'I can't stress enough how empowering it is': how riding a BMX Burner changed my life

Jools Walker
·5-min read

Some of my happiest childhood memories are on my BMX Burner, the bike I inherited as a seven-year-old from my big sister. It wasn’t new or flashy like other kids’ bikes at school, nor was it the bike that I secretly desired, but that didn’t matter. That red and yellow beauty sparked friendships – and an obsession with life on two wheels.

After school and on weekends, I’d meet up with my friends, a mix of kids from my class and new friends I’d made cycling around my housing estate. Our favourite time for bike adventures was the summer holidays: six glorious weeks of long, bright days, with no school to interrupt our time. Parks, other housing estates and even building sites (definitely a place where you need reliable tyres) became our adventure playgrounds to explore.

I was convinced those days would last forever – of course, we’d all stay in Canning Town and the bonds born on our bikes would never fade away! But life doesn’t stand still. Interests change. People drift apart. My group of cycling friends got smaller and smaller until eventually, it was just me pedalling into my teens alone. My bike rides became increasingly sporadic, and by my 18th birthday I’d convinced myself I didn’t really need to cycle; that it was more convenient to take a tube and a bus to get to my university in Greenwich.

Then, at 28, I got back into the saddle. Two things happened: my boyfriend, Ian, had a passion for cycling that reminded me of my own, and the Cycle To Work scheme bought me the bike of my dreams: a Pashley Princess.

This was the bike I’d desired as a child. A step-through frame in black, with a big wicker basket on the front, and way outside the family budget. My sister’s BMX made me so happy and I loved that it got a whole new lease of life with me, but for the first time ever, I wanted to choose a bike of my own. This Pashley marked day one of my own cycling story – being with my bike right from the very beginning and starting a whole new adventure with it. I called her Frankie, and she changed everything.

I didn’t recognise it as a child, but cycling gave me freedom, friendships and headspace from difficult situations. Now, with Frankie, the same thing was happening on a much larger scale. I started connecting with other bike-lovers, both locally and around the world. This wonderful bike gave me a network of friends – my cycling family. It’s also given me the strength to encourage other women out there who don’t see themselves represented in the cycling world to connect, be vocal and be seen. Co-founding the Women of Colour Cycling Group and witnessing how the women in it are flourishing is an incredible experience.

My mental health can often be tricky to navigate. My depression can range from mornings where I burst into tears at the mere thought of getting out of bed and forcing myself to get on a bike to make myself feel better, to days where I know a long, meandering ride will give me the ultimate endorphin rush and clear my mind like nothing else.

Not every day is going to be a great one, on or off the bike, and I’ve learned to be OK with that and honest about the state of my mental health. I stand the risk of imploding otherwise. I’ve learned to take things at my own pace.

Related: Quiz: what’s your true cycling personality?

There is also an essential part of cycling that I’m proud to say I’ve got much better at: bike maintenance. It’s hard to believe, but it took until my seventh year back in the saddle to get my first ever puncture … and I had no clue what to do.

It was embarrassing but liberating to finally admit I was terrible at bike DIY. After taking a bike maintenance course, I now know the basics and also the importance of having good, reliable tyres. I used a black, single-speed step-through bike by Colourbolt, called Ratty – yes, I name all my bikes and absolutely believe they have their own personalities – for the course, because I’d never once encountered any problems with the tyres and wondered why. Ratty came with a pair of Schwalbe Durano Plus Londons. When the mechanic told me that they were some of the most durable and puncture-resistant tyres on the market, I kept this knowledge in mind and now have a set of Schwalbe Marathon Racers on my Brompton, Paisley.

The bike boom right now has got to be one of the few upsides of the pandemic. So if you’re a new cyclist and you’re a little nervous, I can’t stress enough how empowering it is to learn how to look after your two wheels should anything go amiss. Bicycle maintenance may not be for everyone, so there is nothing wrong with taking yours to your local bike shop to be fixed. But being prepared for anything on the roads – like having good tyres you can rely on – is a good move.

To find your flat-less tyre, visit schwalbe.com