Blood is thicker than chain lube…
Riding bikes, more often than not, starts out as a family affair. Most of us have memories of being run alongside by excited mothers and fathers as we wobble down the drive, or nearest park, having cast stabilisers aside. It’s almost a right of passage for growing up, let alone becoming a cyclist.
For many though, this is where the family association ends. Riding bikes becomes an escape or a pastime later on in life, rather than a way of staying connected with our flesh and blood. I therefore count myself deeply lucky. As I was hitting my teenage years, my Dad bought his first mountain bike – a Marin Muirwoods (slate grey, with metallic blue forks and stem). I yearned to own something similar, to be a mountain biker too, and come Christmas, I was presented with my own mountain bike. A Giant, both in name and nature – all 22 inches of frame to grow into (20 years or so later, I’m still waiting). Black and purple in colour, with bullhorn bars and little else to say for it, other than it was a mountain bike and it was mine.
My dad and I rode together that Christmas Day. It was a bitterly cold one, and I still remember us both simul-slipping down a steep cobbled road on black ice on our backsides. From then on, at least one morning of most weekends became our opportunity to set off on adventures; driving to ride in new locations and from the door, expanding my practical knowledge of the local area. It was our time together, and to me it felt infinitely cooler and more exciting than the family mountain walks that I felt like I’d been dragged along on for so many years (though now value just as much).
Every time I go out, I am simply recreating the fun I had on that first ride.
As the bug bit, I wanted to spend more time riding than my Dad could afford to spend away from work, so I started to venture out by myself. Riding expanded my universe and allowed long summer days of exploring further from home. We still rode together though, and upgraded bikes together too. We enjoyed fabulous misadventures in Scottish winters, including a comical Cairngorms trip in January, where we slept in the car in Aviemore train station car park as the local thermometers hit -18°C overnight, then rode/fell through thigh-deep snow to Loch Morlich, where the ice was thick enough to walk on… I’m not sure Mum was too impressed when we got home.
A few years later, and I was at university. Despite this being in Sheffield – at the door of the Peak – I was far too busy studying (or something like that, except with less work and more beer) to ride, and my trips home were typified by much sleep and little else. As I left university I decided to take action against the couch potato I had become, and started running and climbing – enjoying new pastimes, new friends and new-found fitness, yet my bike sat largely unloved.
It was family that drew me back to two wheels though. My sister had a new boyfriend who rode bikes, and as part of a welcome to the family we headed out on a boys ride -–my Dad, my younger brother (who had since grown old enough to get the mountain bike bug), my now brother-in-law, and me. That ride reignited my long-lost passion, and it wasn’t long before I was scouring eBay for something a little more modern than my classic Palisades Trail. Riding became an excuse to go home and catch up with my dad and brother; a way of staying in contact, a shared experience.
As my passion grew, so did my circle of riding friends – I converted mates through sheer enthusiasm, and made new friends from others who were equally as obsessed. And still my passion grew – until my desire to be outside and moving began to exceed the desire of my mates to do the same. I grew to love the solo ride, and the escapism it offered.
I can hold a conversation with other family members without referring to cycling exploits for at least, oh three minutes.
I need to share my passions though. I need to talk about them, write about them; it helps to keep them real. By riding with my dad and brother, it helps keep my relationship with them real as well – we have another shared bond. Does this make my relationship with the non-bike riding members of the family less strong? Do I have a less of a bond with my ‘quite happy walking in the hills thank you’ Mum? Of course not, and strange as it may seem I can hold a conversation with other family members without referring to cycling exploits for at least, oh three minutes.
Bikes are infectious beasts however. My uncle started joining us on the odd ride, sharing the experience, taking it home, and passing on the bug to my younger cousins. My sister, who had resisted the lure of two wheels for so long, bowed to the inevitable and has been bitten by the bug. I have since married a girl who rides more than I do, and have a new brother-in-law who shares the affliction. And so it goes.
Amazingly, it was only in a passing comment this Christmas that I found out my Grandpa had cycle toured up and down the UK immediately after the war, and I listened intently to his perfect recollection of long days in the saddle and youth hostels.
I have seen my youngest cousin move from stabilisers to riding a downhill bike faster and with more skill than I could manage. I have seen my Dad shed weight and become fitter in his 60s than he was at any point during his 50s. I have helped my sister overcome her nerves and grow as a rider. I have gone from being slower than my Dad to being faster, but not caring and just wanting to share a ride with him.
Reading through those last few hundred words, I realise how wonderfully lucky I am to share what I love with those who I love. It helps me love the activity more and it sustains the love I hold for the people. Riding bikes means something different to each and every member of my family, but it does mean something. It has become a thread that weaves our lives together, something that we can hold onto when the pressures of everyday life and work threaten to take over. It highlights our similarities – my brother’s and my body positioning and riding style is frighteningly similar, despite an 11-year age gap between us. It bridges our differences. It is an excuse to meet up, it is a social event, it is some exercise, it is just a bike ride.
Ultimately, every time I go out, I am simply recreating the fun I had on that first ride – sliding down an iced-up road following my Dad. Isn’t that something for everyone to aspire to?