Back on a bike

My first practice cycle for five years was a disappointing affair. Going up a slight incline, and I mean slight, I was overtaken by a jogger. Yes, a jogger. Not a runner, a jogger. To compound the ignominy, our jogger, to put it tactfully, was carrying a little weight. Oh dear……..

Rather embarrassed, I realized I needed help. I love being out and about so have to find a way to explore without having my self-esteem compromised. I decided an e-bike was the answer.

Just like any other bike, but slower!

Skip forward six weeks and I’ve got one. It’s a Lectro Peak. A brand which nobody has heard of, apart from the bloke sticking labels on in Korea. It has one rechargeable battery and two engines. One engine is in the back wheel hub and is powered by the battery. The other is a double piston arrangement attached to my buttocks. The latter is a vintage model and a touch creaky, in need of a re-bore if the truth be known. It’s seen a lot of service and has been propelling a portly top half around for rather too long. Whatever, this new beast has to be better than being bettered by a porky jogger.

But before we go further with my latest attempt to look like an athlete, allow me to give you a bit of background………

I used to cycle quite a lot. Often ten miles per day, sometimes thirty or so, hacking and wheezing my way along highways and byways. A blob in a yellow jacket foraging for memories. In the depths of rural France I’d just set off on tiny country roads and see where they led. In Gaul I operated in kilometres because it sounded further and on downhill bits I could get into double figures kph!

Sancere on a hill-top above the Loire Valley

I’d come across hill-top towns like this famous one in the photo, set among the vineyards. I’d pass through isolated villages with only a bar / tabac to provide sustenance, no other shops, no commerce, no people. I saw numerous farms, silent and apparently lifeless, save for a snoozing dog. Sometimes, behind a wall, a large ivy-clad country house with window shutters to fend off the summer heat. Occasionally a chateau with moat and stables surrounded by woodland and accessed by a pale, tree-lined drive. And in between vast tracts of open farmland with inland seas of lavender or sunflowers. Magical rides when I’d never know what was next. I was confident that no matter how far I went or how lost I got, I’d get back. Besides I was fluent in pointing so could always ask a local. If I could rouse one from their slumbers.

While staying in a place called Genelard, a small commune in Burgundy, I discovered a four-kilometre circuit which I used to circumnavigate three times. One day, travelling at what I thought a respectable pace, I was passed by a group of six ancient men atop six whispering bicycles. They had leathery, sun-cracked hides and must all have been in their ninth decade! They were lean, helmeted and Lycra-clad. A gay kaleidoscope of yellows, blues and reds. Some sported orthopaedic braces on knees, ankles or elbows. I was given a series of ‘bonjours’ as they whipped past in a cloud of ancient after-shave and liniment. Had I been competitive I could have put on a spurt, performed an intermediate sprint if you will. I would have whistled past them leaving them in a noxious smog of fags and red wine. It would have been a heck of an effort though which would have seen me spent for the day – or longer. In the end I decided to remain at comfortable cruising speed.

Then, over the space of a few months, the legs went a bit wonky and I lost confidence in my durability. Ultimately I was forced to give up the bike. A blow to be honest, psychological as much as anything. I was diagnosed with Peripheral Arterial Disease and told that my future mobility was in my own hands. A bit stark but there we are.

Five years on, due to a change of diet and a regime of early-morning walking I’ve mended a bit.

Bandstand in our local park at dawn

Mornings are magical. It’s me and the dog and the world till other people join in, breaking the spell, like a whip-crack in the silence.

Dewy morning webs

I felt ready to give the bike another go so I borrowed my stepdaughter’s mountain bike. I could just about manage 10 miles with regular pauses but it was a pretty tortuous process. My thighs screamed and I got to the point where there was little control in my legs at all, they were like jelly. It wasn’t a total disaster though because if I stopped for thirty seconds or so, things returned to near normal. But I couldn’t gloss over the anguish when me and my bike were overtaken by the jogger.

When I’d first started the new walking ‘regime’, 200 yards was about the limit till the discomfort set in and I’d pause. The pain soon eased but I also went a bit tingly and numb round the mid-section which was not painful but somehow more alarming.

The doctor had said that if it hurts, that’s OK, just try and push through it, it will ultimately help. So, on that principle I walked as far as I could. I gradually built up to ten miles a day. I’d still get some pain and numbness but much less. I accomplished that distance with just a couple of breaks of a minute or so each.

The walking was enjoyable but it was becoming rather repetitive. Until dawn broke I was confined to a four-foot circle of torch-light and the stars. I was trudging round the same two or three set routes, even the foxes and the deer got used to me. So, I decided to try and expand my horizons. Bike!

But where to start? It was a pretty confusing to begin with. I’ll explain my options and decision next time…..