No! He is alii-iive…
Like many of you I’m sure, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of riding of late. I’m slowly emerging from the – cough – off season and preparing for the Glentress Short Duathlon on 14 March. My riding so far has been exclusively road-based with my trusty old Rockhopper nibbling up some (bargain) base (-ment) miles round the roads, “cols” and, erm, industrial estates of Sausage Roll City. But for someone who has an interest in the whole “cycling culture” thing, my riding remains the end itself rather than it being a means and that’s something I intend to change.
Last night I attended a meeting at Little Miss Stumpy’s school. There and back, it’s just over 1.5km. Anyway, I decided that rather than walk or – oh, the horror! – take the car, I’d cycle along the leafy cycle-paths that criss-cross our end of the town. Mrs Stumpy asked incredulously, “in your cycling gear???” Erm, no. So with the exception of my helmet, gloves and – er – a pair of Specialized Trail 110s (sorry, Time don’t do a half-and-half flat/ATAC pedal!), daddy went-a-cycling in casual gear. Or more tellingly, for the first time in over 25 years, I cycled to school. By ‘eck it were good.
At the time, I Tweeted something along the lines of “you’d have thought Ian Huntley had just walked in” and that’s not far off the mark considering the reaction when I arrived. Having locked the bike in what is BMFW Jr’s traditional parking space, I click-clacked my way into the main hall to join the suited, booted and track-suited throng. Expressions ranged from faint amusement to utter distaste. Helmet on lap, I was afforded a row almost to myself as the sole other occupant viewed me askance when I took my seat. Hell, the boots I’ll concede were manky, right enough, but I was otherwise clean and without even the slightest hint of helmet hair. After the meeting, people I vaguely knew said I was – variously – “keen”, “mental” or “really fit” (physically as opposed to aesthetically, I’m sure). Why is riding a bike odd? And why do fat people deride you for doing something they clearly haven’t in a looong time? “Cycling culture” has a long way to go in West Lothian, a fact underlined on Saturday morning’s ride when some idiot in a MPV came haring by on an otherwise long, empty straight blaring his horn.
But I enjoyed last night’s briefest of sojourns par velo. Okay, so maybe not in the way I enjoy a XC blast through the woods on Stumpy or getting miles in on the road but rather in the way you enjoy the freedom of your bike as a child. Not to get fit, not to be better, just to get somewhere. And where’s the harm in that? Hell, my total journey time was probably less than 5 minutes there and back, but there was no hassle, no traffic, no search for a parking space. It was great!
But while I was smug in my “separateness”, weaving my way through the traffic exiting the car park and adjacent street (hell, I’m traffic too!), it did make me think about whether cycling can ever be part of the norm, especially in what is essentially a commuter town. There are more petrol stations in Sausage Roll City than there are bike shops (Halfords being the only concession to 2-wheeled travel if you overlook Asda and Toys-r-Us). You can count on the one hand the number of bikes locked-up at either railway station. But all is not lost. Most of the pathways remain shared foot/cycle paths and provide ready access to longer-distance routes either on the National Cycle Network or on newly formed paths making the exotic delights of the likes of Edinburgh and, er, Bathgate distinctly rideable for anyone with a bike and functioning legs. I guess, more importantly, these paths need to be used. I’m always encouraged to see kids, families and – yes- adults themselves cycling but it also underlines the fact of how little time I spend on my bike simply as a means of walking faster.
What did Gandhi say about us becoming the change we wish to see?
Brought to you by Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler