Today I ticked over 1,500 miles for the year, meaning I’ve overdelivered on my target to the tune of 50%. What’s curious is the symmetry of it: five months for the first 500, two months for the next 500, and five months again for the last 500. I’m very pleased to have achieved my goal, but I’ve done more than just cycle an arbitrary distance.
Last Christmas it was a nice novelty to try to do as much of my shopping by bike as possible. This year that’s just the way I do things. I have become a full-blown transportation cyclist, and I wouldn’t dream of driving into town unless I really had to. The other day when I went to pick up the rims and spokes for my wheels was the first time I’d paid for parking in a long time – it had totally escaped my attention that the prices had gone up!
Another thing I notice is that I hate driving into or through town now, I really hate it. I hate the traffic, the lights turning red, finding a parking space, paying for parking and the lack of engagement with my surroundings. I like driving, and always have, but I hate town driving! I also hate the thought of all the parts in my car’s engine grinding away and slopping about on a small journey because they’re not up to temperature, so cycling short journeys instead may also be prolonging the life of my car.
It’s really nice to be experiencing another winter by bicycle. It’s really the first season where I’m repeating from last year, and as things change, and I see the way the place looks as it changes from one season to the next, I feel more in contact with the fact that the Earth has done another lap of the sun. It sounds silly, but that’s how it feels.
I’m feeling more in contact with my own body, too. It’s curious for someone who has always had a self-image that is largely focused on what my brain is capable of. To engage in something that brings my physical attributes into play more, and has developed my physique to some small extent, is I think quite healthy and makes my own self-image a little more balanced. I’m a lot fitter, to be sure, and rides that would have had me all-in last year are pretty inconsequential now. My legs are noticeably better toned, and overall I just feel healthier.
What’s been the best moment? That’s hard to say. There have been lots of nice moments. However I do have a vivid memory of one particular hill about two-thirds of the way into the sportive in July, it was about half a mile long and quite challenging. While a few riders were obviously struggling with it, and some were obviously in the wrong gear, I just sailed up and overtook maybe a dozen people on my heavy three-speed. That gave me a lasting feeling both of how much my fitness had improved and also that I had mastered how to ride that particular bike.
The worst moment is less difficult to identify: it was when my fiancée nearly got clipped by a motorist who, in broad Summer daylight, seemed oblivious to our being there and just kept coming down a narrow country lane. Not much one can do about it, it was just lousy driving. Sadly it has understandably put my fiancée off cycling a bit, and as far as I’m aware her lovely bike has yet to cover 50 miles since I gave it to her. Something to work on next year…
While we’re on the subject of bikes, I started the year with one and now have several. Essentially I have two ‘flagship’ bikes and a spare, plus a couple of others in bits. My racing bike, Major Tom, is undoubtably the star of the group, with his Reynolds 531 frame, excellent components and classic racer shape, but the absolute hero out of them all is the Admirable Crichton, my three-speed. Even with all these bikes to choose from he’s still the bike I ride most, and he’s covered well over two-thirds of my total miles this year. He works just as well in winter as in summer, and is just about as practical a bike as you could want, while still being surprisingly quick when the mood takes me. With a year of experience in how to keep him maintained he’s riding just as well as ever, and what can I say? It’s the best £30 I’ve ever spent.
Of course, I’ve spent a fair bit since but that’s the nature of most hobbies. So far my cycling hobby has cost a little more than astronomy and a bit less than cricket. Of the three I’d say cycling has been the best value. Next up are some new tyres for Major Tom’s new wheels, which I’ve ordered along with a fully-enclosed chaincase for Crichton which should save a lot of bother cleaning and oiling the chain. Crichton also needs an aluminium rim for the rear wheel, which I’d now be confident to build myself, and at that point I’d say he’s in better shape than when he was brand new. He’s got plenty of miles in him yet!
Meanwhile in town today I saw the fanciest bike I’ve yet seen in the bike rack:
It’s a Pashley Countryman, built of Reynolds 531 and brand new, thought it’s design and construction is very traditional. 18 speeds selected by way of friction shifters, and as you can see it’s a well-appointed tourer complete with alloy mudguards, a Brooks B17 saddle and large Carradice saddlebag. You can see from the two locks that the owner is (justifiably) not taking any chances and he seemed to jump out of his skin when I exclaimed “Ooh, a Pashley!” as if he’d been rumbled for riding a £1,000 bike. It’s a jolly handsome thing, for sure, but where’s the fun in buying a bike that works perfectly straight away?