Why I love … cycling

If my legs had an attached meter measuring movement through lifetime, it would register far more revolutions than steps. In fact I hardly ever walk anywhere unless I have to – from my office chair to get coffee, to climb stairs, visit the bathroom, enter a pub, or go to a meeting. I’d probably cycle to those too if permitted, and if it wasn’t slightly dangerous.

As cycling becomes more popular, I fantasise a little about just much humans might ride in the future. The idea that we could evolve into part-bicycle is one that pleases me immensely. It pleases me as much as reading Flann O’Brien’s masterpiece of fiction, The Third Policeman, in which that very thought has wheels. In this wonderful book, several characters in its Irish village setting are described to not so much have ridden as to have partly swapped atoms with their bicycles. The postman, for one, has become 71% bicycle and, like many other locals, has developed behavioural traits such as regularly leaning against walls or, when at rest, having one foot on the kerb.

In a parallel universe, the mulefa species, from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, have evolved natural axles to which they join giant seed pods as trundling wheels. I wouldn’t mind a clip-on pair myself.

On the sad occasions when I’ve lost a bike to theft, I’ve felt a terrible loss, a physical loss almost, as if a limb is missing. I know of others who’ve said the same. I do feel, at least existentially, part-man, part-bike. That said, I am not a bike nut (or any other component). I am neither constantly cleaning, repairing or stripping down parts or cables or thumbing cycling magazines and obsessing about cleats or carbon forks. I shave my face, not my legs. And while it’s good to be visible, I try not to resemble a neon Lycra alien with a giant shiny head and flashing lights.

An early escape

I began to love cycling from the age of three. I remember my first bike – a little blue Raleigh with stabilisers, hidden in a cupboard. I remember the joyful rush when it was revealed. It may yet be my best, or at least most significant birthday present. I vividly recall the day the stabilisers came off two weeks later, my Dad running behind and not telling me he’d let go as I carried on without falling. After that I was off. I remember many childhood crashes, including when my best friend and I decided it would be really good idea to ride on top of a 10ft wall. Clever. (My next bike was a gold-coloured Grifter, but am still a bit sore that I never had a Chopper.)

Cycling has saved me so much time, and money. I failed my driving test aged 17, and then never got round to taking it again: I’ve never owned a car and experienced all the hassles (and, admittedly joys) that come with one. But with the help of trains, I can go anywhere I like, and in London, to multiple events in a single evening. There is the odd, fairly small repair cost, but it would meanwhile cost me hundreds, if not thousands every year to use the tube.

Cycling also allows time to see so much more than other forms of transport. On a recent holiday in Devon, I stopped to look at some beautiful horses along a country road. I could smell the warm, horsey aroma, while the early evening June glow caught their shiny manes. Later that evening I mentioned this to a friend who lives locally and who had driven along that route hundreds of times but, naturally keeping his eye on the road, had even never noticed there were stables at that bend in the road. There is something just right about the speed of a bike. It allows you to cover so much more ground than walking, but you can see so much more than from a car. On that same ride I spotted an owl, rabbits and a grass snake wriggling into a bush. You’d frighten them off with a roaring engine, or even turn them into roadkill.

Epic adventure

Last year I took part in a charity bike ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End – 1,000 miles in just nine days. It was fantastic, but undeniably tough at times. But one of the things that amazed me was how fit and healthy some of the older cyclists were. The man mostly at the front was at least 50, tearing up road at tremendous speeds and leaving others gasping. At least one of the other riders was over 70. Cycling seems to be an activity you can keep improving at, even when past the conventional sporting peak of your late 20s. So in that respect it seems to be like being music or writing, or wine, improving with age. I sometimes do other forms of exercise – a bit of running and swimming – but many of my friends who have played a lot of football – at least more than me – have completely worn their knees out. But cycling’s low impact seems to only strengthen knees, and I feel that mine will last longer thanks to a lifetime in the saddle.

When on a challenging trip or even in the city, cycling’s culture of friendliness and mutual support, especially when you have a puncture or other breakdown, continues to surprise me. What other activities seem to inspire such camaraderie among strangers?

Cycling must have its downsides, surely? Yes, but even they can have solutions. Admittedly cycling in snow is next to impossible, and or heavy rain unpleasant, but improvements in breathable waterproof clothing make that much more bearable, and doesn’t stop my daily commute. And hills? They get so much easier with practice, like anything else. I’ve grown to love going uphill, perhaps as much as downhill. Here’s a helmet cam clip of climbing a long hill near Torquay in Devon, the birds singing, the wind whistling through the trees. Tough, yet tranquil, and very satisfying.


Cycling’s not so great for moving house, but it’s amazing what you can carry – I’ve managed to transport such items as hi-fi and speakers, a carpet, a table, even a Christmas tree. I once saw a cyclist whistling by with a two-seater sofa on his shoulders, though I think that might tip the balance too far. And bike trailers are growing in popularity. Last week I saw one trundling helmeted children, and another with a dog, happily tail wagging in the breeze and wearing, comically, a scarf and flying goggles.

I love cycling most of all because it gives me freedom. It’s about being outside, the wind in your hair (that’s right, you don’t always have to wear a helmet) and the sights and sounds of life in the city or countryside. Why would anyone want to have an cycle exercise machine or go to a spinning class? Just get on a bike and go somewhere.

Love cycling too? Tell us why.

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