You never forget how to…

… ride a bike. Much.

At the weekend I took time to power wash the house and at the same time hose down the bikes to get them usable for getting to and from the Isle of Wight Festival this coming weekend. Jimjams has grown since she last rode her bike, and having made use of her mother’s chaffeuring services, this means she hasn’t ridden her bike since primary school, some five years ago. She’s still too small to use a full sized bike, and having determined that her mother’s equally underused cycle was too high, I adjusted her old bike. It’s about as high as it will go but is now ideal. As Jimjams got on she declared she’d forgotten how to ride a bike.

This sort of declaration is not unusual, though when last heard it it was the slightly more terminal sounding “I’ve forgotten how to swim”, thereby showing that five years of swimming lessons had largely been wasted. Still, she evidently remembered enough to get out the pool, and so it was with the bike: an unsteady but forwards-moving journey. Jimjams has never understood the concept of gears, though.

My bike is used almost every day, and a quick hosing down made it look more presentable. However, it’s too big to go in the car to transport to where we’ll be staying over the festival, and our car can’t take a bike rack. So this morning I took advantage of the slightly hazy sunshine and got an early start on the 15-mile journey across the Island to our friends’ house in Wootton. I usually only cycle the few miles to the post office and back, so comparatively speaking this was an adventure.

It didn’t used to be like this. In London, forced by a succession of train strikes, I cycled the 16 miles to work from Wandsworth to Woolwich as a matter of habit, regularly beating public transport on a journey whose only tough part was Blackheath Hill. But it’s at least 15 years since I did that sort of thing every day, and I was prepared to be tired and somewhat saddle sore.

Cycling across the Island isn’t that hard, though the route isn’t flat. In fact there are some unpleasantly tough hills that virtually compel a rest stop at the top. Our local slope, Hallett’s Shute between Freshwater and Yarmouth, is an unpleasant monster that at least I can now get up without having to stop, but this wasn’t an issue as it’s downhill from home to Yarmouth. That short journey takes about five minutes downhill and 15 back.

The actual distance covered was about 15 miles, and it took me a leisurely 1 hour 20 minutes (compare that with 16 miles in 60 minutes in London). And I felt pretty good, though it did take two teas and some biscuits, plus an hour’s sitting down and chatting before I felt up to heading back home by bus.

The trip back was important to pick up a new gear cable in Newport. Not for the bike I’d just taken to Wootton, a comparatively new Dawes with a comfy saddle and conveniently placed gear levers (plus more gears than I actually use), but my old faithful touring bike, a burgundy Coventry Eagle with drop handlebars, a racing saddle, and gear levers down on the frame that once in the past have seen me in casualty after I missed them and stuck my fingers into the rotating spokes of the wheel. I had taken to using the Eagle in poor weather, until a gear cable broke leaving me permanently in fifth.

The Eagle has been revived so that I can continue to get to the post office while the Dawes is away. And it was a shock to ride, requiring a different sense of balance and complete readjustment to be able to change gear confidently. The racing saddle was very hard. I can’t believe I rode it for so many years without replacing it with a gel seat. But worst still was, saddle sore from the trip to Wootton I had to take out the Eagle today to get a vital order off to one customer. It was almost a harder trip than the one earlier in the day.

So, you may not forget how to ride a bike, but you can certainly forget what it was like to ride a particular one.


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