Cycling for beginners

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Pretty much the status quo, 1970-1977; me trying to get my bike to work

Don’t be mislead by the image above; I was useless at repairing my bike but since it was the only method of escape from the less than splendid isolation of a New Forest cottage in my teenaged years I tinkered in the vain hope that, quite literally, the pieces would fall into place.

Was cycling sexy in the 1970s? Hardly. It was more likely to be associated with butcher’s boys and midwives than be-muscled gods winning Le Tour or glamour couples awaiting news of the News Years Honours to see which had out-gonged the other.

After all it is only in the last few years that a cyclist can dress up like a human billboard in clothes that appear to have returned the codpiece to its rightful place in the pantheon of essential items of male accessorizing.

Maybe it wasn’t cool for me because my bicycles were always several times second hand (or more like ‘N’-hand, where N is a discombobulatingly large number). They rattled, their chains fell off, once a cotter pin fell out, leaving me sans a pedal. I’ve had wheels disintegrate under me – you sink rather gracefully, as in quicksand – and saddles suddenly deciding they have foreseen the coming of the new Messiah and pointing skywards to acknowledge His arrival at the same time as returning my testicles whence they came.

Back then cycling wasn’t much fun because it was a chore: I had to cycle everyday to get to school – five miles, before catching a train and there was this hill… If I was lucky, one of the farm lads, on his moped, would crook an elbow and invite me to ‘coppold’ which, translated from the Hampshire vernacular, meant grip hard and pray you’d meet no farm vehicles coming the other way. All that cycling did was to build up my thighs – not exactly the stitch poppers of Sir Chris Hoy but wide and firm enough to remain a destroyer of trouser gussets for many years {thank you, that will do}….

As I say, my skills at maintenance were also derisory. This is a more accurate representation of what happened.

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I was never Bicycle Repair Man, as per the Pythons. Indeed I relied on the Archaeologist to sort me out (a dangerous past-time, though as this photo shows, I didn’t let him loose on my flying machine without keeping a watchful eye; and I did enjoy the cryptic crossword while I awaited the diagnosis).

But I couldn’t have done without my bike. And it did bring countless memories…

One time, coming back to my room in hall, in my first year at Bristol University, I found my bike in a box on the floor. Every little ball bearing, every bracket, every nut and bolt, everything except the wheel that was chained to the bike rack had been decoupled from every other piece. My ‘friends’ thought it hilarious; I learnt a lot about how a bike went back together so I should be grateful… BUT I STILL HATE THEM!

Also at Bristol, I had a cumbersome briefcase which I fixed to my bike rack with elastic straps. One morning it came loose when I hit a pot hole; the case slid off, bounced in a way Barnes Wallace would have admired and skittled a harmless pensioner waiting to cross the road. To this day I carry the guilt that I left him floundering like rejected cod on a north sea trawler.

I took job in the uni holidays at a local hotel. The hours were beyond anti-social for a teenager so I often dozed to and from work on the super-quiet New Forest roads. One day I failed to anticipate a bread van delivering; I cycled into the back, somersaulting inside. The delivery man wasn’t what you’d call relaxed about the damage I did but since it was me who was bleeding and not the appropriately named Large Tin he let me go with a string of invective that has proved a useful addition to my vocabulary.

One time I hit a man as he jumped off a bus (before they had doors) – I was trying to slip down the inside. We both ended up sprawled on the tarmac though his anger was greater than my surprise. Fortunately for me I had hit him in such a way that he was incapable of carrying out his threats of evisceration, and once again I left the scene post-haste.

Being broke when I started my articles (they call it a training contract now, when you start out to become a solicitor – back then it was like being indentured), I sold my motorbike and bought another pushbike, this one from a  dodgy shop in Brixton, circa 1979. It was the smartest and most reliable bike I ever had, so had to have been stolen. I cycled around for weeks certain I would hear an ‘Oi you’, be arrested for handling stolen goods, and kissing goodbye to my nascent legal career in the process. It never happened and when, in turn, Sturdy was stolen (I was outside William Hill’s betting shop, placing a bet for the senior partner – part of the legal training which, sadly they appear to have dropped) it felt somehow appropriate.

One time some friends from work persuaded me to do the London to Brighton bike ride – which involved spending the first five miles pushing our bikes because the roads were so crowded. I did manage to cycle up Ditchling Beacon without stopping though (*he glows just a little hubristically*).

Looking back I did enjoy my years of commuting on my bike, from my various parts of South London to the City; well over 25 years come rain or shine, frost or flood. I crashed, broke a wrist (just a tiny bit), cycled the infamous gyratory system that is Elephant & Castle twice a day, without mishap each time (I confess; I obeyed not one traffic light and there is a direct and clear link to that crime and my safety) and only gave up when Ken Livingston introduced bendy buses and over three horrific days I nearly perished because of these monsters.

And now? I still have a bike; I talked to her today. We tend to shop together, mostly, keeping to the flat wherever possible. But one day, I say, we will go out and be Happy and Glorious again.

This post is based on one I wrote back when I started blogging. Like cycling blogging can trigger a range of emotions but I think as with cycling whenever I’m away I always want to come back to it.

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Doris, the latest in a long like of mongrel machines

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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30 Responses to Cycling for beginners

  1. Archaeologist says:

    First, I would like to correct the implied slur, that I would ever wish to sabotage your bike. I had no need to render your bicycle unsafe, you were more that capable of doing so when you tried to carry out the dangerous manoeuver of riding it.
    However the blog has bought back many memories, hilarious ones such as the time I watched you depart, pristine in white jacket, for your job in the hotel. Then hearing a crash in the lane that ran down the side of the garden, and you walking back in the gate, exceptionally dishevelled and holding the remains of your bike, having ridden into the back of the bread van.
    I believe it was mums belief that repair was always to be preferred to buying new, that led to me trying to straighten out the bent wheel, and it’s subsequent dramatic collapse.
    Also I wonder that you never mentioned the time your bike was stolen from the secure car park, and how the security man was so helpful in assisting the man who had somehow lost the front wheel of his bike!

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    • TanGental says:

      Heavens, I forgot that; at work too. When I reported the theft to security he said, cool as you like ‘yes we were watching him take it on the camera’. Security cameras were so new back then they treated it like the TV, their own soap opera and just sat back and watched it. Or the time, after I was knocked off (the wrist break) when I went to the bike shop for a new machine. They kindly set it up for me and I began to ride it slowly back to the office – when a DhL courier opened his driver’s door without looking and sent me flying, so damaging the front forks that I needed another new bike. I should have read the signs.

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    • TanGental says:

      Luck and a cat like streak

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  2. Sherri says:

    Oh the memories you bring up here Geoff! And so many involving crashes, broken chains, burst tyres and myriad accidents!! I had forgotten about the proficiency test – it was your mention of the beanbags that did it and it all came back, haha! I seem to remember being given a badge upon passing…is that right? Great entry for Lisa’s challenge. Now I have to think of what I’m going to write about…so many possibilities 😉

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    • TanGental says:

      You’re right. A badge. I wonder if anyone remembers what it was like. I still have my certificate somewhere if only I can remember where. Can’t wait to see your memories, Sherri

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      • Sherri says:

        Thanks Geoff…you know me by now, always skidding in at the last minute by the skin of my teeth. Actually, that goes well with the bicycle theme, haha!! And now you mention it, yes, the certificate! I remember that too but who knows where that would be…long gone I imagine, along with the badge…See you soon 🙂

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  3. lorilschafer says:

    Love your hysterically funny ten sentences, Geoff, particularly the one about the testicles being sent back to where they had been housed pre-puberty. Interesting about the bicycle testing – they really ought to have that nowadays since cycling has become so common again, both for leisure and commuting.

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    • TanGental says:

      There is occasional pressure for licensing cyclists and forcing PL insurance though it never gets anywhere. I suspect insurance might cool down the more aggressive car lobbyists a touch but if it did so at the expense of people cycling it wouldn’t get my vote. Glad you enjoyed the memories, Lori

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  4. Lisa Reiter says:

    Oh yes, where was I before marvelling at that particular Queen video! I can’t believe I’ve not seen it before..

    Hu Hum. (Must show it to the young actor! We were only singing it au Le Tour!)

    Thank you Geoff – for sparking more avenues to explore – reminding me of Cycling Proficiency and weaving in and out of beanbags.. I must have had my new bike earlier than I thought because I remember now, having to attempt these manoeuvres without being able to reach the ground with my feet – in the playground of my primary school (perhaps why I then grew in a rush to be my adult size of 5′ 8″ over the next year or so!) – it being scary and me being competitive, I did have to learn to master my balance rather quickly!

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  5. Lisa Reiter says:

    I now have a Mungo Jerry ear worm ..

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  6. Nothing to do with bikes but I named my first german shepherd after mungo jerry and my second one was of course jerry so I had whilst they were both alive my very own mungo jerry. I too loved your I remembers. We didn’t have cycling proficiency at school in Aus to my knowledge. We would have all loved to have had that as part of the curriculum.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Bite Size Peloton | Lisa Reiter - Sharing the Story

  8. Anabel Marsh says:

    Interesting that you had to subvert the law to stay safe! I had the indignity of being stopped while cycling by a policeman on a motorbike once. At a particular roundabout on my way to work I had to go straight on but found that cars would inevitably turn left in front of me. They didn’t seem to see me. I started sticking my right arm out and this worked but Mr Police Officer said I would confuse drivers. I said I’d rather confuse them than be killed. The next day I didn’t signal right and, you’ve guessed, a car turned left in front of me. I went back to my previous practice and survived. I don’t cycle now, but I do think the experience has made me a considerate driver towards cyclists.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great fun read Geoff. I worked for a month in Castle House in 1974, before Southwark Social Services moved my team to Tooley Street. No way would I have have cycled round that roundabout.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Bun Karyudo says:

    Actually, your university friends’ practical joke was pretty funny. (Although I’m not sure I’d still be laughing if it happened to me.)

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: Cycling for Beginners! – MudTrailsBikes

  12. Anthony says:

    Loved this story.
    My bike story has me riding my sister’s ten speed (in fact a French racing bike of undetermined origin) and having the quick release wheel come off as I rolled over a slight curb. I went right over the handlebars and the front forks spread out wide.
    Needless to say, I had to walk the bike back home, scrapes, bruises and all.
    Now that I remember this story, I might have to jazz it up a little bit and put it on my own blog. Thanks for the inspiration.

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