Before December 2016 I had never owned a road bike, in March 2017 I rode one for the first time, so as its Cycle to Work day tomorrow I thought I would share my experiences of getting in to cycling.
Before these challenges I have over the years owned a couple of bikes, a standard men’s bike and a folding bike, which I used for cycling too and from the station while working in London. It was only ever a few miles and never more than the commute itself, I had never really considered doing anything more than that if I’m honest.
Fast forward 6 years…When I started to create the list of Miles for Wishes challenges, cycling was firmly up there with something I wanted to do for no other reason that I’d never done it. This goes for most of the challenges really – you start with the iconic events like the London Marathon or London to Brighton, as these are seen to be a very recognisable and significant achievement for anyone. So adding them was, for me, partly to prove a point – simply that I can do it. I genuinely believe that you don’t need to be an athlete to complete challenges such as this – you just need to be determined, to work hard and have the mental strength to just keep going. There is no trick and no secret to what I’m doing – I have stumbled along the way – but I those challenges I have not completed will be revisited and I and determined to beat them.
I don’t ride an expensive or branded bike, my bike is not pretty and it is by no means the fastest. I bought a Carrera TDF aluminium frame on eBay and spent two months stripping it down, re-spraying it and then rebuilding it with new parts. Again not the most expensive, modest road racing parts such as a Shimano Tiagra groupset (this is their mid range set). Where I could I have re-used parts such as the seat post and handlebars that were in decent condition, taking the view that these can be replaced in due course. It’s ugly but it works well and because I built it, I love it more than anything I could have spent more money on.
Since starting to ride in March of this year I’ve completed 2 challenges on my bike, with a few more to follow. In April I undertook a 12 hour static ride, alongside my fabulous colleagues from Bracknell Forest Homes and support from OfficeTeam and Absolutely Fitness, then in June I cycled 144 miles from London to Brighton and then back home and in November I will be cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 9 days.
I look back at the video I posted on completion of my London to Brighton and back challenge and smile, amazing memories have been created and I also really surprised myself – I’d never ridden a century (100 miles) before this challenge and I think it showed in my face, I was exhausted.
It wasn’t easy, particularly taking it on alone, but 3 punctures and a split tyre along the way didn’t really help me. On the return leg I was just outside of Horsham in Surrey, when I ran through a stretch of road where gravel chippings had spilled out from someone’s driveway. A sharp stone split my rear tyre and popped an already repaired inner tube. I tried a further repair but it just wasn’t to be…so I ended up walking nearly 8 miles, in cleats, to find the Halfords in Horsham so I could buy a new rear tyre and a couple of inner tubes. I wasn’t in the best of moods when I got there but I need to say a big thanks to the two guys at the bike counter who lightened the mood with a bit of banter. Tyre replacement complete and I was back on my way, I returned home at around 9pm having set off from Clapham Common in London at 7.30am. What did I learn from this? Carry more spares, spend a little more on good quality tyres and stay calm, no amount of stressing or swearing will change where you are – think the problem through logically and deal with it. Ultimately however, this challenge confirmed for me that If you want it, you can do it.
On the 22nd of September I will be proudly supporting Wish Dad Tony Frobisher as he takes on another of his own challenges – cycling the 200 miles from Worcester to Eastbourne in memory of his daughter Milla and in aid of Make-A-Wish UK. This will be the first time Tony and I have met, but he has been incredibly supportive and more than generous with advice and encouragement for my own efforts. Having that network around you for support and advice is hugely important when taking up anything new – being able to talk through and share ideas with people who have that real world experience provides me with the inspiration I need to get out there and work harder and smarter. Having undertaken John O’Groats to Land’s End himself, Tony has provide an invaluable resource in planning my own route down the length of the country.
In preparation for this, I’ve been able to get more miles in recently as my hamstring is recovering. Similarly, cycling to and from work is a really easy way to fit training in to my day, particularly as the day light reduces and the weather turns. I’m going to be using these commutes to focus on speed, using Strava to analyse my efforts and shave some time off of the journey, as well as my climbing technique (its up for debate whether living on the edge of the Chilterns is a good thing in this respect – but any way I got requires a respectable ascent). So I’m supporting Cycle to Work day because it’s a great initiative, as a Bucks Move Me community champion its important to promote anything that encourages people to be a bit more active – this is only 1 day out of the 365 after all. So I hope your going to join me tomorrow and cycle to work – who knows where it might lead you?
So, what does cycling mean for me – as with the running, its become an escape from the worries and stresses of everyday life. I am not ashamed to say that I battled with depression through a significant chunk of my 20’s, I am, I think, over the worst of it because I am better able to recognise and manage how I feel. I still have those black days but I know that lacing up my running shoes or clipping in to my bike is a great way to clear the fog and provide the medicine my mind and soul needs. It is however, more than that, it is also freedom. I love exploring and because of cycling I have been to places on my doorstep that I never knew existed, things that you’d never see in a car. I keep this in mind when planning my long weekend rides and make a point to cycle out to local landmarks or features of interest.
Finally, what does it take to be a cyclist? Simply getting on your bike and getting out there, it shouldn’t be any more complicated than that. Anyone who says any different is just creating a barrier that doesn’t need to be there. Sport should never be exclusive or elitist, it should be fun and open all irrespective of age or ability. In my opinion cycling is an accessible sport – you can get set up for a small initial outlay and you certainly don’t need to go out and buy all the fancy, expensive equipment. Similarly, lycra is not mandatory…but you might just find you like the figure hugging fabrics. I’ve taken a pragmatic view to getting myself set up, making modest investments each month to build up the equipment I need over time, making it a little more affordable. It is worth, as I’m learning, to spend a little more and buy once than simply buy the cheapest on the market. In that respect, I’ve come to find a love for dhb, a British born clothing brand – I am a big fan of the styles and colours on offer, allowing you to be as under or overstated as you like. Their kit is built well, it lasts, it performs and it fits perfectly. The Blok Nova, as worn on my London to Brighton and back challenge, is a firm favourite. However, as winter approaches along with some epic cycling challenges – John O’Groats to Land’s End in 9 days being just one – I am now on the look out for a winter kit that will help add a bit of ‘pop’ to those cold, wet and windy days.
The dhb Blok Nova in all its glory
Did you know I am running a competition over September, where I am asking the public to set my final challenge of 2017? If your Make-A-Challenge idea is voted the best then you could win yourself £100!! Get involved here – www.tinyurl.com/y8odv3jd