First Person

Sheona Small
Sheona Small

With Sheona Small

Halfords have just credited would-be Wigginses and Hoys with saving its bottom line this year and wherever you go, there are people out and about enjoying the freedom of pedal-power.

I think more people getting onto two wheels is a good thing. Actually that’s an understatement because I’m a bike bore.

Prints that say things like ‘money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you a bike and that’s close enough’ make me smile and I can tell the difference between a Bianchi and Boardman.

I even tried to use the determination needed to cycle up a long hard hill as a metaphor to get my daughter to study more at school – sometimes it’s not as hard as you thought it was going to be but even when it is, suck it up as it gets you where you want to go. She rolled her eyes and muttered ‘whatever’.

I’ve been evangelical since getting a good hybrid (a type of bike not a genetic crossbreed) three years ago. It was a revelation and re-introduced me to the childlike pleasure of belting down a hill as fast as your nerve will let you.

It’s a love that’s at best tolerated and at worst derided by my nearest and dearest. I like to think they’re secretly proud that I have the chutzpah to be seen in public, Lycra-clad and red-faced, huffing and puffing. In reality, they’re just embarrassed. But do I care? Not a whit.

An older friend scoffs at today’s multi-geared carbon-framed bikes and sweat-
absorbing padded shorts, saying in her day she’d cycle for miles on a day out, wearing a frock, on a single gear bike with a basket on front. I tell her she could now go twice as far, with half the effort, in much more comfort.

Non-cyclists often ask where I stand on the helmet debate. Don’t let the Tour de France and Olympic riders fool you – they wear them to be aerodynamic not for safety. If I was whacked by a car, a helmet is not going to make much difference. However, I always remember advice from a medic who spends her life in theatre who said that in some circumstances, wearing a helmet makes the difference between recovering from a head trauma and having your brains scooped back in your skull. So I wear a helmet.

Cycling has also given me a fascinating insight to a quivering anger coiled up in some drivers. One family member seethes with rage if she’s held up by a bike – she’d advocate shooting on sight any cyclist using the road rather than an available cycle path – and an otherwise reasonable friend argues that roads are for the internal combustion engine, not Lycra and spokes. I should be tested, insured and have to pay road tax, he fumes. Chill out there, sister and mister, is what I say.

Maybe I felt the same way back in my pre-bike days but if so, being in the saddle has given me a different perspective and made me a more patient driver.

Most cyclists have war stories of surviving two-versus-four-or-more-wheel encounters. Until last week the best I could muster was being startled by a hare the size of a dog. But then I was forced off the road by a wide-load crane, leaving me nowhere to go but into a wall where I sucked in my breath as its wheels and my life flashed by.

I’m not hardcore and only clock up about 50 miles or so a week when there’s a fair wind and the weather’s OK so I’m maybe not the best person to judge, but in my experience, most drivers, with the exception of crane-drivers and young women just passed their test (sorry ladies but please, pay more attention), are fine.

They give me a wide-enough berth and don’t freak me out on blind bends or summits, which is all I ask really.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere – give me a few miles in the saddle to figure it out.