Why I got on a bike

As a kid I used to bike everywhere. To see my friends, to go to school, to the basketball court on the other side of Oxford, and anywhere else I needed or wanted to be.

It started in the late 80s with an Oxford United themed kids bike (yellow with a blue saddle), which was later followed by up a silver Peugeot BMX and a series of mountain bikes (before full suspension was the norm) before returning to another BMX = because it was cool, although not very fast… Then something happened and I stopped cycling. I got my driving license at 18 years old and started driving instead – getting behind the wheel of my parents British Racing Green, Rover 400. I went off to university and could walk everywhere, only getting on a bike when I absolutely had to before dropping it almost completely.

Getting in a car was easy and convenient. It was more comfortable and quicker than public transport, and certainly involved less effort than cycling or walking. Then when I moved out of Oxford to a village and began to commute in, it seemed like the only option. Public transport from where I lived involved a number of buses and an awful lot of time.

Then, having worked at Brookes for a few years by this point, the “Access to Headington” roadworks kicked in…

As time went by I got faster, fitter, and more confident… and most importantly, the stress I had was fading away

A 40 minute journey suddenly turned into a 90 minute journey – the vast majority of which took place in that short distance from the Oxford ring road into Headington itself. During rush hour or the school run, this extended to well over two hours, and all it did was serve to make me late, angry, and by taking up such a large part of my waking day, largely inactive. Both my physical and mental health suffered. Sitting down and being in a general state of rage for hours each day will do that to you… Something had to change.

I got in touch with a friend who repairs old bikes, and he just so happened to have an 80s steel framed Claud Butler in a fetching shade of metallic blue with the odd patch of rust here and there. It may not have been the most advanced machine, but for what I needed, it would do the job – even if the brakes did make going downhill a little bit terrifying. My commute was going to be 25km to work and 25km back home, which given how unfit I’d become, seemed daunting to say the least and would require a bit of practice.

My first ride was a short and slow 2.5k around the village. So far, so good… followed up by a longer 10k ride the following evening. Again, this was very slow, and I learnt that going uphill was going to take a lot more effort than I remembered – but still, so far, so good…

My first actual commute didn’t take place until 2 weeks later, and at that time was my longest ever ride as an adult. Even then, I only rode home having driven to work with my bike in the boot, leaving my car overnight – not yet confident enough to commit to the 50km roundtrip. It took me an hour and quarter (still quicker than the drive would have taken at the time). Of course, I then had to ride back to work in the morning, but am pleased to report I immediately knocked 5 minutes off.

As time went by I got faster, fitter, and more confident. I had the bike professionally serviced at the fantastic Cyclogical Shop in Deddington – and most importantly, that stress that I had was fading away. A month in, and I even managed a 65km ride for fun (yes, fun!).

But most importantly, I was enjoying my commute – which was now less than an hour and involved zipping past stationary traffic – I was taking a car off the road, I was getting fitter and lighter, and I had found the passion I’d given up in my teens.

Mark at the London Road level crossing, which he uses on one of his routes to and from Oxford.

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