Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Wibbly Wobbly Way

Gripping the handle bars tightly, mobile phone tucked into the secure, zip pocket in my brand new bike basket in case of emergency, I pressed down on the pedal and held my breath.

Encouraged by not falling off immediately I took my other foot off the floor and, with that momentous movement, I realised that I was riding a bike for the first time in over 30 years. 

And it was scary!

It was a voyage into the unknown. Not in terms of my route and destination, all that had been carefully planned in advance. No, the unknown of what it is  like to be riding a bike again. My first bike was a Christmas gift when I was about 9 years old. A dark green, raleigh bike with no gears. I seem to remember I practiced riding it up and down the driveway, desperate to be given the approval from mum & dad that would allow me through the gates and onto the open road.

Now, some 40 years later, there was no practicing on the driveway, no protection from the dangers of the tarmac and the significantly increased traffic. Oh no, Neil simply threw open the gates and pointed me in the general direction of ... the open road.

The plan was to keep things simple. To do a lap of the estate and, by turning right from the house, I would only have left hand turns to deal with. To set the gears, of which now have 18, at a mid point, so I would not have to think too much about changing as I rode. And to keep it short.

Even so, with all of this pre-planning, it was still quite scary to find myself cycling along the road. I felt wobbly, and realised that my confidence was about as low on the rating scale as it could be, but working on the old adage that faster is better than slower on a bike, I increased my pedalling. I was fine as long as I focused on straight ahead. Turning to look over my shoulder for traffic did not feel safe, lucky I wasn't planning any right turns. 

We walk the same route often with the dogs, it's all level... until you're on a bike, when suddenly it rises and falls much more than you would think. Suddenly it became very difficult to pedal, and I was in need of a different gear. I knew the mechanics of changing gear but the idea of actually performing such a task was a little daunting. Ever one to face a challenge head on, I took my eyes off the road to see where I needed to twist on the handlebar, and twisted.

Smoothly and without any hesitation the bike became easier to pedal as I continued up the small incline, and my confidence moved 1 point up the scale.  The next challenge was coming up behind me at a rather rapid pace and, as the car flew past me, I realised that the road can be quite a worry as my knuckles turned white from the firm grip I had on the handles. I gave myself a mental note to relax a little. 2 more cars passed in quick succession and I realised my decision to stay away from major roads had been a very wise one.

Ahead I could see my first corner fast approaching and I knew I was going much faster than I should. The brain worked out I needed to brake, but my memory told me I needed to use the rear brake to avoid the possibility of pitching myself over the basket on the front of the bike. At that point I realised I had no idea which hand controlled which brake and I did not have time to trace the cables to see where they went, besides, they vanished under the basket for a short while. This wasn't a 'trace the cable' puzzle from a magazine, this was real life. I took an executive decision, I would squeeze gently with both hands at the same time and hope it had the desired effect, meanwhile making a mental 'note to self' to check which hand operates the rear brake. 

There was an eerie squeaky from the new brake pads as they attached themselves to the rim of the shiny, new wheels but I started to slow down and successfully manoeuvered the corner. Back on the straight road again I moved my confidence marker up another peg and started to relax a little more. That's when I found my first downhill part of the road, again not visible to the eye. Suddenly the pedals were running away with me and I knew I needed to brake and possibly change gear all at the same time. Panic mode arriving at an alarming speed, I squeezed and twisted the handles at the same time and hoped the right things would happen. As my feet tried hard to keep up with the pedals I realised I had changed gears in the wrong direction and quickly twisted them the opposite way until calm was restored. Phew, over in a couple of seconds but confidence marker dropped back a point... until I remarked to myself that I had coped and achieved the correct outcome... confidence marker pushed back up a step.

The rest of the short trip was uneventful other than to make me realise how unfit I really am. I had been on the road less than 10 minutes but the stress and effort made it feel as if I'd been out for an hour. As I approached home my brain asked if I wanted to go round again, and the answered echoed back at me without hesitation, NO, not today. I needed a drink to calm me down, (coffee not alcohol - some people pour themselves a glass of wine to relax, I switch the percolator on). By the time I stopped outside the house I was actually shaking and fully aware I had a reasonable challenge ahead of me to get to the desired confidence level to be able to achieve my goal of riding to and from work.

So, snow permitting, I will be out for round 2 today, with a target of 2 circuits of the estate. 

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