The romance of two wheels
Gilli tells us the role cycling played in her parent’s relationship, her childhood and her travels across the globe. However, she explains how, after moving to Sheffield aged 60, she found she lacked the confidence to get on her bike and hopes “to explore and to once again know the freedom of two wheels”.
My Mum and Dad met when they were just out of their teens. My Dad was in the RAF stationed in Lincolnshire and my Mum was born and bred in Lincoln. Those of you who are familiar with this part of the world will know that it is generally flat, very flat, apart from the Lincolnshire Wolds where you can see rolling hills. Anyway, it’s ideal for cycling, though granted you do get some strong winds blowing across the fens, but there are very few steep inclines to challenge you. My parents did most of their courting by bike. They both had Claud Butler racing bikes and thought nothing about biking to the coast and back in a day.
When I was growing up, we didn’t own a car and my dad cycled to and from work and could easily cover 50 miles on a Sunday when he cycled to tiny village Methodist chapels to preach to congregations who didn’t have their own minister. I walked to and from my local primary school but when I passed the 11 plus, it was clear to Mum and Dad that I was going to need wheels of my own to get to my high school. We didn’t have enough money for the bike I needed so Mum sold her beautiful blue Claud Butler to buy me a brand-new Raleigh 20 bike. This is the bike I took my cycling proficiency test on in 1970 after my Dad had spent many hours patiently running behind me while I mastered the art of staying upright on two wheels.
I cycled in Holland when I went to work there as an au pair aged 18 and mastered the heavier framed Dutch bike with the backpedal break. I carried a toddler on the back in her special seat which was good preparation for when my eldest daughter was born. I was still cycling when I was 9 months pregnant and, as soon as she was big enough, we bought a baby seat for my bike so she could travel with me.
Somewhere along the way, after the birth of my second daughter, I learned to drive and I moved to West Yorkshire where I encountered hills that didn’t look bike friendly to me. I didn’t cycle for the next 20 years except on holidays when we hired bikes to explore new places. Then I went backpacking in India in 2005 and rediscovered the freedom of having a bike and exploring the lush landscapes of Goa or cycling to my favourite beach to watch the sunset every evening. In 2012 I moved to Northern Italy and once again cycling became my daily transport to and from work. Cycling round a pedestrianised medieval Italian town isn’t that much of a challenge except for the cobblestones and dodging Italian teenagers lost in their mobile phones.
I moved back to the UK and came to live in Sheffield at the start of 2018. This was the year I turned 60, the year I had surgery after an ovarian cancer scare, and the year I had a horrible fall on black ice. I find it hard to imagine getting back on a bike here when many of the streets look almost vertical in their steepness and the hills are daunting. I wonder how I would cope with the traffic with its double decker buses and huge lorries. I worry about having an accident. And yet I would love to explore and to once again know the freedom of two wheels. I can imagine a warm autumn day when I might find myself cycling beyond the city on quiet country roads, in no particular hurry and enjoying that satisfying feeling of my legs propelling me forward as I pedal. I lack the confidence right now but I know that with the right encouragement, and some training to help me cope with cycling in a city, I could do what many other people of my age and older have done, I could get back on my bike.