When you fall in love, it is either like a thunderbolt, which strikes you suddenly or like a slow burning fire, which consumes slowly. For me it was a thunderbolt. One autumn afternoon in 1995 while walking from the Old Vic near Waterloo, I passed a cycle shop and there she was in the window. It was love at first sight. A gleaming mauve and white Cannondale aluminium-racing bicycle. After I bought it, I replaced the slick racing tyres and pedals for more conventional ones, suitable for London cycling. From that moment on, me and my Cannondale were inseparable. We travelled everywhere. Goodbye stuffy Bakerloo line tube train and hello to cycle paths along Regents canal. Forget expensive skiing holidays in overpriced French resorts and hello to cycling holidays in the Loire valley. While most of my friends were queuing to get the ski lift up to the top of Les Trois Vallees, my fiancée (now my wife) and I were cycling from auberge to auberge in the French countryside stopping for the occasional “plat du jour” in some sleepy French village.
Cycling is a passport to freedom. It takes you far from the madding crowd and allows you in the words of William Wordsworth “to wander as lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills” Once you taste this freedom there is no turning back.
The English countryside is gift for this addiction. It is a tapestry of lanes and minor roads passing through towns and villages with ancient churches and manor houses as you seek the haven of a quaint teahouse to replenish you with refreshing tea and cakes. It also is full of surprises. I once found myself in a town that had been totally abandoned as if the plague had culled the population. Empty houses and a disused church. I later realised that this was army land used to practice army manoeuvres. On another occasion, I found a river blocked the cycle path and had to pay a ferryman to transport me across together with my bicycle.
Cycling is also about coming together with other cyclist at special events organised for good causes.
There is no greater pleasure than cycling with a few thousand other people as you head from London on mass to Cambridge or Brighton or Windsor, stopping on route for lunch or a drink, and if you are lucky during the hot weather, the young children come out to spray you with cold water from their water guns as you cycle pass.
I still have my 1995 Cannondale and commute to work (during good weather) and sometimes I look out of the office window and treasure those memories of cycling freedom when the worries of life are far behind you and the hills ahead of you.