I want to ride my bicycle
Cycling ... such a wonderful pastime, appealing to all manner of folk being one of those things accessible to so many to partake in. Young, old, male, female, fit or unfit, the fanatical or the practical, there’s a bike for everyone; mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrids, racing bikes, even electric bikes and folding bikes. There are adaptations to help if necessary, with stabilisers for the little ones, and of course strap on seat, or tag along bike for the very young too; extra wheels for the less able to get around on a tricycle, and aids and adaptations for the physically and mentally handicapped, able to ride side by side on their adapted cycle. There's even a fabulous bicycle made for two if the tandem option appeals.
I do remember a family member buying a tandem so that she could go on cycle rides with her blind husband. He was a daring sort, particularly as his wife was a rather keen cyclist, but it was a fabulous way of being out and about and exercising and being together.
Justin loves cycling and has said on numerous occasions that even when he gets on in life to the point where he ever found cycling difficult, he'd love to purchase an electric bike to be able to continue this pastime for many years ... getting a little boost to help with hills and headwinds.
There are those who take things to the extreme of course, boasting a phenomenal amount of miles on the clock, there are those training for sporting events and challenges, spending hours in the saddle, getting their mileage in before most of us have had breakfast; out and about on their knife like saddle, kitted out in their lycra. Club members often have varying degrees of ability, yet are united in their love and enthusiasm for cycling, and the camaraderie and support which only a club can offer. The local Windmill Cycle Team being one such example of this, with each member encouraged and supported, and of course teased and ribbed as you’d expect from a family, but all proud to go out and wear their colours and strip on their Team kit.
Justin, like many others, uses this mode of transport to get to and from work, as well as enjoying cycling as a form of exercise as well as a pastime. For some, the bike may be their only mode of transport. A good friend of ours did get rid of his car, travelling to work was easy by bike, and so as the car was rarely used, he found it nonsensical to have this expense, hiring a car on the odd occasion he needed to go any distance.
I fall into the category of sporadic cyclists; fair weather cyclists; families; happy to go at a leisurely pace enjoying the scenery cyclists, but travelling further and faster than they would otherwise on shanks’ pony.
I don’t cycle that often if I’m honest, but can on occasions be seen out and about on my trusty shopper. I'm happy to go on a family ride out, and only struggle when I've been in the saddle for a while. 20 miles is about the point I begin to feel saddle sore, and goodness definitely feeling it the day after (and I’ve got one of those big fat ladies’ saddles, designed specifically for ladies to accommodate bigger bums, wider hips … or both!). I look at all these professionals or fanatics with their muscular bodies showing through their tight lycra, bent over racing bike handlebars, their tiny bums perched on that knife edge saddle. I know I’m generalising, but you can spot a cyclist a mile off, they have a certain build, they’re usually lean, mean, machines.
Fylde is flat … easy cycling one might say, if only it weren't for that ever present headwind. Boy that headwind has some force in it, and has a canny knack of changing direction throughout the day so if you’ve faced it once, say on a commute into work in the morning, there’s a good chance you’ll battling that wind on the way home too.
Here on the Fylde Coast, there are plenty of cycle events to get involved in, and even more out of the area for our Fylde Coast supermen and women to enter too, and bring home those trophies, medals and titles. We have a trilogy of triathlons, and many charity bike events. There are lots of lovely scenic cycle routes out, and we’re not far from the Preston Guild Wheel either. The ever popular Ride the Lights, where cyclists, in their thousands, can ride through the Blackpool illuminations without fear of traffic, although still needing their wits about them as they negotiate their way through the sea of participants. It’s a wonderful experience, one which I have many fond memories of, including last year when we took part with the charity, The Edward Dee Fund. This was the final in a trilogy of cycle events last year, when many joined us in decorate their bicycles in charity colours, to ride through the Blackpool Illuminations, St Anne’s Carnival, and Lytham Club Day, to raise awareness of the work of the charity, and which saw us carrying home a first place trophy from the latter event.
I’ve always been quite careful to watch out for cyclists when driving the car. From hearing the tales which Justin relays, I’m more than aware that however careful you are on the roads, extra care is required when around the cyclist. After all, there isn’t much padding on them; they’re not protected by a metal shell, and if they end up being hit, or falling off, they’re not going to come off very well, particularly if either side is travelling at speed.
Of course, there’s always a small minority who don’t do as they should, not paying heed to the rules of the road, giving the majority bad press. Cycling along pavements, on the prom, going at speed in crowded places, not indicating, not wearing reflective gear, having insufficient or no lights; jumping traffic lights, taking advantage of and cycling over pelican or zebra crossings; cycling two abreast on roads .... are just a handful of gripes.
Motorists too can be guilty of giving cyclists a hard time, those who aren’t particularly observant, those in a rush, severely lacking in patience and courtesy, road hoggers who refuse to let, or oblivious to the need to let the cyclist pass, those who don’t give space to cyclists and only just miss them, and clipping them on occasion. Justin often talks about his sixth sense, kicking in when cars are behind. Having that sixth sense I’d say is a necessity, cars revving, accelerating, overtaking, even cutting up the cyclist. The cycle lane by Fairhaven Methodist Church (going towards Lytham from St Anne’s) is really dangerous with cyclists often cut up by cars turning left. There is something drastically wrong if cyclists feel the need to avoid cycle lanes for their own safety!
I knew when I started to write this piece, that Justin, and indeed William, would have plenty of anecdotes. I asked William what he thought about cycling? “’s alright” he said. Old people don’t like cyclists.” I was shocked at him saying this, but Justin soon added that he thought many of the elderly were frightened of cyclists, in particular going too fast on the prom. William went on to recount a memory of cycling along the prom, being shouted at by an OAP for not ringing his bell, unnecessary as there was hardly anyone around, and in any case he’d given this gent a wide berth. And so as teens too often get bad press, so too, in this instance, was the feeling mutual, being regarded as complaining for complaining's sake.
I've noticed, too often for my liking, that cyclists are so often persecuted in the local press and social media. I regularly see posts and comments where it seems as though motorists feel they have the right to the road. I have even heard it said that the roads are for use by motorised vehicles as it is they who have paid the tax. Many cyclists are in fact motorists too, car owners who pay tax, but who also choose to cycle. Anyway, point of fact is that the tax paid is actually an emissions tax … a CO2 tax … not road tax. Cyclists on the continent, do seem to be accepted more, and have an easier time, where bicycles appear to be more widely used.
Cyclists are vulnerable, the roads are dangerous, and some roads in particular, and far too many incidents involving cars, and vans, cause many injuries to cyclists, with the accident on occasion being fatal. It feels rather close to home, knowing a local family, now living with the grief of losing their father and husband, a competent cyclist, yet unable to survive being knocked off his bike at speed by a van driver. Sustrans of course do so much to make cycling easier and safer, the National Cycle Network providing miles and miles of signed cycle paths, with approx. 5,000 or so miles being traffic free.
I personally don’t have a great track record to be honest on a bike, and went through a period of falling off, far too often for my liking, and even injuring myself swerving to avoid a head on collision with a bee!!
William has had a couple of nasty falls over the years, one spectacular one over the handlebars on the track at Park View, and another taking a sharp bend too quickly. Kids do have lots of accidents on bikes though. Tricks of what to do and what not to do comes with cycling a long time, or painfully finding out about through experience, such as never riding diagonally up a kerb, making sure your pedal isn’t down when you take a bend, remembering you’re wearing bike shoes is another to watch out for! And let’s not forget about the dangers of stabilisers, or unstabilisers as I like to call them. Lots of kids learning to ride their bikes, mums and dads running along holding on to that slip of fabric, the safety net, the umbilical cord which is so ready to be cut, so they can be off and free, and ready to discover the many pitfalls by having a few scrapes on the way. My boys all learned to ride a bike at a very young age, and I’m still astonished by the number of children I see who are unable to ride a bike at age 10 or 11, or even beyond. .
I know being on a bike it is inevitable that at some point you’ll come off. Justin has had a couple of nasty and spectacular accidents. Just last year his chain snapped, whilst pushing off with some force on a bike weighted with heavy panniers, propelling him over the handlebars. Given that this was a busy road, I’m thankful that his accident only resulted in a visit to A&E for a badly torn shoulder, the scars which remain today a reminder of just how lucky he was I suppose. That accident was simply that, an accident, but another illustration of just how vulnerable the cyclist is.
Lockdown has seen an increase in people cycling and walking. People rediscovering the joys of a slower pace and being in the great outdoors. Being out in the fresh air is good for both physical and mental health, but also the pocket, many having saved pounds by not paying gym memberships. I wonder how many will stick to free and fresh exercise, and how many will drift back to their pre-lockdown lifestyles. It would certainly make the world a healthier, happier, greener place if we were to make the change to pedal power going forward.
By Elizabeth Dee
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