‘Who hates cycling once they’ve tried it?’: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bike

Alexandra Jones
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Everyone finds their own way to cycling. I found mine because of yellow – the colour, not the Coldplay song. Yellow triggers something deep in my reptile brain so that when I see a yellow object I’m compelled to collect it, wear it, display it in my home or, more recently, ride it.

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I’d planned to buy the cheapest bike I possibly could. I figured that until I worked out whether I actually liked cycling, there was no point in spending much money on it. But then someone sent me a link to a yolk yellow city bike and even though it cost about four times what I’d planned to spend, I found myself clicking Buy Now with all the self-restraint of a sugar-crazed toddler. I would name him Colonel Mustard.

The fact that I picked my bike based on colour should tell you how much I knew about cycling right up until the moment I strapped on my helmet and asked the man in the shop what he meant by “tyre pressure”. I knew nothing.

If I’m honest, up until lockdown, I didn’t really like the idea of cycling. It was a combination of things that put me off. There was a man I used to work with who’d saunter into our Camden Town office each morning (sweaty, puce and bow-legged) complaining of yet another near-death encounter with a doubledecker, and I’d think: “No, thank you, not for me.” Also, from the pavements, cyclists themselves seemed a wild bunch. I’ve lived in London for 12 years and have lost count of the times that I’ve almost lost the tip of my nose to a speedy cyclist slicing past me. For years I told myself that I was neither coordinated nor brave enough to be on two wheels.

But then, well, you know, global pandemic, lockdown, etc, etc. Like most people, one of the things I found difficult about it all was the feeling that my life had been taken out of my hands. In March I’d cut a month-long trip of a lifetime short after eight days. A few weeks later I was made redundant. It was OK, I thought, because surely this would all be over soon enough? Surely? As the weeks wore on, though – the quiet madness of life indoors, of daily briefings, Zoom calls taken in other rooms, hours passing like seconds but also years – I began to see that even when this was “over”, life wouldn’t go back to how it had been before. That I would need to work out some new ways of doing things.

By May it was decided. If I wanted to venture beyond a two-mile radius of my own home – and by then I really did, I ached to see a new view, to be in a different locale – I’d need to put my hand-eye coordination to the test.

Enter Colonel Mustard. Predictably, I have loved cycling. I say “predictably” because who hates cycling once they try it? Literally no one. The freedom has given me a sense of control and perspective, which I’d been sorely lacking when I was trapped in my home.

Cycling has given me a reason to move and to be outside. It has given me a chance to enjoy the full spectrum of British summertime weather. I’ve been caught in many rain showers and freak hail storms, often without a jacket; one time another cyclist stopped beside me at a red light and pityingly offered me the coat off his back.

Most of all, cycling has given me the city back. In these four months I’ve cycled over Waterloo Bridge as the sun rose behind the city, and to Hyde Park to stand two metres away from friends on their birthdays. I’ve cycled to Hackney Marshes to swim in the River Lea and have ridden around and around the Victoria Memorial, waving to the guards at Buckingham Palace. I’ve cycled down a deserted Oxford Street, marvelling at the eeriness of the scene and at the fact that – even though it’ll always be the people who make it great – post-apocalyptic London is still beautiful.

And OK, Colonel Mustard hasn’t solved all my problems, but having a bike has made me feel more equipped to take them on. Roaring down a hill, the road markings blurring to nothing beneath my front tyre and the wind blowing my hair back behind me, I have often felt like, even if things don’t go back to how they were before, they will still be OK.

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