Firstly, I learned that I am really, really unfit.
This surprised me enormously because I’m not a very still person. Walking is still my main (only) social activity, despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, and I’ve been wandering up and down all our local hills for literal years now (formerly with a 16kg toddler on my back!). All that practice wasn’t enough though – and it wasn’t even the incline which I thought I wouldn’t manage which forced me to dismount and walk. It was a very long, very slight climb to the top of a hill.
Which brings me neatly to point two: No matter how pretty the German city bike is, 3 gears are not enough. It’s a heavy bike – two very large wheels, a nice low cross bar, sit-up-and-beg handlebars… I imagine that in the Netherlands, or parts of Denmark, or even the Fens in the UK, that it would be a perfect bike. I mean, on the flat bits, it is an absolutely perfect bike – super comfortable to sit on and very, very smooth to ride.
But this is Scotland. And we have hills. There was one point – a sudden, but sharp incline which I don’t actually notice in the car – which almost brought the bike’s wheels to a stop, even in the appropriate gear.
Interestingly – point three – it actually took the same amount of time to get to the village on the bike as it would in the car. The car has to slow tremendously for the corners because the road is super narrow and the track to our house is made mostly of holes. Because the car is low, and because I can’t hear if there’s any traffic coming over the engine, I never really get above second or third gear, whereas on the bike, I can see over all the hedges and hear if there’s anything coming, meaning that I don’t have to moderate my speed nearly as much. So, I can actually get to my destination as quickly on two wheels as I can on four. There is one very steep hill on the way there, but for the most part, it’s a road to roll down. Hence why the way home is… a struggle.
Finally, there are very few places I feel happy leaving a bike in the village. One is able to rent locked parking at the station from the council (it’s not too expensive, but for one year’s rental, I could buy a massive bike lock and park for ‘free’ for the length of my degree), or there are a handful of bike stands, but these are in places where I would feel really conscious about abandoning my vehicle for the day – the leisure centre car park, or just outside the corner shop… It feels… invasive of me, to take up space which customers might need.
Mostly though, I learned that it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.
Some things which would make my life easier/make me more likely to keep this up:
- I’d like to get some trousers which will be acceptable for use in the classroom, as well as on the bike. Currently, I’ve only really got large, linen confections (and an oversized pair of dungarees made from orange cheesecloth). I’d be worried about these catching in the chains. I’m not really a leggings person so I’d need to figure something out in terms of clothing.
- I need to figure out a way to carry as few things as possible. I’m currently weighing up the logistics of photocopying textbook pages and only taking the chapters I’m working on, but that seems wasteful. I’d never planned to take my laptop with me (I don’t trust myself with it on a bike!) so PDF scans aren’t really an option either. I wonder how many books relevant to my course will be available via e-reader, and if so, whether I can get them without using That River Company.* I wonder what the best way to carry lunch, snacks, and possibly breakfast is. I wonder how to take enough water with me for the day so I don’t have to buy more… There’s only a small front basket, and I’ve got a backpack which will mostly be filled with my helmet, unless…
- I rent one of the bike lockers at the station, though realistically, that ties me into rail travel as the relevant bus stop is right at the other end of the village. The bus is cheaper, and whilst it takes longer, it gets me into the city closer to the university. The train station necessitates a 30-45 minute walk at the other side… Good for fitness, but hardly great for studying.
Ultimately, my transport situation remains a work in progress. I will do what I can to avoid purchasing another vehicle, but the infrastructure round here does not make it easy!
Do you cycle? Do you have any hints and tips for a total beginner, tackling hills for the first time? I would really appreciate any wisdom you could impart!
*FYI: I use That River Company’s e-reader because someone was giving one away on Freecycle. I download classics for it via Project Gutenberg. I’m one of those people who refuse to buy from said River company, hoping to – and utterly failing to – make a difference.