Why do I do it?
For as long as I can remember I have ridden a bike. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision to be a ‘cyclist’ but it just so happened that cycling ticked all the boxes. It was the quickest way to get to school, the cheapest way to get to university, the most enjoyable way to get to work. As I became more aware of environmental issues I appreciated more the value of travelling in a way that doesn’t create any pollution. I got a job with Sustrans, encouraging children to ride their bikes to school for all the benefits it brings: health, financial, social, and environmental.
One day I decided to cycle the 26 miles from my home in London to my office in Basildon. It would save me the train fare, it was quite an easy route, and as Mallory said, it was there to be done. I arrived dripping in sweat and completely ravenous, unable to move from my desk for the remainder of the day — that two and a half hour ride had almost been my undoing. My colleagues shot concerned glances in my direction and offered me a lift home. Nevertheless I got back on for the return trip, and persevered over the next few months, eventually getting my journey time down to 1 hour 35 minutes. The benefits were enormous. I was fitter than I had ever been, in the end hardly breaking a sweat. I had saved myself hundreds of pounds in train fares. My commute was no longer a frantic rush to catch the train, sharing a carriage with the elbows and shoulders of my fellow passengers. My carriage was the wide open sky, my track the road stretching out ahead. The time taken was barely more than it had been when I relied on public transport. Even when I felt like I couldn’t be bothered, or it was raining, once I got going I never failed to enjoy it. I was utterly free.
After that I became a bit of a cycle nut. Any journey that looked like I could make it by bike, I would. I cycled seven miles to a friend’s wedding, wearing my dress tucked into my leggings. I refused a lift from a friend when I moved flat, instead shuttling my belongings the three miles to the next neighbourhood by bicycle. I made dinner plans with a friend in Manchester then decided to ride there from Liverpool along the banks of the River Mersey, turning an hour’s train ride into a day’s adventure. I cycled from London to Brighton to meet a friend for tea, and afterwards turned straight around and cycled back again. 120 miles just for a cup of tea! Any distance in London I would cycle, loving the fact that I could ride from east to west in an hour, getting to know my city in a way that you can’t by sitting on a bus. I found all the hidden back roads, the peaceful canals, the grand docks. Everything seems more exciting from the seat of a bike.
These are my everyday adventures — doing what I’d ordinarily do, in a way that is extraordinary.
In 2011 I did my first long-distance bicycle adventure: I cycled round the coast of the UK. I’d always wanted to do a long-distance bike ride, and not just from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, but something a bit more original. The 4000 mile journey took me 10 weeks — it was long, tough, and demanding, and by far the best thing I have ever done.
From here, I have ideas for grander, and in some ways, simpler, adventures. A few years ago I learned to sail, so I can one day travel around the globe by human power and wind power alone. On a daily basis I teach people to ride bikes — the joy of cycling is too good to keep to myself. I also go to schools and talk about my round-Britain bike ride, hoping to inspire the next generation to have an adventure.
Sometimes it rains, sometimes the winds are against me, sometimes I get shouted by irate motorists. But I have yet to find a better way to get around. I have been car-free for more than ten years, and I can’t imagine a time when I will decide the bicycle is not for me.