My Story: Cycling to self-improvement

Bethany describes how cycling to university has changed her life for the better

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Image courtesy of Rob Bye via Unsplash

I’ve toyed so many times with becoming one of those cycling types: 18 months ago, when I got a job that was five miles up an extremely cyclist-friendly road; a year ago, when I took up residence literally as far away in Lancaster as it is possible to be from campus; at the beginning of summer because, hey, what better time to take up a new hobby.

I can’t really put my finger on what made this time different. Maybe it was wanting to boost my fitness levels without going to the dreaded gym. Maybe it was not wanting to pay £260 for a bus pass. Maybe it was just to prove to myself that I could persevere with something.

Whatever it was, on the 30th September I found myself perusing the bicycle selection in Halfords with a strict £150 all in budget. Obviously, that failed enormously and I found myself walking away with the receipt for what can only be described as the Fiat 500 of the bike world.

It was at this point I genuinely did wonder if I had made a pretty significant mistake. I tried to remember the last time I rode a bike and put it down to a family holiday in 2007.  Then I tried to remember the old adage, “It’s like riding a bike, which you never forget!” And then I reassured myself it would all be okay.

When I got the call to say my brand new, shiny bike was ready for collection I was like a kid on Christmas day. I’d waited a week for it to arrive and was getting a little fed up of paying for bus tickets. But I couldn’t pick it up until gone 7:30pm. And on top of that it was raining. Torrentially raining. The salesperson who attached my lights and fitted my helmet commented on what a shame it was to be cycling my lovely new bike home in such horrific weather. I told myself it would be fine.

It was not fine. I live at tops a five minute cycle from Halfords. It was raining, there were cars everywhere, it was very dark, and whoever coined the phrase “It’s like riding a bike!” was full of lies. I cried a bit and was sure I had made a very big mistake. I got home and looked on Gumtree to see how much I could sell the blasted thing for. It wasn’t going to be a great deal, so I decided to sleep on it.

The next day was significantly better. The storm of the night before had well and truly passed. I hopped on my bike, ready to cycle down the canal path. I rang my bell, people moved, I cheerily said “Thank you!” and then we all smiled at each other. How wholesome and lovely.

Also, after my horrendous experience with the roads the previous night I decided to cycle all the way down the canal to avoid as many potential cars as possible. I know Lancaster isn’t exactly “city living”, but just going a little way along the canal path takes you into rolling countryside hills, which provided a soothing backdrop to my cycle. I didn’t even have to get off and push: even up a big hill. I can cycle! Hooray!

When I got home for the weekend that evening, I ranted and raved about how great cycling is. “The views are stunning! I’m finally exercising and don’t hate it! I have all this time now where I’m not distracted by anything other than my own thoughts, which bizarrely feels great!”

I sense that I am becoming one of those aforementioned cycling types.

The next time I got on my bike saw my return to lectures. I arrived a hot and sweaty mess and acknowledged that this is my life now: the life that I have chosen. Also, helmet hair: that’s a thing. I immediately regretted getting a fringe cut at the end of summer, followed by a frantic Google of “how to combat helmet hair” that got nowhere.

That day, I had to push my bike up a hill which felt vaguely demotivational, especially with people zooming past me. But then I recalled that at least I was doing more than I was before. I was also pointed in the direction of the Velominati “Rules”, which told me it won’t get easier but I’ll get faster. I changed “faster” to “better” and resolved to apply this mantra to every aspect of my life.

And you know what, it was true. The next day I only had to push up one hill. And the day after that I didn’t at all.

And then it started to rain. I’m not sure how I got through a whole week in Lancaster without rain but I did. Yet getting the bus didn’t even cross my mind. That was a pretty significant moment for me: that so early in, I actually, really, genuinely wanted to cycle, even in the adverse conditions. All I take away from it is that I really need to invest in both waterproof clothing and mascara as soon as possible.

From there on in, it has genuinely only got better. I clip my helmet to my rucksack like a medal I’m proud to wear. While my sleep pattern is something I’ve never particularly struggled with, I can only attribute the improvements I’ve noticed in it to the fact that I’m cycling ten miles a day. On top of that, my mind, while not feeling totally clear, does feel clearer owing to the hour a day that I know I have when I entirely focus on myself. And with the exception of the very first minutes I spent on my new bike, the rest have been pretty much issue free.

Everyone’s reasons for getting on their bike seem personal. For some it’s for the environment. For others it’s exercise. For some it’s a money saving venture. For me, it’s been a matter of self-improvement. I’ve found a way to be more environmentally friendly, to exercise and to save money. But more importantly it’s making me spend an hour each day meditating on myself: that time with my own thoughts is beyond valuable.

Constant helmet hair seems like a pretty small price to pay for that.