(This post is archived and moved from my old blog, originally published on 14th August 2011)
2) Just absolutely no.
3) When hell freezes over.
4) Not in a bajillion years.
6) Really, no.
I’d spent the majority of my youth on increasingly larger hand-me-down bikes from my cousins or brother. I still remember the day I got my first ever brand new bike, my wonderful Grandad who I’ve mentioned here before would get my brother and I a new one every few years on our birthdays. I remember coming home from holiday one day when I was God-knows how old and demanding my stabilisers be taken off my little red, yellow and blue bike. There were rides to Llyn Eiddwen, bikes dumped unceremoniously in the rushes by the side of sheep-poo covered tarmac, Dad shepherding us on occasional trips, he on his big white Raleigh racing bike. Off-road rides up The Top of the farm, skipping ropes tied to each handle bar so my brother and I could pretend we were riding horses and play Lonesome Dove (yes, we did actually do this). But the extent of the traffic on Mynydd Bach was the occasional sheep with a death-wish, or on a really busy day, a tractor from a neighbouring farm.
But in London traffic? I would surely be flattened by a bus in a day. Or murdered by angry “expert” cyclists with serious faces and serious bikes and even more serious lycra. And considering my brief foray into learning to drive didn’t go so well (I still have frequent recurrent nightmares about being put behind the wheel of a car) and the fact that I sometimes have to think quite hard before being sure which is my left and right – well, I thought it was probably best for everyone if I just stayed off the roads.
And then one day the impossible happened: my cycle-mad flatmate asked why I didn’t just get a bike………and I actually found myself considering it. And considering it in scenarios that didn’t end with me under the wheels of a bus.
A little bit of idle searching online and I came across the Bobbin Bicycles site, which is basically porn for any vintage-style bike lovers out there. I’d heard about Pashley a while ago, and have been watching the past two annual Tweed Runs with tweed-green-eyed envy, but never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined owning one of these beauties.
If you’ve never heard of Pashley, I don’t blame you, but they really are the most beautiful bikes. Established in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1926 by an ex-WW1 dispatch rider, they’re still making them the same way, in the same place over eighty years later. With bikes named “The Guv’nor” and “The Princess” you can’t help be charmed. I’d seen a fair few of the ladies Princesses around and fallen in love from afar, but searching the Bobbin catalogue that day I came across the Pashley Poppy . It was a bit of a Wayne’s World moment, me practically drooling on the keyboard and swearing that one day she will be mine.
A few weeks later the bike came up in the Bobbin summer sale, and I jumped. Taking her out for a test-ride I fell instantly in love with the “sit-up-and-beg” style of the high handlebars. I rode around the lovely quiet square behind the shop a few times quit happily in the skirt I happened to be wearing that day, and noticed how people smiled at me and my lovely bike. I knew I had to buy it – not just that model but that very bike. I walked away with it about 20 minutes later….and got it in the back of a taxi as I wasn’t quite brave enough to make an hour and a half journey across London in rush-hour on my brand new bike just yet.
I thought it would be ages before I worked up the courage to begin riding on London roads, but progressed in one weekend from riding on the Thames path to Barnes, then riding to South Bank on some of the cycle lanes on roads, and then attempting my journey to work on a beautiful quiet sunday morning. By monday I made my first trip to work in rush-hour traffic and was loving it. Okay, so I still get a bit sicky-feeling with nerves when I think about it (not loving the lorries and buses….and serious cyclists frowning at me and my sedate pace every morning) but the wonderful feeling of air and movement and speed is infinitely nicer than the stale soot, delayed and cramped tube carriages. I even think that the type of hot and sweaty you get from a bike is preferable to the type of hot and sweaty you get from a tube journey at this time of the year. Here are some of the brilliant things that I’ve seen and have made me smile on my couple of weeks cycling to work:
A man jumping over a 7-foot wide cobbled road on roller-blades.
A business man crossing the road smoking a pipe.
The Royal Albert Hall and memorial every morning and evening.
Little girls being led around the paddock in Hyde Park on little piebald ponies early in the morning.
A man waiting at a crossing who looked exactly like my Grandad.
And here’s what I’ve learned:
I love cycling.
My bike is a bit like me (old before her time, a bit creaky, likes to dress in vintage).
I call my bike Poppet and talk to it regularly. Out loud.
I bruise like a peach and my inner thighs are purple right now.
Safety is Sexy.
Exercise is fun when you don’t know you’re doing it.
If I can do it, anyone can.
And if I do end up under a bus? I just hope my Poppet makes it unscathed.