Tuesday, 22 July 2008

On the road again

I've finally given in to peer pressure at work and invested in a bike. For the past eight years I've either walked to and from work (which takes around 25 minutes each way) or when I'm feeling really lazy caught the bus, which takes between five and ten minutes, but you end up waiting up to quarter of an hour for the damn thing to turn up anyway.

Quite a few of my colleagues (some who live further away than I do) swear by using the old two-wheeled contraption: "You'll be home before you know it" they say. "It's faster in town than using the car."

I've been considering buying a bike for a while anyway. The shifts that I work involve me heading home sometimes at eleven at night, which is a time that you don't really want to be hanging around outside if you can help it.

Last night after spending an entertaining walk home drunk-dodging I'd finally had enough of using "shanks pony" and decided that a bike would be in order.

I'd had a look at some of the shops to see what was on sale, but nothing had really caught my eye until this morning in Woolworths where they were selling 26" Gents Bikes for £69.99. I was tempted, but was still planning on buying one mail-order.

That was before I checked out the specifications on the bike. Woolworths provide DVD cases with the details and price of some of their bulkier items which you take to the counter for payment. This particular one told me the height, number of gears, the fact that it had two wheels and so forth.

There was one important difference from the details that I was looking at and the bike at the front of the shop - and that was the price. The price at the bottom of the DVD case was £50 - a whole £19.99 cheaper.

The other "take this slip to the counter" tokens all said £69.99 too. At this point I managed to collar one of the assistants to get her to double-check the price. "Yes", she informed me, "the bike is £50 and we've got two still in stock. Do you want it?"

"Yes please!"

Ka-Ching! I'm now the proud owner of a "Universal Thaw 26" Gents Mountain Bike."

Buying a bike is one thing. Getting the bugger home is something else.

As my office was just round the corner I decided to drop it off there, as I wasn't due to start work until later in the afternoon. I also invested in front and rear lights for the bike, a puncture repair kit, bike pump, some rather natty cycling gloves, bike lock and other assorted goodies.

I did take a certain amount of ribbing at work about it, for example: "Have you got your shiny helmet?", "does it have tassles on the handlebars?", "it says from age 14 on the box, so you should be safe" and so forth the general opinion was positive, especially when someone noticed the price on the box: £139 reduced to £69.99 - and I'd only paid £50 for it.

The last time I'd had a new bike was back in the 1980s when I got a BMX for Christmas (I was 12 I think). I still have fond memories of my black and red Raleigh Night-Burner, so later on in the afternoon when I set-to constructing my new 18 gear steed there was a certain nostalgic feel about it.

As a parent I'm quite used to building things for my kids, so constructing a bike holds no fears for me, although putting the front brakes back together after the cables sprung out did give me fifteen minutes of extreme fun, but at the end of it all I was left with a shiny new red and silver mountain bike.

Since I was going to be riding back in the dark, I also set up the lights - safety first and all that jazz.

And that was that. Close of play at work couldn't come soon enough and I was looking forward to the journey home, and to being back nice and early with none of the usual hassles.

Finally the time had come to take the plunge, put the foot to the peddle and ride like the wind, pausing only briefly to switch the lights on.

There are two things that I'd not considered:

One, as I'd stated earlier, was that my last bike was a BMX, and the thing about BMXs is that they don't have gears. In fact, I've never ridden a push-bike with gears in before. Number two was the bloody great hill half-way between work and my house.

Blissfully oblivious to these two key facts I set off for home.

I was a blur of beard and peddles as I left the ring road, sailed past the theatre and headed towards the hill. Walking up the hill it doesn't seem that steep. Tackling it on a bike is a different matter entirely.

I'd gone quite fast for the first quarter of a mile, and was happily playing around changing gears and seeing what sort of speed I could get up to. Then I reached the hill. The hill itself starts off with a gentle climb, before rising steeply, at which point I discovered exactly what gears are for, and why changing into a lower gear BEFORE you reach your pain threshold is probably a good idea.

Once up the hill the rest of the ride home was uneventful, that is until I reached home and dismounted.

This is where I discovered the awful truth. When I was a teenager I would spend the best part of the day racing around on two wheels without breaking a sweat.

Now however my 34 year old legs were about as steady as a new-born lambs. Checking the time I found I had made the trip back in around ten minutes. On the other hand I could hardly walk. I must have lost around two pints of liquid just through sweating.

The mirror confirmed exactly what I had feared - a sweaty, unfit, wobbly-legged, crimson cheeked 34 year old reflection wheezed back at me.

Half-an-hour later after having a short lie down with only the shattered memories of my youth to comfort me I actually started to feel much better about things. The trip to work should be a piece of cake tomorrow, as it is mostly downhill.

I'll have to pace myself better on the way back, and hopefully won't have spent most of the night running up and down three flights of stairs.

So what have I learnt?

Well, apart from the need to pace myself better, and the need for practice at using the gears, I've also learnt that the bike seat, although padded, is still damn hard if you aren't used to it.

Providing I survive the experience I'll write more on this after a couple of weeks to see if the journey really does get any easier.

No comments: