Ode to cycling
It was exactly a year ago that my housemates and I uprooted from our crumbling, endearingly grimy shared house in Elephant and Castle to live 20 minutes down the road, between Camberwell and Peckham, in a house that had modern luxuries like double glazing and insulation.
It was exactly a day after that my mum came wobbling up to our front door on a bright blue, second-hand bike that was clearly too small for her. It was a present to me, as I had recently been clamouring to ride around London on a set of my own two wheels. Luxurious and IKEA showroom-esque as our house was, it was nowhere near any public transport connections. Even the nearest bus stop was a 10-minute walk.
A year on, I look back fondly at that day, and at the many days after that on which I routinely embarked on commutes through central London, weaving dangerously through the rush-hour traffic. Having never bothered to get my driving license as a demotivated suburban teen (who had, to be fair, always lived within five minutes of a bus stop or train station), I had never experienced the pleasure of moving around independently. It’s no surprise that the little blue bike felt like a ticket to freedom.
That said, I should acknowledge that getting to the point where I felt free to ride around on my little blue bike wasn’t especially easy. As is the case for anyone starting a new hobby, I certainly encountered a few obstacles during the first few months of my (figurative) cycling journey – particularly because it began in a notoriously overcrowded, traffic-dense city. I did my fair share of wincing and squealing whenever a bus came up behind me, afraid I would end up bulldozed, cartoon-style, flat on the tarmac.
An unfortunate incident that did come to fruition involved a dark evening, a car door and a very apologetic stranger, who scooped my trembling body off the floor. When I cycled to a garden centre with a housemate in December, I lost sensation in my hands, which had turned a concerning shade of mauve.
These, and many other along the way, have been invaluable life experiences – not least because I’ve learnt to wear gloves when it’s cold. And it’s why, as I think back to Sunday mornings spent battling up Denmark Hill to be afforded a coffee and a cinnamon bun from Gail’s in Dulwich on the other side, or leisurely post-work rides around Hyde Park during the height of lockdown, and especially pre-lockdown commutes down an overflowing Liverpool Street, my heart swells with pride.
To say that cycling has enriched my life would be an understatement: as well as being a (mostly) free and (actually) fun way to exercise, it has also served to boost my self-esteem, as I become exponentially confident in my ability to cycle further and faster, and to facilitate my friends’ discovery of a (mostly) free and (actually) fun way to exercise. My recent revelation that taking a wheel off and replacing an inner tube is, in fact, possible has bolstered my self-belief no end. And, as I reflect on the trajectory of my year-old love so far, I only feel excited for our future.