How Not To Ride a Bike
That Beastly Thing!
To those of you who are contemplating taking up bicycle riding again after a long break (like from childhood!) my advice is – don’t! The accursed things seem to have taken on a life of their own since I was young and go out of their way to scare and maim.
My education in the art of bike riding was very quickly started and finished by my brother who bought my first one for me. He let me have stabilisers to begin with, I was very young after all, and then one day he decided I was ready to ride without them. His idea of fun was to take me to the top of a local steep hill, hold the saddle and say “you’ll be fine” – I’ve heard those words about many things since and the result is always the same – I wasn’t! He let go and off I went careering down the hill, wobbling and screaming, not necessarily in that order until I fell off. Many bruises and plasters later I did learn to ride without stabilisers, albeit with a good deal of trepidation. A bit like now really, let me explain .........
Why start again you may well ask? Well, for various reasons I had to walk a great distance - ok three-ish miles - to deal with stud horses. When I relocated the stud to some five miles away, walking there and back was putting a strain on my old feet as well as using up a good deal of time. My much better half leapt into action and decided fixing up one of the many bikes about the place was the thing to make my life easier. Ha, how wrong he was, did he but know it!
He took a peppermint green and lilac bike from amongst the weeds, straightened the back wheel and gave it a back brake (shame there’s no front one), oiled, poked, prodded and produced a ride-able, not too bad looking vehicle. Ride-able that is by anyone who is not a forty seven year old with the balance of a one legged barstool.
My excitement and enthusiasm knew no bounds. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, I was so thrilled at the thought of taking to the road on a couple of pieces of three inch rubber I would rather have pulled out my own teeth. Still, teeth intact and one of my Jack Russell terriers in tow I set out early one morning to ride about the yard a bit to get the feel of the bicycle.
Well, let me just say that Bracken has never been the same since. He was a little concerned when I extricated the odd coloured peril from the garage, even more alarmed when I climbed on board, feet barely reaching the ground and finally made a run for it when I wobbled perilously forward for all of two feet before having a nervous breakdown.
Not to be beaten by a vile coloured lump of metal, I called poor Bracken back from his hiding place and tried again. Poor dog, he couldn’t believe how unlucky a JRT could be – what was the woman playing at, cursing at this wobbling thing - off he went again as fast as his legs could carry him amidst cries of , why can’t I carry on walking and I can cope with ten miles a day! The answer was obvious, the better half had gone to a lot of trouble to help me so I must try to ride the Beastly Thing – hope he doesn’t help again, well not with bikes anyway.
The thing just kept wobbling, going off at tangents and refusing to stop when begged. I decided to give it up as a bad job, went back to the better half, told him it was unmanageable and set off on the walk to the horses – all this by quarter past six in the morning! I thought about the accursed bike as the day went on - kids ride them, old folks do, in fact everyone but me could ride a bike. Well, I wasn’t having that. When the better half picked me up I told him I thought the seat was too high and the handlebars too low. See, ten minutes riding a bike badly and I’m an expert – sadly that did actually pretty much solve the problem, or so it seemed.
The intrepid Bracken and I set out next morning and as soon as I went to the garage the dog legged it, he wasn’t taking any chances after the day before! I climbed aboard, wiggled myself into position and away I went, not so straight at the barn (who was it said they couldn’t hit a barn door, all they needed was a bike?)
Notwithstanding the minor error, I tried again, got going and yelled to Bracken that I’d done it, just before teetering so much I nearly fell off. Bracken wasn’t convinced, he waited until I put the bike away before coming anywhere near me, I always said he was intelligent. That was it then, having made progress on the awful thing I was going to have to venture onto the road.
Early the following morning I retrieved the bike from the garage and headed for the open road. Tremble, bump, tremble some more and I managed to travel at least three yards at more than walking speed. The next hazard, apart from me that is, was to turn down the lane leading to the road across the moor – memories of my brother’s teaching haunted me the whole way as the thing took on a life of its own and pelted down the lane hitting every hole and drain it could find.
When it reached the junction at the bottom I prayed nothing was coming as the thing was completely out of my control and had shown further signs of having a life of its own. Remember that film about the murderous doll? Yep, the peppermint and lilac horror was, and is, the bike equivalent! I managed to wrestle it across the junction and round the next turn to the moor road.
Ok, I thought, this isn’t too bad, a bit shaky still and quite bumpy because steering isn’t easy when you’ve got the handlebars in a vice-like grip and breathing is a thing of the past. My legs weren’t over-keen on the pedalling thing and as I tried to master the incline to the railway bridge they took voluntary retirement. More wobbling and a gymnastic leap using the semi-retired legs in a way not normally humanly possible got me to the ground on both feet and I reached the bridge pushing the accursed bike. Oh, the temptation to sling it over the bridge was overwhelming, the thought of injuring some innocent train driver stopped me though and I climbed back on the thing. Of course, it was downhill again, so off it went like a wild thing, resisting all attempts to slow it down. At this point I realised that my brother’s teaching wasn’t all in vain, I had a history of hanging on for grim death whilst being propelled downhill at speed! The road levelled out and I was about half way there - brilliant still alive and on board so far.
I set off on the long straight lane ahead of me and started to think this wasn’t such a bad idea. The sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze, the birds were singing and then I had to brace myself to meet my first car as a cyclist. The bike suddenly had a fit of the vapours and pointed itself determinedly at the oncoming vehicle, despite all my efforts to force it into submission, then at the last minute it turned itself towards the ditch and finally gave in to the pressure of the single brake and stopped on a dangerous angle. The driver will never be the same again, I thought he was going to die laughing.
Somewhat shaken but not stirred I grabbed the thing and forced it back onto the road. Next time the car came from behind and I nearly ended up in the ditch from the slipstream. Why do drivers think cyclists can ride in fairly straight lines at the edge of potholed lanes? Well, I guess most of them can but these drivers should take into account people on uncontrollable, wild peppermint and lilac beasts.
I carried on regardless of my, or anyone else’s safety for that matter, until I reached the end of the moor and reached the main road between villages. At this point discretion (and self preservation) became the greater part of valour and I dismounted with much relief, that will be easier I thought and set off on foot. The Beastly Thing thought otherwise, it would not allow itself to be pushed in a straight line and resisted any pressure to bounce it up kerb stones. The retaliation was swift and sure, a quick pedal to the back of the calf had me calling on my Anglo Saxon dictionary again and left me with a shiny bruise to display. Still, I limped onward and propped the thing against the gate. Then came the piece de resistance, it threw itself hysterically to the ground, hitting me squarely in the ankle with its wheel. I hissed yet more Anglo Saxon at the thing, we have a good understanding of the language in the horse fraternity but not everyone uses it so often! Thankfully my torture ended there for the day, the better half took pity and offered to pick me and it up in the Land Rover, but there was still the next morning to look forward to.
My return to bike riding has raised several questions. How do the folk on those skinny wheeled racing bikes manage to go so fast without hitting passing cars or landing in ditches? Do some drivers have to pass so close? How do racing bike folk manage to casually unfasten their drinks bottle and swig a great mouthful without a single wobble? Why do drain covers appear to move in front of the bike when you think you’ve missed them? And the biggest question of all – Why do people ride bikes for pleasure????