When people think of a cyclist, I don’t think I’m what they picture.
First off, I’m a woman. My bike is baby pink and I have a helmet to match. Secondly, I’m chubby. I still remember a past boyfriend bursting into hysterics, and when I asked him what was so funny, he said “oh I’m just imaginging you moving quickly!” But most of all, I don’t think I fit the common picture of a cyclist because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
Unlike most of the other urban bike riders I speak to, I haven’t been doing this all of my life. My childhood bike-riding ambitions were quashed when a broken brake sent me flying down a hill, until a collision with a friends’ back brought me to a sudden, painful stop. I didn’t touch a bike again for another ten years, at which point I found myself in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh being offered a cycle tour of the city. Having faith in the old adage “it’s just like riding a bike”, I confidently climbed aboard and set off, only to immediately collide with a parked van a metre to my right. After failing to keep my balance after another few attempts, I accepted defeat and retreated to the poolside to nurse a cocktail and my injured pride.
It wasn’t until 2018 that I properly learnt how to ride a bike. For years I’d watched in envy as my boyfriend effortlessly climbed aboard his bike and zipped off to work in the morning, while I crammed myself into overstuffed tube carriages that made me wish for death. I wanted that kind of freedom too. So I signed myself up for a free TFL basic cycle skills training session — and on a warm July afternoon I met up with a volunteer cycle instructor in an abandoned school playground and, following a series of wobbles, learnt how to keep my bike upright and moving.
I tested my newfound cycling skills whenever I found myself in a bike-friendly city (read: Europe). I’d wheel around Toulouse, Antwerp and Utrecht feeling unjustifiably proud of myself — my camera roll filled with blurry photos and videos of me cycling down a cobbled street or canal-side, beaming. But when I got back to London, I was met with the reality check that cycling in my home city was an entirely different…