Apart from when I was a tomboy of 15 years old, the sort you you don’t tend to see these days; gawky and androgynous, I have never really bothered much with cycling. But back in the day, I was really quite enthused by my “racing bike” which had a perilously high, straight top bar. It proved I was no skirt wearing girly girl but threatened me with severe groin injury at every road junction because my father insisted on having the saddle at the “correct” height, which meant my feet could barely touch the ground on tip toes.
My blue metallic machine with white-taped drop handle bars, afforded new delights of independence within a small radius of the house and enabled me to secure my first job at the local newsagents. I would never have contemplated walking – for walking, in my family, was not considered an activity for the sane. Only transport which involved wheels or an engine was acceptable. I earned £8.25 for my five hours labour, including an illicit and undisclosed number of red jelly babies from the pick ‘n mix.
I’ll always remember the peculiar discomfort caused by riding with all my weight pressing down on the thick inseam of my 80s jeans, the denim would have been tough enough for the construction of a UN emergency tent. I’m finding it amusing to see this tarpaulin grade denim coming back into fashion and will avoid it like the plague.
There were also a couple of family cycling holidays still in my teens for which I took the extraordinary step of buying Lycra cycling shorts. They actually possessed a real leather chamois pad; a point of interest for the young who may wonder why the high tech gel and foam pad or “chamois” of today has the name of a European mountain goat. Despite my state of the art pants, these holidays involved cycling relatively short distances with only the merest hint of a gradient, and before very long in the saddle, the scorching French sun chasing us into cafés, lunch stops or to dip in the river for relief.
After the teenage years, the blue bike mouldered in the shed and cycling became obsolete, university sport was all important and in those days the idea of getting fit for sport was seen as rather a niche activity, you got fit doing sport, duh! Hockey was my flavour. It was far more fun terrorising pedestrians and cyclists in my 950cc Toyota Starlet (I wore a hole in the carpet under the accelerator pedal). I did do some nominal running, but nothing to speak of, and the idea of cycling for fitness would have been laughable; there were very few Lycra clad devotees out there and British cycling mania was yet to materialise.
After all, my young self vaguely despised those rather geeky looking racing fanatics with their fake sponsorship t-shirts and their weird bodies, not cool; like insects that have spent too much time at the gym or like paunchy gorillas with Chris Hoy thighs, I would never go there…
Read next: Tomboy to Tourmalet – part 2