Thursday, 11 June 2015

Cycling - The early days.

Cycling - The early days.
I am prompted to write this "muse" having today just completed a 63.5 mile (101 km) ride around Bredon Hill and passing through Fladbury, Elmley Castle, Winchcombe, Tewkesbury and Pershore. A marvellous ride and I am pleased I can do this with little difficulty at the age of 68, albeit slowly.
I am now more keen on cycling than any other period in my life although far less serious than many true cyclist. Where did it all begin?
A predecessor was my scooter when I was 7 or so years old. It was not only my personal transport but also my pirate frigate, army tank and space rocket. But this did not last long and soon my elder brother taught me to ride.
"Don't let go." I called out to my brother who was steadying the bike by holding onto the saddle.
"I won't" he replies.
The question is repeated and the reply is the same until there is suddenly no answer and I am off alone wobbling down the croft. Next Dad finds me my first bike, not sure of the make but it is a standard type, black with solid rod brakes and no gears.
This bike was to serve me for the next few years. It's main purpose was to get me to and from school only a mile at max. It's other major task was to take me fishing, with my rods strapped to the top frame.
Of course once I was off to the senior school, 11+, I wanted a racing bike. At that age a racing bike meant one like my friends, one with drop handle bars. I now know that a racing bike has a lot more requirements such as frame angles, but then it just meant drop handles. So my Dad manage to conjure up a frame which he had shot blasted and sprayed blue and then added the wheels, brakes, chain set etc. Although I wanted that most mysterious component, dérailleur gears, Dad 'explained' that I would be much better off with a fixed gear.
A fixed gear is not only a single gear, but has no freewheel mechanism, so there are only two ways to stop pedalling, you either hold your legs clear and let the pedals spin around between them or you stand stiff legged on one pedal and bob up and down as the pedals rotate. The latter was quite spectacular and drew a lot of attention.
The bike was still a means to an end, to and from school, get me to my friends, fishing trips and the like. Favourite fishing locations were Earlswood Lakes and the Cut between the Grand Union and Stratford-Upon-Avon Canals at Lapworth, both about 5 miles from home.
Earlswood Lakes
I also cycled to Earlswood to watch the fascinating courtship of the Great Crested Grebes, an activity that has been shown on the nature programmes on TV a couple of times this year. I cycled there again this year, only now they are a 40 mile round trip. There are still plenty of Grebes to watch. I expected the Lakes to be smaller than my childhood memories but the opposite was the case and I was surprised how big they are.
I do recall one memorable trip when I was 14. My pal Chris was a member of the local church youth club which was having a night away in the Youth Hostel at Stow-in-the-Wold, about 45 miles away and he suggested that together with our school friend Doug we should go as there would be girls there. We three went to a school which had 900 boys, so the chance to actually meet girls was not to be spurned. The only problem was that Doug and I were members of the school rugby team and we had a match that Saturday so we would miss the coach. No problem we could cycle in the afternoon.
After the first three miles I realised I had left the map on the kitchen table, so as Chris had not played rugby he went back to retrieve it whilst Doug and I waited. The next thing I remember is at the entering Studley you passed a Gloster Javelin jet parked by the road side.
For some reason I have a vivid picture of the main road bending to the right and we had to go straight on down a narrow country lane. Perhaps the sight of this narrow lane stretching out into the houseless countryside made me realise we were getting a long way from the security of home and suburbia. I now live close to this place which is by Ragley Hall Alcester.
One of us had a puncture but then there were small cycle repair shops in the small towns and villages and we had it repaired.
We travelled on to Chipping Campden which even to a 14 year old boy was impressive. High ancient stone houses of the Tudor era. We needed refreshments and found a sweet shop. Although the buildings were tall the shop was small and the ceiling low. Chipping Campden is still worth a visit today and I prefer it to the more touristy Broadway.
Chipping Campden
Last leg now but it was dark and I am convinced a bat's wing pressed against my face and then peeled off again as we struggled over the Cotswold plateau. Still we got there to hot food and the pleasure of mixing with girls fulfilled.
At the age of 15 we moved from Shirley just south of Birmingham to a village in Worcestershire and the bike was needed more than ever as everything was at least four miles away. School was so far away we were provided with a coach to get there. So from a school with 900 boys I was suddenly in a school with just 300 or so, and half of them girls! But now the bike was used less and if we wanted to go anywhere we would hitch hike. I also began to dream of motorised transport and by 16 I had finally managed to get to the grammar school having scraped together enough O-levels to make the jump from secondary modern. Fed up with missing the school bus I soon acquired a motor bike and the bike was sold to a young pupil of the school who lived in our village.
It would be over twenty years until I started cycling again at the age of forty and this time cycling would become the prime aim and not just a means. Oh and the bike at long last would have dérailleur gears.

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