It is now six months since I bought a cobwebbed, dusty pile of rusted chrome and started turning it into a rideable bicycle. I won’t say my life’s been transformed, but it has caused a few changes. Here’s a summary of lessons learned:
1. You never forget how to ride a bike
It must have been about 15 years since I last rode a bike much, but very quickly all the little skills came back. How to lift onto the saddle, how to modulate brake pressure between front And rear, how to slow down or speed up to time my arrival at a junction etc, it’s all been safely stored away in my head all this time!
2. Going somewhere by bike is so much nicer than going by car
Every journey I used to make used to be by car, even little trips into town. It cuts you off from the world, and also a little from yourself. You sit in a little cocoon, you’re either at a boring standstill or moving too fast to take in your surroundings, and there’s always a battle to find a parking space. It sucks. I hadn’t realised just how much until I started regularly doing the same journeys by bike, and the world became a much more colourful, lively place.
3. Finding a parking space in town is much easier
Whenever I drove into town there’d be about five minutes spent finding a space, and a further five minutes spent walking from the car park to my destination. Now that I go to Caffe Nero by bike, I just ride straight to the cafe, and there’s a bike rack literally six paces from the door. There are bike racks all over the town centre, and they’re never so full you can’t find a space, and there’s also any amount of street furniture to lock up to as well. The other night I went to the theatre and because the main town centre car park has been closed everyone was a little under the pump. “Did you find a space ok?” Someone asked me. “Yes mate, my bike’s right outside” was my ultra-smug reply…
4. There is no time difference between car and bike to the town centre
I know – I tested it. My fiancée took her car and raced against my bike. Door to door it was literally a dead heat.
5. There’s a lot of value to be had in a second-hand fixer-upper
My bike cost £30. I have not missed a zero. I just happen to have found an absolute bargain, though admittedly I have spent quite a bit on bits for it since – somewhere in the region of £150. The point is not to compare it with how much it would now sell for (probably about what it cost in total) but with the cost of a new bike to the same specifications. The equivalent bike new would cost probably £400-500, once you’ve added lights and a Brooks saddle, and the only advantage would be the time save fixing it up. With the right maintenance there’s no reason why my 29 year old bike couldn’t be ridden for another 29 years, and parts are super-easy to find.
6. There’s a reason Brooks saddles have such a phenomenal reputation
Easily the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever ridden on, and I’ve had a few different types on previous bikes. I’ve ridden about 500 miles on that saddle now, and at no point have I felt even the merest hint of discomfort. Worth every penny, and looks as good as it performs.
7. A bicycle is fantastic for exploring
I’ve lived in Stafford my whole life and I thought I knew it well enough, but riding my bike has shown me parts of my town I’d never known about before. Exploring by bike is wonderful. It’s fast enough you can cover a lot of ground, slow enough that you can take it all in, flexible enough that you can go to all sorts of places a car never could, and all in a fraction of the time walking would take.
8. It doesn’t take too long before you stop running out of fitness and start running out of time
When I first got the bike, my fitness was terrible. I could barely ride to the end of the road and back, but in the space of a month of regular riding my fitness improved exponentially to the point that I can ride at a steady pace for so long it’s now a matter of how much time I have to spare. Right now that’s rarely more than an hour at a time, hence I’ve not gone beyond about 15 miles in a ride yet.
9. Chrome Steel rims brake poorly in the dry, and hardly at all in the wet
Words cannot satisfactorily express just how bad steel rims are for braking when they’re wet. You hardly stop at all! It holds you up as you constantly have to give yourself a huge margin in case you have to stop, and anticipate where you might have to. Swapping to an alloy front wheel has made a huge and very welcome difference to my bike’s braking performance.
10. There’s plenty of bicycle infrastructure out there…
When I came to look for racks and paths and cycle lanes I was amazed just how much there is about the place. I know the local council’s been gradually adding more and more for the last ten years, and in terms of finding a place to lock up in town they’ve done well. The Two Waters Way bridge is also a great asset, allowing me to get to Baswich without having to run the gauntlet of a horrendously narrow, dangerous and busy lane.
11. …But some of it may as well not be
However, some of the infrastructure adds little. The cycle paths on my road are a case in point, disappearing altogether at one point, requires you to ride up and down every dropped kerb further down, is often blocked by parked cars, and is missing a dropped kerb to link two sections at the bottom of the road, which is pretty dangerous at night if you don’t know about it. It adds virtually nothing. Likewise a number of paths are blocked by annoying chicanes that require you to dismount, which is a bit of a hassle and an unnecessary impediment to encouraging people to travel by bicycle.
12. The novelty of repairing punctures very quickly wears off
I don’t know whether it was a statistical freak or a consequence of the type of riding I was doing, but I had five punctures in quick succession at the start of the year, roughly one very 40 miles. I enjoyed changing the first one, but by the second and third puncture I was already fed up with it.
13. Ride on the roads wherever you can
Roads are much smoother and better maintained than cycle paths, there’s fewer points where you have to give way and the constant traffic removes sources of punctures. There are some cycle paths that save time compared to roads, but given the choice between similar routes the road will be the way to go.
14. Don’t be afraid of riding at night
As long as you have decent lights there’s really no reason not to feel just as comfortable, if not more comfortable, riding on the roads at night. If anything you’re more visible than in daylight because the lights stand out more, and the traffic is much, much lighter. Riding at night has helped me a lot in building up my confidence riding on the road, though I have had to take care to avoid poorly-lit or badly potholed routes.
15. If you want to get in the habit of riding lay down some rules, set a target and stick with it
The reason I’ve done over 400 miles since the start of the year is because I gave myself a rule – no silly short trips by car – and set myself a target – 1000 miles in a year. It’s really not hard to stick to these two, but having them there strengthens my resolve whenever I would otherwise have weakened, especially when it’s cold and wet outside. Now, short of hurricane force winds, I wouldn’t dream of driving to the town centre! I’ve got into a habit and it’s stuck.