Friday, 14 March 2014

Anniversary – One year of cycling

On 12 March 2014, it was a year since we bought my bike. It’s been a great year, and I have gained such a lot in that time. Not only have we done some wonderful rides, but personally I have learnt so much.

When I started out on this venture, I hadn’t biked for more than 50 years, since riding my bike to school in the Netherlands. I was wobbly, not terribly confident, not keen on riding on gravel, scared of riding on roads with car traffic, I did not like hills and I had no idea about using gears.

Now, the wobbliness has mostly disappeared. I can steer my way around obstacles with confidence, I can aim my bike between narrow gateways or posts without hitting anything, and I can keep my balance when slowing down behind a pedestrian.

Wobbling does still happen when I am going uphill so slowly that I eventually stall. I still hate hills, but I can manage a gentle gradient for a sustained period, and short bursts of slightly steeper ones (though with lots of huffing and puffing and the occasional use of expletives!).

Gravel surfaces don’t faze me now, so long as they are not too rough or skiddy. The main problem with gravel is that it is hard on my hands (painful thumb joints), especially if it is going downhill, as I have to grip the brakes so tightly.

Riding on roads with motorised traffic is something I have gradually become less fearful of. My rear-view mirror is absolutely essential, as it allows me to see cars coming before I hear them, and can make sure to get out of their way. Riding on relatively quiet roads is fine, but I would not tackle riding on the shoulder of busy highways.

Gears – now they were a bit of an education and a revelation! My bike only has seven gears, but it took me quite a while to get used to them, having never used gears on a bike before. In the beginning, I would stay “safely” in 3rd or 4th gear, no matter what the terrain. I did understand that when going uphill you had to change down (as you would in a manual car). But it was several months before I had my “epiphany”, when I discovered that when travelling on a smooth flat surface, you could go faster for less effort in 7th gear.

My fitness has improved a lot. In a year of cycling, we have covered over 1,300 kms. Our first two-hour ride was 16 kms, and I was pretty knackered after that. We have gradually increased the length of our rides. Now we regularly do 25-30 km rides. My biggest ride up to now has been the Tukutuki Loop that we did while on holiday in Hawke’s Bay in November. We rode 50kms that day, and some of that involved quite hilly country. I was whacked, but also thrilled that I had been able to do it.

Now we are planning our next holiday (in a couple of weeks) during which we intend to cycle the Central Otago Rail Trail over four days, riding 45 kms each day. I am looking forward to that. We are just hoping for good weather!

Apart from the enjoyment of biking and the physical skills and fitness I have acquired, there have been other benefits.

It is a really enjoyable activity that John and I can do together. I have grumbled in the past over the fact that John does not want to go overseas and be a tourist. But now we can visit all sorts of wonderful places in NZ that are not readily accessible to cars, and get to know our own “backyard” better. You can see so much more on a bike than in a car! And hear the sounds (or the silence) and smell the fragrances!

I have also learnt to set up, write and maintain a blog. I had wanted to write a blog for quite some time, but I had nothing of interest to write about. With John’s help we ironed out some initial difficulties, and I was on my way.

Starting a blog has given me a forum to write. I enjoy writing “creative non-fiction”, as it is called. I have always been interested in language, especially well-written language. I am one of those awful people who growls at misplaced apostrophes, spelling mistakes and incorrect use of grammar. I am likely to yell at the TV when reporters talk about “less people” instead of “fewer people”. I am quite the linguistic pedant.

The blog has developed a lot. To begin with, it was meant to be just a brief record of the rides we had done, and of my progress as a cyclist. My blog posts have since become more extensive with the inclusion of photos, and have expanded to be more like travelogues or photo essays. The blog and the rides “feed” off each other, each providing incentive and motivation for the other.

One of John’s major long-standing interests is photography. He has always documented all of our activities with his camera. So naturally, he takes quite a few photos when we are out riding. Just as well digital photography makes it so easy (and cheap!) to keep on snapping. And of course it is great to be able to use his (and some of my) photos for the blog.

My photographic skills have improved too (a bit). I have just a little “point-and-shoot” camera that fits into my pocket or handbag. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to handle a camera that does not do the “thinking” for me­ – I’m just not that technically inclined (or interested). But at least I now take more care to frame my photos properly, and I have learnt to crop them better, so as to show a more interesting picture, before putting them up on the blog.

One further result that I am delighted about, is that our enthusiasm for cycling and my blog seem to have inspired others to get on a bike. I was really chuffed a few weeks ago, when one of my dancing friends posted a photo on Facebook of herself with a bike at Pencarrow, saying “First big ride on the new bikes”. A mutual friend asked her if they had been inspired by John and me, and the answer was “yes, definitely!”. That is fantastic.

Are there any drawbacks to our cycling? Yes, a few minor ones. As most of our fine days provide excuses to go out for a ride, the garden has been sorely neglected. And time spent writing a blog means the housework does not get done as frequently as perhaps it should. But hey, who’s worried?

I should really thank John for getting me into cycling, and for being so patient and encouraging, even when I gripe about how I hate hills. He’s made me challenge myself, as he challenges himself too. We’ve had some lovely adventures together, and hope to have many more. His help and computer know-how have been invaluable for my blog writing, and of course his photos are an important part of the blog. Also, it's very nice to have my own "in-house" bike mechanic and maintenance man!

AND he doesn’t mind if the gardening and vacuuming don’t get done as often as they should! What could be better?

Twin folding bikes - the source of much pleasure (photo by John)

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