Gemma hated cycling. Always had. Now the Wychwoods were far too hilly. Ever since school days, the effort required to push the pedals had destroyed any pleasure she took from the scenery, the fitness gain or the convenience that a bike provided.
This antipathy dated back to secondary school in Bedford. On the first day of each term, she rode her bike – straight handlebars, hefty tyres and Sturmey Archer gears on the three mile journey to school, locked it up and used it solely to ride down to the games’ field during the week, three quarters of a mile away. The process reversed at the end of term.
Years later, her husband’s enthusiasm for cycling made absolutely no difference to her attitude, his encouragement falling on deaf ears. The answer was always no. Even during his absence on one of his annual cycle tours when she borrowed a friend’s bike for a day, nothing happened except the reinforcement of her hatred; the hills beside Hartley’s farm were too steep – there were no hills, just a couple of slopes, but even on these she preferred to walk – the surface too rough and the exercise too exhausting. The bike was returned to its owner with no regrets whatsoever.
Her resentment towards anything with two wheels continued right up until her 67th birthday when, amid much doubting and shaking of heads, she drove down to Burford to join a day-long electric bike tour of the Cotswolds, the present given as the last throw of the dice from her wishful husband. The group assembled and circled the car park, gaining familiarity with the controls and re-visiting road skills not practised for many a year. At the press of a button, the turn of a pedal, she was off.
She loved every minute of it. Westwards along the Windrush valley, through the Barringtons to Northleach for coffee, on to Bibury for lunch and back through Westwell into Burford. 37 miles and she wasn’t even sweating, yet she had the enormous satisfaction of riding a distance she would never have thought possible and she had revelled in both the scenery and the sensation of riding the iron horse that had so many negative connotations from the past.
Was this the start of a love affair with the bike? Wishful thinking. She simply forgot about the positive vibes of that day. Cycling was just too much like hard work no matter how much her husband encouraged her. But deep down, those rosier feelings simmered away. And when the 2020 lockdown arrived it was impossible to ignore her husband’s eulogies to cycling during drop-dead gorgeous weather and deserted lanes. Time to test the waters again.
“An electric bike, certainly madam,” smiled the shop assistant, “although we may not be able to get one before Christmas.” Before Christmas??! It was only June. “Well, could I just try that one over there?”
To a household familiar with a road bike and her husband’s ancient Hopper touring bike, that one over there looked positively antediluvian. Cumbersome, matronly and chestnut brown, but she was not deterred. (That description, dear reader, refers to the bike, not the lady in question). Donning a helmet several sizes too big, she wheeled this seeming monstrosity onto the road and, undaunted, appearances notwithstanding, set off towards Alvescot. That short section was enough to win her over. Those birthday joys returned and, contrary to earlier predictions, the bike, albeit in the next size down, was to be hers within the week.
The rest is history. Virtually every day in later summer and into the autumn she was out for short rides around the Wychwoods, never more than 12 miles, but twelve miles of physical attainment and freedom. Particular satisfaction came when, with a quick dab at the ‘turbo’ setting, she effortlessly left her sweating partner in her slipstream on the rise from Upper Milton, waiting at the top with a serene and rather smug look written all over her face.
It had been a long process, but Oxfordshire had eventually gained another cyclist, and a very contented one at that. The electric bike tour mentioned: www.cotswoldelectricbiketours.co.uk