peloton - Version 2I’ve had a successful Cycling themed week inspired by the Grand Depart for the Tour de France. In this week’s bite size memoir challenge, people have shared joys and a few woes about cycling with themes of mastering first bikes and the freedom that led to. Somehow the Bay City Rollers managed to feature twice!

Some opted out having never had a bike and Charli highlighted the off-putting terrain she grew up in, that quickly had her in a saddle of a different kind! (I get the feeling she was destined for that anyway.) Suzanne shared a lovely old post of hers called First Wheels.

In certain eras before cars were affordable, a bike was often the means of getting to and from work or meeting up with friends.

I’ve broken my own rules by including Geoff’s two pieces as his self-confessed, long ‘remembers’ do illustrate how integral a bike must have been to his and previous generations. (As usual, they’re also rather funny!) My Grandparents (I must stress, before Geoff’s time) never owned a car and went everywhere on bicycles. I remember my grandmother scooting along on one peddle to get momentum before somehow managing to swing a leg over the saddle without getting skirts caught in chains or losing her dignity. And then I remembered I never mastered that and had to fiddle to get the peddle set it at the optimum point on its arc of travel – so I could push hard enough to get that initial speed needed to balance. I had also forgotten the number of times I caught my Tesco flares in my chain before giving into wearing uncool bicycle clips.



Jens Voigt in front
Jens Voigt in front

After experiencing the atmosphere and excitement gained from several hours leading up to a bunch of lycra-clad men streaming past in under a minute, any future prompt of cycling will also have me reminiscing about my day in the Yorkshire countryside for the 2014 Grand Depart.

Questions from Norah about Jens Voigt had me distracted with You-Tube clips for half an hour, during which time I also came across this compilation of funnies about competitive cycling – I’m not sure I agree the crashes are all funny but overall it’s a giggle.

Morgan Dragon Willow – USA

I remember my training wheels coming off as my father held the back and ran beside me as excitement and fear co-mingled within;  that was a good day.

I remember a banana seat, flowers, and the color pink.

I remember loving, when I was old enough, that I could ride by myself around the complex and down the little roads that wove between the German garden plots.

I remember closing my eyes as I pretended to fly on those roads, peddling slow and fast, feeling the freedom that I craved.

I remember meandering and dawdling not wanting to point my bike home.

I remember a tandem bike ride with my grandfather (my father’s father), of his smile (which didn’t happen often), and a Denny’s breakfast.

I remember a family bike ride, my sister falling, and her knees embedded with gravel; my stomach revolted when I discovered the doctor had to scrub the gravel out of her knees.

I remember putting my young daughter on my back as I rode my bike around town, enjoying each moment I had when it was just she and I.

I remember spending time teaching her how to ride her bike when that day came; five being the magical year of learning this new skill.

I remember how much I love riding and can’t wait to once again feel the breeze move through my hair as I fly down a road feeling free.


Charli Mills – USA – Cycling: Not as Romantic as Riding Horses

Riding my canary-yellow bike, I pretended it was a horse. It didn’t trot or gallop. I had to pedal furiously to get up the steep grades that led out of the small mountain town where I lived. Today, top-notch cyclists pedal these same roads and call it the “Death Ride.”

I wrecked a couple of times coasting down those grades, sliding tires in gravel accumulated alongside the shoulders. Tiny rocks embedded in my knees, causing me to dread road-rash. But there were no bike paths or trail bikes back then.

Whenever I got bucked off a horse, I thumped grassy ground, never pavement or gravel. Once, my horse dumped me in a creek. It was thrilling to cling to the saddle and if others were around, it roused much whooping and hollering.

Steep roads, bike crashes and pedaling endlessly curbed any childhood attachments to cycling. Horses still make me swoon.


Geoff Le Pard – UK – Cycling Proficiency Test

My primary school – Maple Road Primary – ran cycling proficiency lessons and tests. It seems quite advanced looking back but a couple of years before a pupil was killed by a car, so that might have been the genesis.

I was in year 5 – aged 10. My bike was so raddled that I borrowed the Archaeologist’s; he was a good two inches taller than me and the idea of an adjustable saddle did not exist back then. So I had to undertake the lessons mostly stood on my pedals.

The day of the test was grey and cold – I wore my raincoat which became snagged in the chain. We had to weave around bean bags; then it was hand signals and stopping. I remember my chain falling off. I also recall the examiner spotting that my outer tyre had split and the inner tube bulged through. I still passed, much to my (and everyone else’s) surprise.

and also from Geoff

I remember coming back to my room in hall, in my first year at Bristol, to find my bike in a box on the floor. Every little ball bearing, every bracket, every nut and bolt, everything except the wheel that was chained to the bike rack. My ‘friends’ thought it hilarious; I learnt a lot about how a bike went back together so I should be grateful… BUT I STILL HATE THEM!

I remember strapping my briefcase to my bike and it coming loose when I hit a pot hole; the case slid off, bounced in a way Barnes Wallace would have admired and skittled a harmless pensioner waiting to cross the road.

I remember dozing on my way to a holiday job in a  hotel in the New Forest (you never saw anything on those back roads back then) and cycling into the back of the bread van. I found out the hard way why they call one particular loaf a ‘Tin’.

I remember hitting a man as he jumped off a bus (before they had doors) – I was trying to slip down the inside; we both ended up sprawled on the tarmac though his anger was greater than my surprise. Fortunately my handlebars had returned his testicles to where they had been housed pre-puberty and he was in no fit state to chase me.

I remember my back wheel crumpling unexpectedly as I cycled out of the front drive of our house in Hampshire – the experience was rather like sinking in sand.

I remember being broke when I started my articles (they call it a training contract now – back then it was like being indentured), selling my motorbike and buying a pushbike from a  dodgy shop in Brixton, circa 1979. It was the smartest thing I had had, to that point, and was clearly stolen. I cycled around for weeks certain I would hear an ‘Oi you’, be arrested for handling stolen goods, and kissing goodbye to my nascent legal career in the process.

I remember some friends from work persuading me to do the London to Brighton bike ride – and then spending the first five miles pushing our bikes because the roads were so crowded. I did manage to cycle up Ditchling Beacon without stopping though (*he glows just a little hubristically*).

I remember  the many years I spent commuting to work on my bike, from my various parts of South London to the City; well over 25 years come rain or shine. I crashed, broke a wrist (just a tiny bit), cycled the infamous gyratory system that is Elephant & Castle twice a day, without mishap each time (I confess; I obeyed not one traffic light and there is a direct and clear link to that crime and my safety) and only gave up when Ken Livingston introduced bendy buses and over three horrific days I nearly perished because of these monsters.

I remember just yesterday looking at my dusty bike and saying ‘tomorrow, old chum…’


Irene Waters – Australia

The Bay City Rollers were visiting Australia when we purchased our bikes and though the music didn’t appeal, their attire did. We practiced around the nurses home before venturing out on the road. We felt we were free, neither of us having at this stage any other form of transport. On the first occasion we could correspond our off duty days we decided to ride from the hospital at St Leonards to Gosford, a trip of 75 kms. This turned into the longest walking trip of my life as a bike without gears just couldn’t make it up the hills. We walked up them and after discovering my inability to stop the machine with its back pedal brake I also walked down. On the odd bit of flat road I rode. My friend, having more courage than I, rode some hills but for the mostly we walked and did what girls do best – talk.

Catrina Young – UK

I remember getting my new bike…my brother’s old one lovingly re sprayed by my daddy.

I remember that daddy running behind me keeping me upright until it was safe to let go…a metaphor for my life. I hope my children will feel the same one day.

I remember my eldest boy struggling with stabilisers …wish I’d known then about taking the pedals off and scooting to learn to ride.

I remember the first time round Rutland Water at 6 and 10.

I remember cycling the shortest, flattest stage of the TdF ever…and stopping for a pic-nic.

I remember playing on bikes in Haldon Forest – my youngest encouraging me to be brave.

I remember the birthday presents of new bikes; one red and one blue.

I remember a precious weekend a deux riding the High Peak trail the weekend the boys went to Cub/Scout camp.

I remember the first cycle race and being proud that H stopped to let others through a narrow gap…not going to win that way but a precious quality in life.

I remember a great weekend in Yorkshire with old friends watching Le Tour and feeling very proud…of Yorkshire, of Britain and very, very blessed.

Jen Allen – USA

Two bikes appeared one day a few days after my mom left for truck driving school. A black BMX for my brother and a little orange cruiser for me. It didn’t even have real tires – they were hard plastic – and for some reason there was an MFA medallion attached to the front of the bike.

It was used. Not the bright and shiny things that lined that aisles at Wal-Mart, and I was a little ashamed and embarrassed by it. Only for a little bit, though, because it was what my mom could afford, and once I learned how to ride, it didn’t matter what it looked like. After a few crashes in the ditch and some scars I still wear, that bike gave me the freedom to run with the boys or wander back country roads all by myself. I was six, but with wheels, I was free.


Sherri Matthews – UK – Cycling and Sherlock Holmes

For a year or two I was a Girl Guide. By the time I turned 13 I lost interest, preferring to mope about at home instead.

I loved riding my bike and got the idea that it would be fun to cycle to an evening meeting. Fixed up with a headlamp and dynamo, off I pedalled.

Still light, the rural road was deserted but it was dark for my return, and no street lights. This might not have been a problem had I not just finished reading ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. The surrounding fields were dark and menacing and I was all alone. As I pedalled furiously, those headless hounds of hell, tongues of fire blazing from their necks, chased me all the way home.

Bursting in through the front door, I could hardly breathe. I never did cycle to Guides after that. In fact, I quit soon after.

Lisa Reiter – UK – The Puch Bike

It was unusual to have a brand new present of this magnitude and still I was ungrateful. I wanted a ‘chopper’ which everyone else had with its long seat and curved handlebars. Instead my parents bought me a sensible PUCH which did indeed last me into adulthood. With big wheels, cycling the fourteen mile round trip to go swimming was easy on flat fen roads.

I could pack towel and lunch in the rear tartan (nod to the Bay City Rollers) saddle-bag and had a cat and a chicken who would suffer rides too!

We spent a lot of time in the summer holidays, ogling a blue-eyed lifeguard we named Chunky. We’d invent questions and take turns asking him, then blush and giggle like the silly school girls we were.

One summer was rather interrupted when A tried ‘no-hands’ down the village hill. Unfortunately the dentist did well out of her for a while.

 Tracey Scott Townsend – UK

I can’t remember actually learning to ride, but it must have happened somehow. Triumph 20 was the bike that I loved. It was blue, quite squat with smallish wheels. She, I should say. As far as I was concerned she was a horse. I was MAD about horses. (I didn’t even need a bike to pretend: Flicka was my black pony that I rode everywhere, even up and down stairs.)

‘Triumph 20’ got me to school and back, to my horse-riding lessons (yes, I did eventually get to ride a real horse) and to swimming. When I outgrew her my parents bought me a new (2ndhand) bike from a family friend. It had large wheels and was so high I couldn’t touch the ground.

My youngest son taught himself to ride, aged three. Round and round the lino-floored dining room he went, patiently getting back on again each time he fell off.

The next prompt for Bite Size Memoir is out tomorrow afternoon.

Will you have a go?!