I ride a short commute of three miles. In the mornings, I ride out of the town and into a winding steep-sided valley. After four years of this, I cycle now almost on auto-pilot. I do remember though, how hard the hills were at first, it is super-steep in places around here, and it took perseverance to mentally and physically will myself up some hills. I am not especially fit, I am just familiar with the challenges, and when I get to a hill I’ve trained myself to ignore the fact that it is steep and daunting, and just keep pedalling.
What I do notice and take great delight in is the gradual daily changing of the fields, trees, hedgerows and wildlife. During the recent “indian summer”, that one blissful week of late summer sun, my ride was bathed in a warm morning light, and later in the day the bright afternoon light brought out the sharp contrast in the textures of leaves, ivy flower heads with hoverflies buzzing, purple sloes and lime-green lichen, old-mans beard growing amongst the blackberries. I remind myself that I would not see all this if I was speeding past in a car, and I probably would be less likely to stop and pick some blackberries for a pie on the way home.
The last few mornings have been really sharp, and bitter. I tried to cycle without gloves in the frosty weather last winter, but I found the wind-chill so excruciating that I soon went and bought myself a pair of properly insulated and wind-resistant cycling gloves. Other essential items I carry as my work-commuting kit in a little under-the-saddle-bag are; a mini-multitool, puncture kit and tyre levers, and sometimes a lock. My bike has a sturdy rack and rather than take a pannier with me everywhere I like to bungee anything I need to carry on to this. I may be lucky, down here in the sunny south, but I rarely get caught out in the rain. It may be as little as a few times a year that I arrive home half-drowned, a minor inconvenience. I have been left stranded due to bike malfunction only once (when my tyre exploded) and even then I managed to walk my bike into work. I can rely on my bike to get me somewhere on time far more than I can buses and trains.
I notice only a few other cyclists who ride the same stretch of road as me regularly. It is always nice to see them, and I feel like we are part of a small and unspoken community. If I am pushing my bike rather than riding, they will always stop and ask if I’ve got a puncture, or need any help.
On part of my route, the residents insist on parking their many cars on the street right outside their houses, causing a series of tricky to negotiate car-chicanes. Despite the fact that the problem is clearly caused by the selfishness of car-owners, I still regularly face the brunt of the anger created by this situation. I cannot cycle as fast as a car can drive along the single carriageway left by the parked cars, and often drivers become irate at just a small delay, or perhaps at not being able to overtake a cyclist.
I also am astounded at how big a risk most drivers are willing to take. I wonder if they are risks they would never take if they were not cocooned in the apparent safety of their cars. My route is winding with high hedges, the road has a national speed limit, so drivers can be travelling at up to 60 miles-per-hour. Almost every day a driver will overtake me at a point where they cannot see if there is any oncoming traffic, rather than wait behind me for a few seconds. I am certain that these same drivers would not cross a road on foot without looking. Often I am slightly ahead, and higher up than a driver, and I am also able to hear the oncoming traffic far better than anyone in a car. I contemplate whether in such an emergency situation a car would chose to pull over into a nice squishy cyclist or continue into the path of an oncoming car.
Despite all of this, I still find myself looking forward to getting on my bike at the end of the day and flying along the downhill stretches. Cycling benefits my frame of mind as much as anything else, the simple repeated exercise of turning the cranks and feeling the momentum gathering as my bike picks up speed helps my mind relax and my thoughts to become clearer for when I arrive home.
I love it.
I’d like to hear of other people’s regular rides, and their experiences of cars, countryside, cityscapes and changing landscapes…perhaps you’ll be inspired to write a blog post of your own.