I love doing Cycle Fridays, I find it enormously up lifting helping people acheive greater confidence and enjoyment from something I am so passionate about, cycling. Anyone of any ability is welcome to partake in the rides (as long as their steed is roadworthy) which take place every Friday until 2nd October 09. It is FREE and you get FREE MEMBERSHIP to the LCC for 3 months. It is also a jolly sociable pedal before work. Last Friday a novice cyclist, Maha, joined the ride from Finsbury Park to St.Pauls (6 miles). Here is her account of cycling to work for the first time.
"I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said today was one of the best days in my life, although what made me so happy was only a bike ride!
I am simple and easy to please as my friends always say. I discovered a long time ago that happiness and joy lie in the simplest of things.... that happiness is not in what we chase but what we already have or choose to live right now. Since then I am living to do everything I love doing and enjoy the simplest of things in everyday life. Today I discovered the absolute joy and wonderful feeling of riding a bike on the road.
Hmm, big introduction for a small thing, some might say, but to those who enjoy cycling every day and everywhere know what I am talking about. The sense of freedom, flying without wings while still being on the ground, seeing and feeling things with senses different from the usual five senses. A new dimension to the light, the sound, the moving and still objects. New smell and touch of the breeze on my skin. An experience so difficult to explain in words and has to be lived to know the feeling. As much as I expected cycling to be fun, I never imagined it to be that much fun. Although regret is not a word in my books, I can’t help but regret not starting cycling earlier. On the other hand, I am very grateful that I lived to experience this.
For a few years now I wanted to learn cycling. I was always the one opting out of cycling holidays and declining days out on a bike - feeling bitter - because I couldn’t ride a bike. I’m usually the go getter; if I want something I do it. But this was the embarrassing subject, everyone who heard I couldn’t cycle either laughed, made a joke or a gesture that made me feel uneasy. Well, “it’s not my fault” I always started to explain, but not many people listened and understood. Some people assume that some things are not questioned; everyone has eyes, legs, 2 kidneys and can ride a bike. Well no, people are different, have different backgrounds, some people don't have eyes, and others didn't have someone to teach them how to ride a bike when they were young, or simply could not afford to buy a bike. The ones who did listen and were not judgemental on the other hand were very helpful. It was my office manager who suggested adult cycling lessons. Within a day and a few minutes googling I found the Camden Council adult cycling lessons and I booked myself into one lesson for free under the scheme. I met some great people who either couldn't cycle or were just afraid to cycle on the road. After a couple of sessions I decided to buy a bicycle and start practising on my own so that I can master the areas I am still not in control of (setting off/stopping/gears etc).
For the next 2 months following my cycling lessons, I was only able to use my bike a couple of times. Once in Hampstead Heath, where cycling paths are limited now, a lot of steep hills, narrow paths where I felt intimidated by speedy experienced cyclists. On another occasion, a traffic police car stopped me just as I landed from a cycling path to a pedestrian path preparing to break as I came down a steep hill - remember I was still practising and learning (at 6:30AM in the morning). The officer gave me a lecture on the danger of cycling on pedestrian lanes and told me I should be fined. I tried to explain that there were no pedestrians and that I am practising cycling at 6 AM, as I felt it is safer to do so without cars and pedestrians on the streets at that time, and anyhow I just landed from a cycling path and was getting ready to break. I was talking to a hand! Ok, I thought, another hurdle to overcome. I almost gave up my attempts to learn and practise cycling... that is until I heard about the Cycle Fridays and I made a decision to join. I joined the convoy from Finsbury Park at 8:00AM this morning and it was one of the best day experiences I ever had.
I never imagined I would complete the challenge. After all, I am still not in full control of the bike, I do not drive and I am afraid of big cars and buses. What added to my fear was a big car accident I had when I was a teenager. I thought the cycling marshals would give up on me after the first 2 minutes. The only thing I was absolutely sure of was that I was willing to give it my very best. I wanted this so badly, if I manage to do this, it would boost my confidence. I would be able to practice on the road and eventually I would be able to cycle anytime anywhere and make my big dream really come true. I felt tired after just 5 minutes from the time we started but I kept pushing, 2 minutes later I was not able to keep up with the pace of the group as I panicked a lot every time a car passed by. I ended up on my own with the Cycling Marshal who was protecting the convoy from the back, TR. I felt like crying but TR encouraged me and said he is willing to complete the ride with me and make sure I arrive to work safely.
That journey on my bike that morning was one of my biggest achievements in my life. I was nervous but also felt safe as TR was cycling behind me and a little to the right to protect me. We stopped a few times every time I panicked and wasn't able to start my bike. When that happened TR would simply say, let's just walk it across the road. He would wait for me to calm down and start again. After a little while I started to enjoy myself and loosen up my muscles. I was laughing at myself at some points, the way I caught myself clinging to the bike handles or humming and singing in my head to calm myself down whenever I saw a bus. Eventually I was able to observe what was around me; I was able to see the roads, the nice houses and streets we passed through, and the pedestrians in the zebra crossings that I couldn't see in the beginning of my cycling.
Just like anything in life coaching and support are very important in achieving anything fast. TR was so great, so patient, encouraging but firm and determined. He made it a goal for both of us to reach St Paul’s - the finishing point for the convoy - safely. He made me relaxed. Just like a doctor with a nervous patient before a surgery. We chatted, talked about general things, laughed at my mistakes and made jokes about drivers of big cars who tried to scare me off the road whilst cycling. Eventually I noticed the more I focused on my fear I lost balance. When I focused on where I wanted to go while being relaxed and enjoying myself, I cycled really well. It was spooky that TR was the first person I met when I arrived at the convoy's meeting point in Finsbury Park in the morning, I thought. I told him I was scared and I didn’t feel confident. He smiled and said to me “you will be fine”, he said it in a way I felt he meant it and that gave me a confidence boost.
We cycled around 5 miles to St Paul’s. I screamed with joy when we arrived there. And I remembered to take a picture of me with my bike to capture the moment. I kept thanking TR and I felt he was my hero. I left with a great sense of gratitude to him.
When I got to the office I was so exhausted I felt like going back home, but I was buzzing. I immediately decided to cycle back home in the evening (or walk/cycle) whatever the cost. I figured out my route (by remembering the morning route we took, printing some Google maps). Heh, when I cycled back it turned out some of the roads we took in the morning were one way, so I changed routes, and got off the bike a few times to find my way. I walked a lot to be frank to avoid traffic but I discovered new cycling lanes and saw things I never saw in London before (I mainly used the underground for my travel). I chose the wide and less busy roads to cycle. I was nervous when cars got near me but I found that I was forced to focus, keep balanced and take care of myself, so my hearing doubled, my eyes got sharper and I kept singing to myself and motivating myself. When I felt too nervous or panicky I quietly and smoothly taking deep breaths went to the side and stopped. I watched a video on the tfl website before I left about how to keep safe on the road. I found myself naturally applying the techniques many times.
When I made it home I was tired, exhausted but excited and over the moon. I felt a great sense of achievement. This felt bigger than other big things I had done before. I thought the biggest achievements for me were quitting smoking and getting a master degree while working full time. Looking back I think the bike ride today (in the city, during rush hour and with little training) was the best. I did not use patches or took pills to make me learn cycling. I did not have to read huge books and it did not take me a year as I expected it to do. All it took is great willingness and massive desire; the rest came naturally and with the help of someone up there. A big spiritual lesson I learned today (besides remembering to look out for pedestrians ) was that if you are in control, you have to have faith in yourself and others; drivers, cyclists, pedestrians (well most of them), and trust that things will go fine. If you do what you meant to do, and you are cautious and alert of what is going around you, you will not be hurt. Things may go wrong, like everything in life there’s always a risk, but we don’t hide in our rooms all the time to avoid that risk. We simply go out and live and deal with things as they happen.
I’ve also learnt there are a lot of frustrated people out there. People who will imply you made a mistake or that you should not be cycling, not even on the cycling lane because the road belongs to them. But also there are the friendly ones who are just so friendly and will give you a wide smile and clear the road for you seeing how hard you are trying. To me, that was it! As much as I though everyone was putting me down for the fact that I couldn’t cycle, I now saw for my own eyes how much respect people give and show when you’re working on a goal. They respect you if you are “different” from others, others who live what “people” want to see and not what they want to do, even if it is as simple as learning cycling as adults. The whole world respect people who are not controlled by fear, embarrassment and social attitudes.
Cycling to work is like a big story you live in a few miles cycling journey, just like a movie – including the sound and visual effects (and the added smell and touch effects!). The only difference is that you’re the main character; you have to learn your lines well. Every day the story is different, and it is live! You get to exercise along the way, and you sleep like a baby at night.
I am sure you figured out I am still not an experienced cyclist, I know that I still need to practise a lot more before I would considered myself even an intermediate level cyclist. But you know what? It seems easier to me now. I am certain this time that I could do it. I know where to get help and guidance, when and where to practise, and I am not fearful anymore. I know how enjoyable the experience is, I am willing to give it my all."