One year, 6 months and 5 days in the life of a cyclist…. It was that long ago that I started my new job, and it made the decision for me that I was going to ride to work.
There wasn’t anything special about the job that made me decide to do this, and it wasn’t really a leap of faith, as I rode a bit already and was in the process of building up my dream mountain bike â€“ but there was something different about this – it was a decision to ride every single day, no matter what the weather. And, save for a few months recovering from two separate broken arms, (not incurred on the commute cycle I may add) I’ve managed it.
Okay so it’s not far, but it was a big step up for me to ride every single day and the uphill route in the morning felt unnecessarily strenuous come the middle of the week. But I stuck at it, even at times leaving earlier so I could fit in 10, 11, 12 miles before the work day started.
The time that I made the decision was conducive to keeping up the effort of course. It was almost March and you could feel the change in mood of the weather in the air. It started getting warmer and lighter in the mornings and evenings. As time went on, the lights were discarded from the bike, then the waterproof layer left me, followed by the long sleeves.
What had been a concerted effort up to summer, something which I had to remind myself every day I was doing for my own good, started getting mentally easier. I sweated more, I felt the heat pounding on me as I climbed every day, but I also laughed at those I was passing in their air conditioned cars, or those crammed onto the buses.
This was why I was doing it. On the way to work I could at least guiltily steal some small pleasure from the day, forgetting for that entire length of time what my actual destination was. It only got better heading home after earning the daily crust. The ride was usually a de-stressing exercise which worked remarkably well.
I was becoming more aware than ever of the smallest changes in the weather. It reminded me of being a kid and doing my paper round. I used to love the summer months, riding to pick up my laden bag at six in the morning through near deserted streets with the birds singing and the day already warm.
As with most good things, however, they must come to an end and, after experiencing the pleasure of riding for a few months, it makes the onset of colder, damper, windier conditions all the harder to face.
I clung onto my short trousers and sleeves as long as I was physically capable, before finally admitting defeat and once again wrapping myself against the elements. But I stuck at it because towards the end of the summer I was truly starting to feel the benefit.
My reasons for riding have become many: the speed as I arrive quicker than those taking to car and bus; the money is perhaps a fallacy as I lavish expensive attention on my bikes; the environmental good is a happy by-product. But above all I wanted to get fit.
And I really wasn’t sure it was working.
Each morning I would slog my guts out climbing the hill to work. I paid no heed to the increase in pace each day, remarking instead that I felt no better this morning than I had the last morning and that this should be getting easy by now. What on earth was I doing wrong?
Then one thing brought home to me that the answer was: nothing. I went hill walking. This was a fairly regular occurrence, and the feeling standing on top of a Munro looking out at the view below you stretching for miles distant is one to rival anything I’ve felt on a bike. The difference this time was the lack of aching in the backs of my calves, the absence of fire in my thighs, and the ability to hold a conversation for the entirety of the climb without resorting to panting and charades.
I had to admit, I was getting fitter.
One year, 6 months and five days. It has felt such a short time, and if the next one year, 6 months and five days feels half as short, with half as much benefit, making that decision in February 2005 could be the best decision I’ve ever made.
But I still feel knackered after that hill…