I’m working on a project at the moment called Cycling in the City. The city in question is Newcastle in the North East of England. A programme of activities is designed to encourage more people to get on their bikes and make cycling more of an everyday activity, rather than just an option for the Lycra clad, pointy helmeted brigade. The ideal for a cycling utopia is of course freewheeling Holland, where cycling is like breathing. There are wide, well used cycle lanes, the world is flat, and you can pedal home with your tulips and Edam in your basket with ease.
It’s not quite like that here. It is not a flat city to start with (that never stops San Francisco I hear you cry!) plus the weather is pretty frisky most of the time and not conducive to taking up outdoor activities for the average British couch potato. The project has different elements to it. Free ‘Dr Bike’ sessions employ a medical metaphor to getting your two wheeled chariot checked over, and you are then given a ‘prescription’ to fulfil if your bike needs more than just routine tweaking of your brake cables. It’ll take more than a course of antibiotics to get my bike out of the garage after ten years..
If I can only get it out of the garage
There are led rides (if you don’t know where to go ) and beginners classes for those who have never been on two wheels before, or for those who last pedalled long ago. There’s a cool cafe at the cycle ‘Hub’ for a bit of cycle socialising, and there can be few nicer rides than the one along the banks of the river Tyne looking at the view of our gorgeous bridges. You can even borrow an electric bike if it’s the pedalling up hills bit you’re struggling with. Just push the button and put your feet up! All good one would think.
Wall to wall cycling
There are however a few barriers to everyone suddenly taking up cycling here. Our cycling infrastructure is not the best and, although cycle lanes start off valiantly, they often peter out long before you get to where you want to be going. Car drivers are also often quite hostile to cyclists who sometimes weave in and out of cycle lanes in a risk taking manner. Suffice to say, Bike rage has its own Wikipedia entry. Safety is the number one reason why people say they aren’t keen on taking up cycling and I can totally empathise with this view. Unless you are Iron man or perhaps a Power Ranger, you are always going to come off worst in any altercation with a vehicle which sports a metal exoskeleton.
Summer cycling on an electric bike..
In an attempt to show solidarity I volunteered to go on the two hour cycle maintenance course. I was not anticipating it to be as thrilling as an episode of Game of Thrones, but it was pretty hard going. Two hours of being talked at by a perfectly nice man who certainly knew his stuff about pranks, pedals, your bottom bracket, changing wheels and mending punctures proved a little too much for my brain, which needs to be constantly entertained to function at any sort of capacity. The only way I could get through it was by imagining how much more fun the session would have been if it had been delivered by Sid James in the style of a Carry On film. There were certainly enough double entendres..
First adjust your own bottom bracket..
I made extensive notes of some of the nuggets of wisdom on offer. If your cranks aren’t fixed it can affect your joints and things might start falling to bits. Always wiggle your saddle first if – it comes loose it can cause a bit of a shock. Check that your rack is solid as things can come loose after a bumpy ride. Go and do a bit of bird watching while you wait for your puncture to mend. All very childish I concede.
before helping others to adjust theirs..
Two hours later and I still didn’t know my knurled nuts from my noodles. However what I do know is, that if your tyres feel like a hard onion or an apple, all is well, but if they feel like a satsuma they may need blowing up a bit. I asked Bridget who was on the course with me if she felt confident to have a go after the session. She gave a considered pause and then replied ‘I think that’s what men are for really..’ Happy cycling!