08 September 2010

Two wheels good ...

A couple of weeks ago, I took my first ride on one of the hire bikes in London. (They're often called "Boris Bikes" but can't we anticipate the next mayoral election and call them "Oona Cycles" instead?) It was just a short ride, from Waterloo to Pimlico, on a heavy bike, but in that half hour I rediscovered the joy of cycling. Which is simply this: every so often, you get to freewheel down a hill with the wind blowing through your scalp. And there's that sense of freedom, much more than you get in a car: the ability to venture down any sidestreet and discover something you've never seen before.

It was obvious I was going to get a bike of my own before too long, and today was that day. Just around the corner from me, there's a long-established bike shop astonishingly still thriving, it seems, as a family business, with a website you could consider as charming or amateurish according to your taste.

But you just know it's the kind of place you can go to and say Tell me what kind of bike should I buy? and they'll sort it out.

I knew I wanted a folding bike. Actually, that had been a hard decision. Folding bikes are always compromises. But when I last had a bike, it got to be quite a nuisance, dragging it though the house to the backyard. And obviously the key advantage of a foldie is that you can easily take it on a train or put it in the car. When I last had a bike, I didn't seem to mind cycling through miles of suburb to reach country lanes. I don't think I want to do that now. I also wanted a rack: this bike has to get me to shops and back, cutting out unnecessary car trips.

I had looked at the charming/amateurish website and seen that Dahon seemed a decent brand. This morning, I got a letter confirming that my mortgage endowment, which will mature next month, will give me a tasty cashback, so I felt rich and went to the shop.

The brilliant assistant listened to my requirements, and then said that a Ridgeback Envoy was essentially a Dahon machine assembled by Ridgeback, and was £40 cheaper. And although I guess Dahon is a cooler name than Ridgeback (which I associate with dodgy mountain bikes and hybrids) I couldn't see any reason to go for the more expensive option.

Final good omen: while I was in the shop my neighbour Steve, with whom I forged a bond when he was painting my kitchen and I discovered he's an addick, came in; turns out he's working there three days a week. 

I had expected to have to order a bike, but they had it in stock. I had expected to have to wait a day for it to be assembled and checked out, but they did it while I waited. Within an hour, I left the shop £500 lighter but with a bike, lights, helmet and lock - all I need to get started.

I was shaking with excitement when I got home! (I had wheeled the bike back, so trembly was I.) I had to calm myself down by eating (well, it was lunchtime). At 3pm I went for my first ride on a bike of my own for maybe, at least, 15 years.

Catford is a flat area, which is fortunate. The few small hills I climbed were a real challenge to my unaccustomed muscles. So I did little more than cycle down to the local Sainsbury's and back. Yes, it was fun, but harder than I'd expected. I'd never have got so sweaty 15 or was it more years ago. But I know it'll get easier.

It's a mad time of year to buy a bike. Just after I got in, the sky darkened and it poured down for an hour. But it's a good time of life to buy a bike. I don't need to cycle at all, so I can choose my times. In half an hour on a train I can be in the North Downs, or better still beyond them, in the cyclist-friendlier Weald.

Everything's great, then? Not quite. In my time in the bike shop I fell in love again with bicycle parts. This is a strange perversion, but it hits lots of people. Once you've got a bike, there's always modifications you can make, something you can change. Slippier tyres, a sexier saddle. I can see myself being drawn into that, and by next spring, if I haven't bought a lighter, whippier bike, I'll be quite surprised.

But yeah, right now, everything's great.


Dave said...

Call me a cynic but they shop assistant recommended a similar bike to the one you had your eye on, and they happened to have it in stock! Amazing. Glad to hear you are cycling irrespective of the bike.

Brian said...

Oh you cynic! In fact, they also had a Dahon in stock, and I'm such an innocent he could easily have told me it was welded with magic go-faster dust so was worth the extra forty quid ...