Getting Back in the Saddle, Part 1

After last week's post, I would like to say how easy it was for me to get back in the saddle but it wasn’t. It was hard.  I don't want to be misleading. Like breaking most habits it required effort, a bloody minded determination to gain traction. That and a plan.

This wasn't my first attempt at cycle commuting. In last week’s post, I mentioned the time I did cycle to work but was put off repeating it by a combination of my physical condition, the riding conditions and doom-laden predictions from my colleagues. On a few other occasions I have tried with slightly better success, but still not enough to fully make the transition to cycling as my main mode of transport.

Previous plans involved breaking myself in gently, cycling once a week for a few weeks then steadily increasing the frequency as I got fitter and more used to the traffic. Three weeks in a row was my record, cycling to work on two days in the last week. It wasn't frequently enough to build fitness or, more importantly, gain confidence and become comfortable with cycling in busy traffic.  I found the traffic particularly stressful, sometimes not giving much space when overtaking or sitting behind me waiting for an opportunity to overtake with me not knowing if or when they would make a move.

One of the mistakes that I now realise I made was to take the same familiar route my bus followed. That is where the plan came in. After some careful planning and a bit of experimenting, I came up with a route on which only a cumulative one mile from a total commute of almost five miles was on busy main roads.  The remainder of the route was a mixture of quiet back streets, lanes (including one with a flight of steps), parks and dedicated cycle lanes separated from traffic (a whole 500m).  The overall distance was longer than more direct routes and the steps are far from ideal but on the whole it felt safer and was less stressful.

I mentioned a determination to make the change in the introduction.  This was a big factor in getting started.  Rather than breaking myself in gently, I bit the bullet and cycled every day for a week. Then, despite the aches and pains and groaning muscles and regardless of the weather, the same the following week.  It was August so it wasn’t too cold, even if it could be wet. I found it tough but I wanted to succeed. Some days I really enjoyed it and I wondered if I was allowed this much fun going to work. Other days, when it was wet and my shoes made horrible squelching sounds it was less appealing. At these times I thought instead about how much fossil fuels I wasn't using (and how little of a difference it would make with so many others driving). I wondered whether it was really worth it or just a crazy futile gesture. I also tried to think about how much fitter and healthier I would become and how I would sleep better(I did) although I didn't feel fitter and the aches and pains were unnatural. But persevere I did and after a few weeks it became second nature.

I would like to say that the rest is history but it wasn't that easy.  It lasted through August, September and into October. The seasons change and with them the cycling experience.  I found myself cycling in darkness morning and evening, alleviated in the morning when the clocks changed, and the first touch of frost.  Some of the routes through parks were not really suitable, in my mind, forcing me to use fast busy roads.  I then stopped cycling altogether over the winter.  

As the Spring returned, bringing with it daylight, better weather and available off-road routes, it should have been back to cycling commutes.  But it wasn't. It was difficult to take that first step again.  I did get back to cycling one or two days a week over the summer but nothing consistent and habit forming.  The sought after fitness didn't come. Perhaps if e-bikes were as readily available then as they are now I would have went down that route and I’d have a different tale to tell.

This set the pattern for the next few years - commuting by bike half a dozen times over the school holiday (July and August).  Time moves on and with its passage I've learned some things about myself, about cycling, and about bikes.  In the final post in this series, I talk about the things that finally motivated me to make a change, the importance of getting the right equipment and emerging from adversity with a positive attitude. It is a journey from what appeared to me to be an extreme challenge, through recreational cycling and back to utility cycling. A journey that would not have reached its current destination of not for the great reset and a new normal. 

Until next time.

The River Clyde from National Cycle Route N75 at Glasgow Green, part of my off-road commute.