The Bike! – David Power searches for meaning

Like most other kids I had my first bike at an early age. Sitting here many years later I can remember a blue and white trike being wheeled into a very early birthday celebration.  My first two wheeler, a red Raleigh, came a few years later. After that it was a three speed, drop barred heavyweight as a 12 year old in Germany. It saw a lot of action in the three years I had it. Sadly, it went astray somewhere in transit on return to the UK.

Following that I was bikeless for many years until I bought a nice little roadie for commuting to work in London. You’d think it would be pretty safe in a block of Police flats wouldn’t you? Nope – some people have no shame. Between my 20’s and 50’s, I was the owner of two more bikes, the second of which got me around the Ring of Kerry, my first experience of touring. Otherwise, it would be fair to describe my cycling as intermittent and of the low mileage variety, getting out a bit with my kids when they were younger but not much more. As with so many people my solitary bike spent more time in the garage than anywhere else!

Fast forward to retirement and relocating to God’s Own County. We’d made the move, settled in, had the holidays. What am I going to do now? Help was close at hand in the shape of the numerous lycra clad cyclists who would regularly make their way up and down the greenway which ran past the front of our cottage in Mirfield, many of whom seemed to be about my age. Eureka! In between bikes at the time I hot footed it down to the local bike shop and purchased a Gary Fisher off road hybrid. A short time later I teamed up with my local section of CTC and the rest is history.

Ten years, four bikes and many thousands of miles later it is fair to say that cycling has become the main focus of my life outside the home. With others of a similar disposition I’ve often asked, ‘Why The Bike and what are the parts that other pastimes just don’t reach?’ The word ‘encompassing’ sums it up nicely. It’s not one thing, it’s a whole multitude, combining to form not just a lifestyle, but a way of looking at life and embracing it. As the man said, ‘it’s a lot more than just going out for a pedal!’

Let’s cover the obvious first. Fitness, tied in with mileages and feet climbed, not to mention the fresh air. The more we do the happier with life we are. It’s a way of getting and keeping fit. Once upon a time I’d ride miles just to avoid a climb, but now I know I can do it. In Yorkshire you can’t avoid them, so embrace them. But it’s more than that. We’ve just got to get those miles in. It’s something that has to be done. Is it about competing with others? Yes, to an extent; witness all those bods addicted to Strava, fighting it out with people they’ve never met. And how often do we say to each other ‘Have you been out this week?’ How many miles did you get in?’ Competition!

Moreover though, I’d suggest that we’re competing with ourselves, setting targets, keeping diaries with mileages ridden and feet climbed. Maybe I’m more obsessed than I think but I’m always working towards something and if I don’t get there, something’s missing. Whether it’s achieving a certain mileage, getting to the top of a climb before anyone else or completing a tough ride for the first time, that competitive urge is one of the things The Bike brings out in all of us at one time or another.

Then there’s simply getting out and about. On moving to Yorkshire I didn’t have a clue when it came to local knowledge. The Bike has sorted that for me. I must have ridden most of the roads and lanes within a 25 mile radius of where I now live, together with many more further afield. My wife Heather, who is Yorkshire born and bred, and who has lived here most of her life, knows only a fraction of the cafes that I do!

Being a stranger to the area, local knowledge has brought with it a sense of belonging and affinity with my surroundings. If people were to ask what it is about Yorkshire that I most value, the answer is straightforward: the people and the landscape. On The Bike you meet people and you go places! I’ll never know the ins and outs of every town and village I go through but I don’t need to. I also know I’ll never be ‘proper Yorkshire’ but I know where I am and where I’m going a lot more than I have done in the past. The Bike as much as anything has led me to think of Yorkshire and the North as home in every sense of the word. Loyalty and belonging. Southern by upbringing, Yorkshire courtesy of The Bike!

It also has to be said that most of the folks I go out with are of a certain age. We’re all pretty much retired. In the wrong hands that could be a recipe for disaster. What are we going to do with ourselves? How are we going to keep some structure in our lives? It can be the end of life as we know it Jim or we can treat it as a whole new chapter. With me it was definitely the latter. Financially secure, young and fit enough to make the most of it, I was up for the new chapter option. Let’s call it reward time!

And again it is The Bike that has done that for me. Increasingly it has filled the career gap in terms of interest, focus and weekly structure. Without doubt it now provides me with everything work did in terms of socialization and camaraderie. I am part of a community that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Unlike work there’s absolutely no grief either! Some I know have even seen it as a lifeline. We care about each other and even with cyclists we don’t know there’s always that imperceptible nod of the head when we pass each other on the road or the offer of help when somebody is roadside with a mechanical. The Brotherhood of The Bike.

I’ve mentioned The Bike as being a focus of interest, not to mention passion. There are the local day to day rides and club outings, but I’m now starting to build up a folio of longer touring rides that wasn’t part of my horizon when I started out; London to Paris on the Royal British Legion’s Pedal to Paris and The Way of The Roses being major highlights together with four days touring the Munnar Hills of Kerala with my daughter. In addition, there have been various tours and cycling holidays to, amongst other places, the Scottish borders, Northumberland, The Peak District, Majorca and Portugal, as well as a few miles in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and riding the beaches on South Carolina’s Isle of Palms. All life affirming.

It’s a passion that also extends to following the world of road and track cycling. Before I got into The Bike myself I just didn’t get it. The Peloton – what’s that all about? I understand now. Each team has its own priority with each domestique having a particular function in order to achieve that goal. The TdF is essentially a 21 day rolling game of chess and once you appreciate that, the whole thing has a unique fascination, likewise the tactics involved in the various track races. And those riders are so tough, how can you not admire them? I once witnessed a crash on the Volta au Algarve where a rider came off at speed and bounced twice on the tarmac before coming to a stop. I thought that was him done for the day if not the race. Albeit he could hardly walk, the medics had him bandaged and back on his bike within five minutes of the peloton passing through AND he went on to finish 14th for the day. Footballers, take note!

Last but most certainly not least, is something that more than a few have shared with me. A sense of the spiritual. If it was just me I might be thinking that I was being a little too deep. But it’s not just me; cycling is good for your soul. Think of spirituality as being at one with our inner selves, as opposed to the simple here and now. It doesn’t happen all the time, just occasionally when everything is in total harmony; the landscape, the weather, our bodies, that wonderful feeling of physical well-being. A 14km descent on the last day of the Munnar Ride, going back in time with the forts of Hadrian’s Wall on the old Military Road, having the beach to myself on The Isle of Palms, being one of nearly 300 riders rolling through the countryside of Picardy en route to Paris are moments that spring to mind. Others will have had similar experiences. Just think of the rides which meant the most to you and ask yourself why. Somewhere in there your inner self was saying something. That’s your soul coming out, the ‘parts that other pastimes don’t reach.’

There we have it folks. For myself at least, I’ve provided a few answers to those eternal questions and I‘m thinking that more than a few heads will be nodding in agreement. One minute it’s just something you do every now and then, but somewhere in the mix it starts to take over and becomes a definitive part of our lives, of who we are. The man was right. It really is a lot more than just going out for a pedal!