It was the mid-eighties, bicycling for the early teens in the Wiltshire village of Hilmarton had revolved around straight handlebar roadsters with a single sprocket freewheel. One or two of the group had a Sturmey-Archer three gear hub, and one lucky bastard from a well off family had a BMX. Our main pastime was riding these heavy bikes at speed down the bridleway that led out of the village, down a steep, root-infested mud and gravel singletrack and out the other side onto a country lane. We stripped the mudguards off so the wheels wouldn’t jam when clogged with mud and lowered the saddles to keep them out of the way when we stood up to allow our legs to absorb the ruts and bumps on the trail. None of us had seen or heard of a mountainbike and we rarely ventured beyond the confines of the village on our bikes.

My ‘new racer’, as I called it, (though clearly it was an absolutely bottom-end tourer), opened up the surrounding roads to me, suddenly I had five gears, a rear rack, a kickstand and a place to put a pump. Not only that, but, as my father pointed out sternly, this bike would have to be locked up when I went into a local shop. It was that desirable!

This bike, riddled as it was with faults, from its regularly snapping cables, its grinding bottom bracket, to its rattling front mud-guard (ripped off in the end), carried me for a good many years, and hundreds of miles with The Highway Cycling Group. Finally it rusted through, abnout two weeks after I rode it into the English Channel from the French side, blissfully unaware that salt-water will eagerly devour metal.

I last saw the bike as it slid into the pile of rusted, mangled metal on the back of a rag-and-bone man’s lorry. Every three months or so this battered vehicle would slowly crawl through the village with a loud hailer mounted atop the cab, squawking “OldIronAnyol’Iron?OldIronAnyol’Iron?OldIronAnyol’Iron?” in a squealing tone that sounded like metal grinding on metal. Years before, the same lorry had taken away my father’s useless old roadster, prompting him to buy his ten-gear tourer and start The Highway Cycling Group.

The rear wheel of my bike span slowly as it was absorbed into the mass of tangled scrap, the lorry continued on its way, finally disappearing round the corner into Church Road. I stood for sometime on the pavement with my hands in my pockets as the metallic voice, laced with feedback, gradually faded into the warm summer air, absorbed by the distant melancholy sound of reversing propellers from a transport plane taxi-ing on the runway at RAF Lyneham four miles away.

I cannot remember what I was thinking at that moment, only what I saw and heard. Perhaps I felt sorrow, maybe acceptance, it’s possible I was wondering how I would get around without a ride as I can’t even remember if I had my next bike by then.
But I do think it’s true that you never forget your first ‘proper’ bike.

Rust In Peace.

Published in: on March 13, 2008 at 10:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My Bike is My Horse

I saw this very funny column in the Sunday Times on err.. well, Sunday.

The fact is, when I got my first bike (a red Vindec roadster with rattling metal mudguards, I’ve tried to trace one like it online, no luck) I was seven, and I used to imagine my bike was a horse too.

I had that bike until I was eleven or twelve. I used to love riding round in a sort of hunched up cowboyish position with one hand by my side and the fingertips of the other hand just lightly touching the handlebars by the stem. The bike was guiding itself, picking the best route down the bridal path to Cowage Brook in Hilmarton. Then a little rest and a sharp, muddy climb up the other side of the little valley, emerging filthy and gasping onto the road by Whitcomb Farm. Dodging the Nelson’s dogs running all over the road, past the decaying farmhouse of Parrot’s Farm with it’s collapsing roof and crumbling walled garden (all now fully renovated and sold on), right at the crossroads by Highway Common and mosey on back to the ranch down lanes where it was a surprise to see anything other than a tractor.

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment