Light on Cycling

It's almost a year since I cycled regularly. I've been out on my bike less than 20 times since last August. It surprises me to see this written but it's true. However, I have not given up cycling by any means. Nope. I've just had other things to do, beginning with re-roofing part of our house (stripped down to bare brick and concrete). In fact I've done a lot of things I would not have done in the comfort zone of daily bike riding.

Last March me and Sandra went on a short cycling holiday in Shropshire—or whichever county Ludlow is in. We didn't even get our bikes out of the van. Later on, in June I think it was, we went on another short cycling holiday on the west coast of Wales in the hinterland near Aberaeron. Again, no cycling. They are both very nice places but, as we discovered, no-one cycles there. That's what I was thinking: no-one cycles in most of the UK*. Of course there are parts of the country that lend themselves to it and where people are enthusiastic about riding bikes. I live in one. Evenings and weekends all year round the local moors are full of mountain bikers, often in groups of twelve or more. We are shortly going on a short cycling holiday in Derbyshire and this time we'll definitely go cycling.

When you are into something—anything—you tend to believe it really matters. If, for instance, you are a passionate fisherman you don't understand why everyone else doesn't go fishing. If you are tiling your bathroom it becomes the big thing in your life and you show your visitors into the room so they can see what you've done. It's only when you stop doing this something that a sense of perspective returns and you remember how life is normally lived. That's how it was when I stopped cycling regularly at the end of last August.

There are cyclists on the CTC Forums who genuinely believe in a cycling revolution when Britain eventually goes Dutch. Over and over I've read how it all makes sense, with MPs going off to look at Dutch roundabouts and new budgets announced to get this country on the path to cyclenation etc. Since I stopped reading it (as I was doing 'other things') I've stopped believing it. I see no evidence of it. I don't even think about it much and nor do most people unless they happen to be an enthusiastic cyclist who hears and follows the arguments. I have gone back five years to when I was not a cyclist but I rode my bike. I'll probably be on my bike regularly again from this Autumn. Probably or maybe—it doesn't matter. I'll enjoy cycling as much as before but I won't let it become a comfort zone. They are what one should guard against as one gets older.

*Re: "no-one cycles in most of the UK" – I don't mean it literally. But I was surprised not to see a single bicycle in Ludlow, a pleasant market town set in lovely countryside. Ludlow is on a hill and that's the reason. The kind of mass cycling advocated by campaigning groups such as the CTC won't happen in the UK because the majority of people will not cycle uphill. The topography is not conducive, nor are the roads, confined as they often are between hedges and buildings up against the roadside, not suitable for separate cycle paths except occasional ones that eventually lead nowhere. Sportive and off-road are different and seem to be thriving (I am thinking of getting a mountain bike). People cycle for fitness regardless of the road conditions, and clubs go out on Sundays. I don't mean that sort of cycling. I mean there is no option but to enjoy things as they are, accepting that motorists generally regard bicyles as nothing but a nuisance to be negotiated or preferably ignored altogether. I have suggested before how Britain is unique in the thousands of miles of bridleways criss-crossing the landscape almost everywhere and all of it accessible to bicycles. Off-road cycling has a future I think.

4 comments on “Light on Cycling”

  1. Kern wrote:

    Patrick, you make an interesting comment about doing all things in moderation. It is a philosophy I heartily endorse.

    I remember Hilary's post about Tommy Godwin who cycled over 120,000 km in one year. That's an amazing statistic. But when I read it I thought, there would not have been much time left for family and friends.

    Of course, the counterpoint to this is, if you are going to do something, do it as well as you can. Now there's a fine balance ...

  2. Chris wrote:

    Hmm. Not sure I would describe cycling as a comfort zone, unless the thing cycling is comforting someone from can be identified. An obsession, yes, I can see that...

    Regarding the 'mass cycling' I suspect you're right, Patrick, that in hilly areas it tends to be the recreational cyclist rather than the utilitarian sort who are seen about. I live on the edge of the Holderness Plain – it's as flat as the proverbial pancake and close to Hull. Hull was called 'Cycle City' in the 1930s as a result of both the number of cyclists and its area's flatness. So, where it's hilly perhaps 'sporty' cyclists will always predominate. By contrast, in pan-flat Hull this bike shop seems to be doing rather well selling mostly Dutch-style bikes, fixies, shoppers etc:

    But I'm also not far from the Yorkshire Wolds – which are not flat – and Hull sustains a great number of other bike shops.

    As an aside – a brief comparison of cycling in the Wolds, Moors and Dales, for what it's worth:

    A couple of Sundays ago I rode 100 miles (with two cyclists with the combined age of 150). On the Wolds we met a great deal of cyclists – I'm fairly certain they outnumbered the motorists that day. Last month I rode 55+ miles on the Yorkshire Moors. That day I saw one other cyclist. Last weekend I was in the Yorkshire Dales (without a bike) and, perhaps not surprisingly given the publicity of Le Tour, I saw more cyclists than I had ever seen there before. Some were on mountain bikes, but the majority were on road bikes. The only utilitarian bikes I saw were painted yellow and fastened on to walls. Presumably someone rode these shopping bikes at some point, but I didn't see any ridden whilst I was there.

  3. Hilary wrote:

    Chris commented
    Hmm. Not sure I would describe cycling as a comfort zone, unless the thing cycling is comforting someone from can be identified. An obsession, yes, I can see that...

    I would be inclined to agree, although I suppose riding my favourite familiar routes is a comforting sort of activity. As for obsessed.......Me? Never! 😆 😆 😆

    Leisure cycling is very popular on the island at the moment and the IOW council recently produced a leaflet describing it as a 'cycling paradise'. Of course it makes it easier to encourage people to visit by bike when the car ferry prices are exorbitant! Utility cycling is another matter entirely though. There is some in the flatter parts of the island but where I live its such a steep pull up from the town that no one (myself included) is going to cycle with a load of shopping – its easier to walk! I'd be very surprised if the Dutch cycling culture ever expands beyond cities such as York or Cambridge which have a Dutch level of flatness.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    I've travelled around England and Wales a fair bit during the past 6 months or so and you don't see many cyclists – in some regions none. Fast country roads lined with hedges just don't lend themselves to it and much of the country is like this (although there are areas with much lighter traffic and slower roads that are good to cycle on – I agree that many parts of Yorkshire and the IoW are examples).

    Add in the hills and extended commuting distances (compared to Holland) and it just doesn't seem as if the mass cycling campaigners envisage is ever going to happen. I don't mean cycling can't be enjoyed but it means being selective.

    What I mean by comfort zone is the tendency, in my case at least, to suppress the demands of normal life, to put things on the back-burner, when you have something else to absorb yourself in, whether it's cycling or golf or any other pleasant and rewarding activity.

    Of course there is something to be said for doing something as well as you can but I think it has merit where you have a particular talent rather than merely a predisposition to enjoy it. If you are lucky your talents are in the activity you love! (a trick I have never managed myself)

    So anyway... I'm not only cycling now but hill walking and other things, and I enjoy cycling as much as before.

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