Starting pistol


August 31, 2012 by secretcyclist

We all know the phrase “you never forget how to ride a bike”. That phrase has been one of the many and multiple minor torments that have followed me through my short life so far. As a dyspraxic, forgetting how to do easy things is one of my great and unique talents. Walking up the stairs while carrying objects, tying shoelaces, putting items away in an ordered fashion. You name the tedious or forgettable task, and I’ll spend an hour falling over, bumping into things or simply staring blankly at you, trying to remember what exactly it is I’m supposed to be doing.

When I was a kid, my older brother owned a bike. I had a go, and after a lot of tries, I managed to get on and stay on for a few seconds, weaving awkwardly but nonetheless beaming as if I’d just transported to the moon and back. A few days later I had a go while my bro was faffing about on the pavement outside the house, and went straight into the side of a parked car. I tried again, weaved off to the right and hit a tree. I gave up. A few weeks later, I got up the courage to face the embarrassment and have another go, and fell sideways every time I tried to lift my feet off the ground.

I repeated this cycle (GET IT?) again a few months later while on holiday in Spain with my Dad. I stayed on the bike for a few moments, to my great delight, but a few days later when I tried again I just did a comical impression of someone jumping on a horse and falling off the other side. As I lay there, staring up at the sky, listening to the not very muted guffaws of my nearest and dearest, I reached a certain conclusion. “Bloody hell. I’m done with this”. And that was that. I never tried again. Take it from someone who knows, falling over gets boring.

Fast forward to August 2012, and not being able to ride a bike has just become another way for me to good-humouredly and resignedly explain my general physical ineptitude. I paid little attention to the cyclists whizzing around the city at university, and didn’t give it a second’s thought after moving back to London. I don’t ride a bike, I don’t drive, and it’s barely touched me. Everything’s a bus or tube ride away anyway.

But things weren’t exactly rosy for me. By this summer, after multiple false starts in my life, including losing my job, I was back at my parents’, being treated for depression, spending my days glued to my laptop trying to shut out the increasing certainty that my life was spiralling ever further out of my control. Mental health issues weren’t new to me, but things weren’t getting better, they were getting worse. I knew something had to change, but I just couldn’t work out what.

Then the London Olympics happened. Or more specifically, the women’s cycling road race happened. Even more specifically, Emma Pooley came into my life.

Pooley, the great and powerful

The race, and Pooley, were like nothing I’d ever seen before. The four hour dual test of endurance and tactics were utterly gripping, and right at the centre of it was a tiny woman  playing the pelotón like a fiddle. Every time she surged out of the pack to drag the cyclists into ever more trailing strings of riders I gaped, open mouthed, at the sheer gutsy power of this tiny woman. Forget the dyspraxia, I’d never really considered that someone the same size as me could actually perform at that level. Not only that, but that her size could actually prove to be an asset when it came to the steep climbs and tiny corners so frequently a feature of road racing.

When it was announced a few days later that a cycling festival would be launched in 2013 I found, to my surprise, thinking about how great it would be to take part. Even my instinctive hostility to any initiative originating from the blubbery lips of Boris Johnson wasn’t enough to dull my enthusiasm. I was exhilarated by the very idea of riding in the slipstream of other riders, pushing myself over 100 miles and across the same route that my new hero had pushed for glory on just a year before.

And that was that. There and then, I decided I was going to learn to ride a bike, and I was doing RideLondon.

Already, and before I’ve even bought the bike, it’s provided a level of motivation I didn’t think I was capable of anymore. I managed to get myself a part-time job in order to save up for the bike I’d need to start practicing. I started looking at interesting places within cycling distance that I could start visiting in order to build up the distances I ride. I was looking to my future with something other than creeping terror. In fact, with something resembling optimism. Anticipation, even. That alone feels like quite a spectacular feat.

But all that’s really by the by, because I still don’t own a bike, and I still don’t know how to ride one. Next week, I’m heading out to a second-hand shop to grab my first ever bicycle. This alone is tricky, since it will have to be within walking distance of home. I can’t ride it anywhere, after all.

Step number two will be finding a place where I can endure the embarrassment of being a grown-up falling off a bike. You’d think I’d be used to that sort of thing but really, really, it never gets old.

So very, very much to look forward to.


3 thoughts on “Starting pistol

  1. kevinmayne says:

    Lovely post.

    As the parent of a dyspraxic it was always a challenge seeing my son struggle with some of these issues. He rode a two wheeler later than some other kids and was frustrated for a long time.

    Now (many years later) he has never learned to drive as he loves the freedom his bike gives him as an adult. Right now he is at a pub somewhere with the bike!

    So I hope you keep being inspired – you will not regret it. If you struggle go and get a couple of lessons from the lovely folks at Cycle Training UK (assuming you are in London) if not another professional cycle training group. They have helped so many people they will see you through.

    • Thanks for the lovely reply. I know this is something I can do as I’ve learned to do other complex things – including dancing and playing musical intsruments. I might not be as fast a mover as some others and I have to work hard at visualising what I’m trying to do before I do it, but once I’ve done that I can learn things.

      I’m pretty excited but also apprehensive – but mostly about getting laughed at by teenagers in the park. I think what I most look forward to is exactly what you say about your son – the sense of freedom.

      Thanks for the Cycle Training UK tip. The local authority in my area also offer some free lessons so if I’m really struggling I’ll get in touch with them and see if they can set me straight, so to speak.

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