Clare’s Story – Cycling again after 40 yearsNovember 14, 2022
Since moving to Cumbria 5 years ago I have wanted a bike, but with all these hills and me being old, overweight and unfit I realised I was not up to cycling anywhere. But the company I work for joined the cycle to work scheme and I noticed it included e-bikes. E-bikes! Now I wonder if they would be any good for me? So, I did some research and read a few pages on this very site (EB-UK) and decided to go for it.
I found out that one of the major factors when choosing an e-bike is the motor. The heavier you weigh – the more powerful motor you need. The more unfit you are – the more powerful engine you need. The hillier the terrain is – yes you guessed it – the more powerful motor you need. So being overweight, unfit and living in Cumbria I guess I needed a particularly powerful motor.
I heard about miiebike.co.uk and contacted Mike to see if he could help me out by finding something suitable for me. I must admit I gave him a rather long list of things I wanted: Shimano gears, integrated lights, step through frame, rear luggage rack, side stand, LCD display etc….. And boy did he deliver. A few weeks later Mike called me to go and have a test ride as he had sourced an e-bike that met my list of requirements. I was a tad nervous as it had been many years since I had last been on a bicycle – 40 years to be exact.
Mike said I should ride it up the road, so I carried on chatting, nothing like trying to postpone falling off the bike. As I mentioned I was rather unsure and the bike seemed huge. I don’t remember bikes looking this big when I was a teenager. Anyway……… Mike re-showed me how to change gear, adjust the amount of assistance the engine would give and after a bit he made me get on the bike.
Oh boy! I whizzed up the hill like someone was pushing me – It was so easy. It mattered not a jot that I was wobbling all over the place. I cycled off to the right and then tried to turn around. Okay I had to get off the bike and walk it around in a circle to go back the other way – I’m just glad no-one could see me, so embarrassing. I got back on the e-bike and wobbled out through the gate and turned right towards the path. Wow! This is fantastic. Time to turn around again, and again I must get off the bike to wheel it around to go the other way – again just grateful no-one could see me.
But I was having fun, I was suddenly in love with e-bikes and I purchased one that very day and went home to set it up. So here I was, about to go on my very first ride with my friend. I put on my helmet and hi-viz, take a deep breath and pedal off, out the gates and turn right to the path. I am clinging grimly to the handlebars and can’t take a handoff to wave goodbye to my husband Richard!
Unfortunately, within a few yards I realised the tarmacked path turns into a deeply rutted farm track and I soon begin to feel my teeth rattle. I gamely carry on down the track, doing my best to avoid the deeper potholes where I can and standing up in the pedals when I can’t. Please don’t let me meet anyone as I am a bit out of control. Soon enough though I come to the end of the track and turn onto a proper road. My poor bike, so little time ago it was pristine and both it and me are now covered in mud.
I am happily cycling along, practising changing gears and engine assistance and having great fun. I managed to fly up the few hills, although the speed I obtained when going downhill was a tad terrifying. After about 5 miles my poor old arthritic knees are starting to complain. As I am free-wheeling down a hill towards a larger road I see Richard parked up ahead as we arranged and I pull in behind him. I must admit that cycling all 12 miles is a bit beyond me and we’d better put the bike in the car to get the rest of the way home.
The main reason for getting the e-bike was so that I could cycle to and from work about a 5-mile round trip. Mostly downhill on the way there and ALL uphill on the way home. The first day I cycle to work I make an extra early start. I turn on the bike and the bike lights. I turn on the additional light I fixed to the front and I put on a harness that flashes red, on my back. I have also fitted hi-viz reflectors on the spokes and a dear friend had given me some colouring flashing lights for the wheels. I am lit up like a Christmas tree, so well-lit I can be seen from outer space.
I get on the bike and cycle off the drive, down the first hill and I’m into the village. Cycle through the village, not meeting anyone and turn towards the cycle path. Just up ahead I can see another cyclist, so I up my speed as I want to keep him within sight, as I am not sure where I am going. Expending a little more effort than planned I am having a fabulous time. The sun has not yet risen although it is daylight, I have the sea to my right and the fells to my left, I have seen some bats flying around. It is a beautiful morning and I am having a great time, the peacefulness it amazing. Whilst the chap in front is pulling a little ahead of me I am really chuffed I am keeping him in sight.
Oh Dear! What on earth is this in front of me? A cattle grid, on a cycle path of all places. It is not very wide and I am a little nervous, but I slow down and wobble my way through/over the grid only hitting my handlebars on the fencing once. Then, with a sigh of a relief, I am off again. A little further on……….. Oh No! Another cattle grid! I slow down again, but this time make it across the grid without hitting anything. The cyclist in front of me has disappeared, but I know where I am and it is not far now till I arrive at work. When I get to the bike shed the grin on my face is a mile wide. I am so pleased with myself. I spend the whole day grinning to myself.
“Deranged Gymnast in hi-viz”
From then on, I’m cycling into work and home again every day. About half way through the 2nd week it started to rain on my ride to work. I chuck on my waterproofs, square my shoulders and brave the autumn weather. Riding in this sort of weather is not quite so much fun, but I am determined. I arrive at the first cattle grid, which I am used to by now. However, as the grid is wet I slow down. I slow down too much and somehow as I cross the grid my front wheel flips to the right and slips down between two of the grids. There I am in the dark, wind and rain, jammed between the fences. I try to get off the bike sideways, but the handlebars are stopping me from getting my leg through. I then try to slide backwards off the bike, but my panniers are blocking my route that way. I’m stuck! The only way I can figure out how to get off the bike is to fling my left leg up and over the handlebars like some overweight, deranged gymnast in hi-viz trying to get off a pommel horse. But off I did get and there is just enough room for me to pull the front wheel out of the gap and wheel the bike back to firm ground. I made it safely over the 2nd cattle grid, although when I arrived at work I found my waterproof trousers aren’t waterproof – luckily, I had some spare clothes at work.
About a month into to cycling and the local farmers are cutting the hedges. The view is improving although there are lots of bits from the hedge cutting on the road. I arrive at the steep hill in the village and realise I have a puncture in the front tyre. I hop off my bike and take my helmet off and get ready to push the bike up the hill. Just then two of my colleagues drive by, waving and smiling. I try to flag them down, but no, they just grin and go on their way. Luckily, although the hill is steep the bike has a special button that you press when pushing the bike and the engine cuts in giving me some help to get it up the hill. After watching a Youtube video I was able to quickly get this repaired and I was back on my way again.
Feeling the Difference and the E-Bike Grin!
Over the weeks I am noticing that I am needing less engine assistance and my stamina is improving. I am enjoying it every time I ride my e-bike, plus I have lost a few pounds – never a bad thing. I have changed my route as to avoid the cattle grids, although I have since been told the trick is to power through them. I love riding my e-bike and I find it hard not to grin manically all the time while riding it. Cycling in Cumbria was something I never thought I would be able to do, but with the aid of my e-bike I go on much longer rides than I ever thought I would be able to.