It’s Quite A Bit About The Bike…
It’s been a little while since I’ve posted – life has got in the way. Also… lots of cycling. I did Ride London this year (did a recce ride in the blazing sun and was actually kinda relieved to ride in cooler, if much wetter, conditions on the day) . I’ve also been down the BMX track, and been trying out vintage, repro, and other bikes with friends. I now know how to ride a penny farthing! I’ve ridden a tall bike (though needed a bit of assistance to get on), zipped around on an Abici, fought with a 1880s velocipede (it steered me rather than the other way around), and tried out a Sociable, Dandy Charger, a rover, Hirondelles, and a mini penny. All great fun (except perhaps the velocipede – I wasn’t so keen on that!).
Anyway, this has left me pondering on the relationship of machine and rider, also how that affects the level of enjoyment. These musings bring me neatly on to my next guest post from a old and very dear friend of mine, Anna Dingle. Some of you will recognise some of the experiences of cycling in London, though many of Anna’s comments will naturally strike a chord wherever you are based.
I have wanted to write a piece for this blog for a while but have put it off. It’s something that I do as I sometimes think others won’t be interested in what I have to say. It’s a bit how I was about getting on a bike and giving cycling a go.
8 years ago, I had my third child. Soon after, I went back to work full time whilst my husband became a stay at home dad to look after our 3 kids. I worked all the hours god sent, getting home late and missing out on family time. Importantly, although, I didn’t realise at the time, I had cut exercise out of my life which had always been a huge part of my life. This, also without me realising, had a hugely detrimental effect on my mental health over time. Work stress caused me to lose my identity. I was successful in my job but it wasn’t enough. I was a mother to 3 kids but I suffered immensely with the guilt of never being there for them. More than anything, though, I wasn’t looking after myself both mentally and physically. So where does cycling fit into all of this I hear you ask?
I went to the doctor and broke down. They prescribed anti depressants and a course of CBT. I also found myself a private counsellor to talk through the problems I was facing. The counsellor asked me what was missing in my life that used to be there. I thought I had everything I needed; a fantastic husband, 3 great kids and a supportive extended family and a successful career. There was one thing missing and that was exercise.
I was a hockey player from the age of 14 playing up to regional level and had played all my adult life but I stopped when I had my 3rd child. I had also been a swimmer, competing up to county level. I used to run for fitness and had stopped that too. I no longer did any exercise and I missed it enormously. I was 2 stone over weight and craved that need to have presence of mind and freedom that exercise brings. Most importantly I needed to try and improve my mental as well as physical health. So what could I do to change that situation?
I looked at my day and realised commuting time was dead time when you work full time. I decided that I could some how cycle to work. My journey to work is 13.2 miles one way (I know that now as I cycle it most days that I work) from South Woodford in East London to Sloane Square in South West London. I bought myself a Boardman hybrid. I decided to ride to Blackhorse Road and get the tube the rest of the way to work and see how I went. I locked my bike up outside the tube. I had bought some big arse locks, thinking my bike would be safe. I did my first ride to the station, proud that I was I had done it. I locked my bike up safely and boarded the tube to work. 9 hours later I was looking forward to my ride home. I came out of the tube and my bike wasn’t there. It had been stolen on its first day of locking it up. They left the mudguard and that was it. I was so cross as I boarded the bus in my cycling gear to go home. I was cross about my bike being stolen but I was more cross that my plan for getting healthy again had been scuppered.
Not to be deterred, I pulled myself together and got a fold up Dahon bike with the insurance money from my claim for my stolen Boardman. I started cycling to Blackhorse Road again. I would fold up my trusty Dahon, and make the journey to Pimlico on the Victoria Line and then cycle to Sloane Square when I got off. I found it hard to start with but was determined not to give up as I started very quickly to see and feel the benefits of cycling for both my mental and physical health. I was happier and more relaxed on my commute and didn’t think about the day ahead or the day I had left behind.
After several months of doing my journey on the Dahon, I wanted to challenge myself further with my cycling. I inherited some money and decided to get myself a road bike. I decided I could cycle the whole journey to Sloane Square. I bought myself a Trek Lexa. I loved the bike as soon as I rode her. I don’t know if bikes have a gender but the Lexa was always female to me. It may sound daft but the Lexa was key to my mental health recovery. I couldn’t have done it without her. I decided that I would do my journey one way on one day and then ride it home the next. A 26 mile round trip just seemed too daunting to start with and I physically wasn’t fit enough. I got myself a rack and pannier and gave it a go. I was nervous to start with as riding in central London is something else. One thing it teaches you, though, is to be assertive with your riding and most importantly to be present. Pay attention, don’t do anything stupid and ride like you are invisible. That was the best advice my husband gave me. He has been a cyclist for many years. It was good advice and I haven’t looked back.
Cycling has changed my life in a enormously positive way. I used to dread getting on a bike when I was younger and I didn’t get ‘it’. I totally get it now. I love getting up and out on my commute at just after 6am whatever the weather (unless it’s absolutely pissing down!). I love the cold mornings in winter and the sensation of finally feeling my fingers as I get to Stratford High Street. I love when the seasons finally change and I see the sun finally peeping out behind the Houses of Parliament on the end of my winter rides along the embankment. I love trying to get through Victoria Park as the dark nights draw in and they are going to close the gates. I then love it again on long summer days when I can finally ride through Victoria Park again And I love how I have seen London’s cycle route provision change over the last 6 years that I have been commuting on my bike to the point where 80% of my route is now on designated cycleways. I won’t lie, it’s not all rosey and I have had near misses with cars and other cyclists. Mostly, it is a very positive experience and has had an enormous impact on my life.
I have lost 2 stone from cycling and now have a resting heart rate of around 42bpm. Those are the positive physical affects. Mentally, I have had plenty of wobbles but in general I am less anxious than I was and I keep that black dog at bay. I still see a counsellor and practice mindfulness regularly. But I can definitely say that cycling has changed me and my mental health in a very positive way. Cycle commuting saved my life when I was in a very dark place. It helped me believe that I had a purpose, even if it was only getting from A to B. Some days that would be my only achievement but it mattered,,, and it still matters to me. I don’t commute everyday as I work part time but I do it twice a week (52 miles in total).
It has lead onto me finding my feet again with exercise. I have gone on to become a triathlete using my old swimming skills, my new found cycling skills and putting one foot in front of the other. In the last 6 years I have done the Pru 100, multiple triathlons, half marathons, 10km runs and a half Ironman. I just completed a 35 mile ride in Suffolk with friends and am doing the Pru 46 in a couple of weeks time. I regularly ride out into Essex and in September I am taking part in the Rat Race Coast to Coast which is a run, cycle and kayak event covering 105 miles from Inverness to Glencoe over 2 days.
Cycling has helped me to be me again, to find my place again back in the world and to just be present. I wouldn’t be without my Cube Axial and my new Pinnacle adventure bike. As for my much loved Trek Lexa and my Dahon, I recently sold them on to new owners. The Lexa was hard to part with as she really helped with my healing, but she has gone to a good home that I was happy to send her on too. That may sound daft but she was an important part of my life.