The Reluctant Cyclist by Sue Clamp
I wasn’t a born cyclist. I always said that even as an adult I needed stabilisers to ride a bike, and I wasn’t joking. A few years ago I went on a bike ride in Germany. I hadn’t ridden a bike for at least twenty years and I’d never been on one with the luxury of gears. I was nervous and needed a while to get used to steering it around corners and braking without catapulting myself over the handlebars. Despite all the practice, as I cycled along a path in a park I spotted a bed of nettles to my left. I just knew I would fall into them and I did. Later on the same ride, I even dropped the bike on my foot while wheeling it along. I wasn’t even on the thing! My embarrassment knew no bounds.
I thought that would be my last cycle ride ever.
So when David suggested we buy a tandem, I gasped. He is a very keen and experienced cyclist. Being on a tandem would mean that I’d be safe from my insecurities. I wanted to be part of that life, out in the open air, feeling the wind in my hair, exercising dormant muscles. We had a few short rides, and, apart from a nagging discomfort in my rear end, my anxieties melted away. I bought myself an expensive leather saddle, a shiny pink helmet, and toe clips for the pedals to keep my feet securely in place.
After a few rides out in our local area, he suggested we go on a camping holiday to the Loire Valley in France and take the tandem with us. Along the river there is a well known cycle route which is largely made up of cycle paths. I agreed.
It’s good to be pushed out of your comfort zone from time to time. Unfortunately, I still had a very uncomfortable zone — my posterior! I had bought special padded underwear for cyclists, convincing myself that over time the tender parts of my anatomy would become used to the saddle and I would start to enjoy cycling. The trouble was that by the time we went to France, it had been some months since we’d been out on the tandem so my body had had time to become unaccustomed to being in the saddle again.
We arrived at our campsite in Amboise one very hot Tuesday in July, pitching our tent in the heat of a 36C afternoon. Once the tent was up and everything unpacked, we needed to go into town to buy some provisions. Among other things, the most important item we’d forgotten to pack was a corkscrew. How can you arrive in a wine-growing area without a corkscrew? Unthinkable!
“We could use the tandem,” I suggested, knowing it wasn’t far, and using the pannier to carry our shopping would be infinitely easier than carrying a heavy bag by hand in the heat.
We found a small supermarket, filled our pannier to bulging with essentials: milk, butter, and, of course, wine. With no corkscrew to be found in the supermarket we looked at our bottle of wine in dismay. This was a matter that needed to be dealt with immediately but we also thought it would be worthwhile to visit the tourist information office just down the road to pick up some maps of the Loire à Vélo (Loire by bike) route. Our first problem was solved as soon as we arrived there when David spotted a souvenir corkscrew, but we could find no maps of the kind we needed.
We soon reached the front of the queue, the correct maps were dug out, the corkscrew was paid for, and we returned to the campsite.
“It’ll be great,” David enthused as he inspected the map, “We can cycle to the châteaux along the valley. The château at Chenonceaux is only 18.5 kilometres away!” To someone who has cycled 200 kilometres in a day, a mere 18.5 is a walk in the park, but to this reluctant cyclist it was a daunting prospect.
“Oh gosh, I’m not sure I can cycle that far, darling. It’s been a long time since we rode the tandem.” My tense expression must have said it all.
“Don’t worry, I won’t make you go any further than you’re comfortable with. We’ll start with short rides and work up to a longer one.”
And so we did those shorter rides, every day, my posterior complaining with every turn of the wheels. I’m so glad David couldn’t see the agonised expression on my face as we rode along and never once did he moan at me for complaining about the pain. He remained utterly sympathetic, patient and loving. After a few days, and prompted by a gentle suggestion, I felt I ought to try reaching Montlouis-sur-Loire, some 15 km away. But the problem is, if you reach a place you also have to get yourself back, and this would make a total of 30 km. Despite our short practices, my backside still screamed out in pain. David adjusted the saddle and this did help a bit, but in the end, when we reached about the halfway point, I decided I’d had enough and we returned to Amboise.
Dear reader, you probably think there is an ending to this story where I tell you that we kept on doing those short rides in France and eventually I became at ease in the saddle, but there isn’t. We were only in France for a week and while there I didn't manage to feel comfortable on the tandem. Do I feel defeated by it? No. Will I get back on a bike? Most definitely, yes! It has made me all the more determined to spend more time cycling and to seek a solution to my discomfort.
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