Why do you ride?

When I got back into cycling, it was because my kids – still little at the time – wanted to go riding further than just up and down the pavement in front of the house where we used to live. As a result, I got a really cheap mountain bike, which I absolutely loved!

That led to me starting cycle commuting, and in time, I completely wore out that MTB. In its place, I got a flat-barred hybrid, with fairly chunky tyres. That was an eye-opener, as it was a noticeably faster bike, because I wasn’t riding on knobbly tyres anymore, nor was I losing heaps of energy into the iffy suspension.

The making of a roadie

When we moved to where I currently live, it meant my commute went from a surprisingly flat four miles (I live in Devon!) to a very hilly 15 miles. I rode that hybrid for some time, but these pesky roadies on their skinny-wheeled bikes were leaving me for dust, and I wanted to change that.

That change was in the form of a very cheap road bike, a Triban 3, from Decathlon. I loved that bike! It was fast and responsive, and made my old hybrid feel like riding a brick, by comparison. It also meant my commute times were getting faster.

One day, I stopped at traffic lights next to another roadie, and we started chatting. He was also heading out of Plymouth, heading the same way as me, but unlike me, he avoided the A379. That’s a very unpleasant road to ride on, so I tagged along with him, to discover some blissfully quiet rural lanes I never knew of.

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He was a member of a road cycling club, and invited me along. The first time I turned up for a ride, I was a tad nervous, and was worried I’d be left far behind. I needn’t have worried – my daily commute ensured that I was more than capable of riding with the club.

Must go faster!

Road cycling in a tight group can be great fun, and you end up going significantly faster than you would when cycling on your own. At the same time, I discovered Strava, which introduced a competitive element. It didn’t take long before I collected a few KOMs. If you’re not a Strava user, KOM is short for King Of the Mountain, and simply means you were the fastest rider along a certain segment.

Fun as it can be, road cycling can also be exceptionally boring: head down, arse up, tucked into an aero position, desperately trying to go that little bit faster each time. I entered my first sportive, the Dartmoor Classic, to cycle the 107 mile route.

During that sportive, I set my personal cycling speed record, clocking 53mph, coming down Peak Hill, on Dartmoor. It was terrifying, but also very thrilling. I finished the ride having averaged just over 15mph, and missed out on a silver medal by less than 15 minutes.

Change

Determined to get a gold medal, let alone a silver, I trained hard. In 2016, I was tapering my training in the final two weeks before the Dartmoor Classic. At the fittest I’ve ever been, I was confident of getting that gold medal.

Cycling to work one morning, on the edge of Plymouth some idiot driver pulled out in front of me from a side road, without slowing, never mind stopping. With nowhere to go, I slammed into her car at 29mph. My Strava showed my speed dropping from 33mph, as I started braking, then plummet instantly from 29mph down to zero.

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I badly tore my right calf muscle, and seriously injured my left quad. The worst injuries were to my spine, and a doctor who examined me said I’d “concertinad” my spine, permanently damaging it in three places.

The road to recovery

Before that crash, sometimes I’d hear of how others struggled to come back from injury, even several years after the injury. I will confess I was ignorant enough to think they simply lacked motivation. However, my own crash opened my eyes, as my whole world shifted that day.

I’m not even slightly embarrassed to admit that, once my muscles healed enough to allow me back on the bike, I was terrified of cycling on the road. I completely lost my nerve, and traffic scared me. When I went cycling, I’d ride convoluted routes, going miles out of my way to avoid roads that could even be moderately busy.

That was also when I started seeking out traffic-free routes. I was determined to not get hit be a car again. Of course, when cycling for transport (and often, for leisure) it isn’t possible to completely avoid roads. In time, I built up confidence and tolerance for cycling on the roads again.

Despite that, I firmly prefer traffic-free routes to roads. I also changed my bike, and am now mostly riding on a gravel bike, modified to be a tourer.

Why do I ride?

I ride for the pleasure of it. I ride for the views. I ride for the feeling of satisfaction you get after summiting a challenging climb, knowing you got there under your own steam. I ride for the café stops. I ride to explore and visit places I’ve never been to before. I ride for the the sanity offered by turning the pedals for hours. I ride for the escape. I ride for the freedom.

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I ride for me. Why do you ride?

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