Starting Out (Again)

The handlebars seem really narrow and the bike is wobbling all over the place.

Like many a first timer before me, this is my immediate, and somewhat unnerving sensation when setting off on a drop handlebar bike for the first time.

Only it’s not my first time. I used to be able to do this with my eyes shut. But that was a long, long time ago. Racing MTBs, time trialing, organising cycle club rides and even, as a very young man, riding from London to Paris. These were all there in a long and distant memory, but for now, on a bike pulled out of the loft that had been collecting dust for who knows how many years, my legs and head are telling me that this all feels like brand new again.

This may seem a bit out of the blue but the cycling bug came back to me last weekend. I was at the Herne Hill Velofete, a festival of cycling at London’s iconic outdoor velodrome. I’d only popped in for an hour to see what was going on, look around the stalls and say hello to a few old friends, but truth be told, I felt out of place. Fresh faces, new, younger, people in the sport, a buzz up there that I hadn’t seen for years. It reminded me that something had been missing from my life.

I only really ride around on a hybrid these days, and that’s for utility cycling. If I can do a journey on the bike and not the car, then that’s a win for me. If I can get on a cycle demonstration that results in better infrastructure being put in, then that’s a double win. If I can do a pub ride with my mates in the evening and avoid getting taxis, then that’s a win all round! The problem with that though is the old, fit version of me, goes. Weight piles on, and worse, the sense of camaraderie with the rest of the cycle sport crowd dissipates until eventually it’s just not there at all. And that leaves a gaping hole.

By chance I’d had some personal news today that needed mulling over to let it soak in. A bike ride had historically always been the best way for me to let thoughts permeate and come to a helpful conclusion so it seemed the right thing to do today.

Discussions at the velo festival with old pros, along with old friends still riding and old friends who wish they were still riding led me to get the ‘proper bike’ out of the garage.

I can’t actually remember the last time I rode it. It’s an entry level cyclocross bike with a hotchpotch of worn out componentry on it, but the main thing is – it still works!

Now don’t get me wrong; my old hybrid is great for utility cycling, but there’s something daunting about the thought of doing any serious distance on it. It just doesn’t strike me as inspiring. I suspect it’s the lack of cleats, and the basic front suspension, and the upright position. Absolutely brilliant for around town, but just not inspiring for new adventures.

So the cyclocross bike was brought back into service. Tyres pumped up, an old long sleeved cycle jersey pulled out from the back of the wardrobe, regular every day shorts put on (no chamois yet) and vintage SPD shoes hunted out.

Setting off felt disheartening – the position felt completely alien and the bike wobbled from left to right as my balance had to adjust to the narrow handlebars and perched saddle position compared to the comfort of the hybrid setup.

Within 200 meters an old lower back injury was making itself felt. Drop down to the small ring, tell myself I’ll just go very slow, and let my body relax and see if it can adapt.

No strain, no inflammation, and definitely no trying to keep up with anybody else I might see out on the road.

Within a mile I was enjoying it. The traffic seemed more daunting than I was expecting, so I headed for quiet roads. The plan was to get off road on gravel tracks as soon as possible. You might think gravel and Croydon aren’t natural bedfellows but you’d be surprised, there’s always something rideable if you know where to look. Within 10 minutes I was in open parkland and headed for quiet lanes and woodland tracks.

In the end I rode for about an hour. I wanted to do more but I’m aware that I have a propensity for overdoing things, so a shorter ride seemed prudent. My legs felt nicely stretched out, my bike handling became more fluid and my lower back felt surprisingly relaxed.

But something quite unexpected happened. I suddenly reconnected with the younger me. The me that had pots of energy, the me that wanted to go exploring, the me that was very comfortable with the thought of exercise. The me that wanted to be part of a cycling community.

It was quite a turn-up. The personal news I’d gone out to mull over arrived at it’s natural conclusion, but something new and unexpected had appeared out of the blue. I’m going to get out riding on this bike most days. I’m going to think of it as training. Not the type of masochistic training that is easy to fall into, more a celebration of growing fitness and regular enjoyment of the British summer. But even more I’m going to rejoin the cycling community and I’m going to take part in races.

How I do that I’m not sure. I think I’m going to have to go for a ride tomorrow and let a gentle plan bubble up.

2019-06-17

  • 11.46 miles
  • 1:03:46┬áMoving Time
  • 491ftElevation
  • 164 Max hr
AvgMax
Speed10.8mi/h20.6mi/h
Elapsed Time1:07:52

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