To understand my relationship with cycling you really need to have a basic knowledge of me. I was born to a working class family on a council estate in Salford, and my first cycle was “rigged up” by a friend by combining bits from road bikes, Raleigh Choppers and unicycles. Though this bike was far from being the best on the market, I loved it. It allowed me to start my love affair with cycling and the joy of being able to feel the sun on my back and the wind in my hair.
As my life progressed through various jobs, two wives, one child and far too many currys, my love for cycling has endured. The quality of the bikes have gradually improved, which has helped counter the deteriation of my physical condition over the march of time.
It was with mixed feelings when my best mate started mentioning that he would like to start to cycle with me too. I must make it clear that I love his company but he is physically fit, slim and mentally strong. Whereas I am fat, wheezy and and mentally fragile. You see, up to that point, I had always cycled on my own. I liked to think that this was because I enjoyed being the master of my own destiny whilst out on the road, but perhaps it was really because my physical failings wouldn’t be so clearly shown up by comparison to a proper athlete. But my mate kept suggesting he tag along with me and I thought “The odd 15 mile bike ride with him wouldn’t do me any harm, would it?”.
Well guess what? It didn’t. In fact it did the complete opposite! My average speed increased, the distances travelled increased and as a result so did my confidence. My friend was the positive influence I needed to take me from being a leisurely cyclist to being a proper cyclist.
Don’t get me wrong, my cycling style is still not one of great beauty. It lacks the beautiful rhythm of the participants of the “Tour De France” rather it looks more like I am wrestling with the bike rather than riding it. Yes, my face is often glistening from the rivulets of sweat dripping of my contorted features (and that’s just me getting my bike out of the shed before we start) but I was now a cyclist who could venture further than my local environs. I could now go out into the hills of Bolton and Bury, enjoy the beautiful views, be intoxicated by the fresh air and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. Whilst I enjoy cycling in Salford, after a while the noise, traffic and odd youth dropping breeze blocks on your head whilst you go under a underpass, can get you down.
The rides my friend and I did varied from the Lancashire routes to 35 mile rides down the coast at Blackpool, 50 mile rides on Welsh coast and the real killer, a 45 mile “up hill and down dale” ride from Scarborough to Whitby and back.
The more rides we did, the more I started thinking and acting like a cyclist. I invested in an alarming amount of padded lycra, chamois cream for my delicate regions and stylish looking sunglasses. I do realise however that I look less like a cyclist and more like a Lycra clad walrus on a bike, but I felt like a cyclist and that’s what matters.
I could now appreciate that the participants of the “Tour De France” and I have one thing in common. We may all be a various standards but we are all cyclists. We all know the feeling you get when climbing a hill, the exhilaration of a downhill descent and the fear of misjudging a bend and ending up head first in a bramble bush…… Well maybe thats just me?
But while I am a zealot of the joys of cycling, I can confirm it has not all been joy and the freedom of the open roads. I have experienced more than my fair share of accidents. Such one being the memorable moment when, in the attempt to gain as much speed as possible on approaching an oncoming hill, I hit the rear of a burger van at full speed. The memory of a middle aged women with a frying pan opening the rear of the burger van to find me in a crumpled heap remains vivid to this day.
Did this incident dampen my spirits and stop me from riding? The answer is YES. My bike was bent in two and I needed to save for a number of months before I could replace it. But I did replace it and I was soon back on the road.
The last 2 years have seen my bike rides increase in frequency and mileage. I have completed various charity bike rides such as the London to Brighton ride, London to Oxford, Manchester to Blackpool, Manchester 26 and Manchester 100 (sorry, thats kilometres and not miles).
Each ride has started off with me feeling like Tommy Simpson and finishing looking like Homer Simpson. However I had achieved something more than just raising cash for charities, I felt I have affirmed my place within the list that contains such greats as Eddie Mercyx, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Roche, Miguel Indurain and Salfords finest ….myself David Smith.
By David Smith