I Think I Became a Cyclist

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Sarah Marsden has a new friend. And she’s been shown a new way to explore her native Yorkshire using some of the most beautiful roads in the UK. There’s a new crowd too. And despite nerdy talk of gearing and groupsets this one feels like it will grow and grow.

It would be fair to say that cycling and I have not always been friends. In fact, if anybody had asked a few months ago, I would definitely not have called myself a cyclist. Runner, yes. Fledgling triathlete, yes. Cyclist? Most definitely not.

As a runner making the jump to triathlon, I mainly viewed the bike leg as a rolling picnic, where I could dry off from the swim and set myself up for the best part: the run. I own the most entry-level road bike there ever was, and in preparation for races, grudgingly went cycling, doing the minimum miles I possibly could to make it round the triathlon course- after all, cycling is complicated and scary and painful, right?
I couldn’t ignore it as a sport for much longer though. It’d be rude to, living in Yorkshire, home of the 2014 Grand Départ of the Tour de France, and some of the most beautiful cycling roads in Britain.

The yellow road bike propped in the corner of my living room continued to stare out at me, whispering, ‘Please take me out? Please? I just want to see some roads other than the commute to University!’, every time I walked past it. Friends repeatedly told me I should be getting out there on the bike, and I knew deep down they were right, but I continued to make excuses.

The excuses had to stop though, when I started dating a proper cyclist, one who knows what the word groupset means and voluntarily cycles up hills. After much nagging, I grudgingly stuffed my jersey pockets with snacks, repair kit and extra layers one Saturday morning, and headed out to meet my local club, AlbaRosa CC, for their beginners’ social ride.

 

That was now six months ago, and somewhere along the line, I think I became a cyclist. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but as I found myself getting on my bike two or three times a week even through winter, discovering new places (and more importantly cyclist-friendly cafes), and being grumpy when the weather was too icy or windy to ride, I fell in love with cycling. That first social ride took what felt like an age, as the wonderful leader patiently spun alongside me in the freezing rain as I figured out gears and hills, and how to make the two work in harmony. Her cheerful chatter and offers of snacks saved me when I was badly bonking and all I wanted to do was get off the bike and walk home, and since then, it’s been where I’ve started to feel at home.

To the uninitiated, cycling culture can seem intimidating, elitist and a little unfriendly, with highly technical talk predominating, and what I imagined would be a lot of bike snobbery, but on the whole, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Every Sunday I’ve turned up to ride, I’ve ridden alongside people I now count as friends, both old and new, as I learn about the craft and culture of cycling.

Sure, sometimes I get dropped, and sometimes a large percentage of conversations about gearing and groupsets goes completely over my head, but none of that matters when I reach the top of a climb that I didn’t think I’d be able to ride, my quads screaming at me, and see a spectacular view from the top, before flying down the other side, the wind in my hair and an unrivalled feeling of freedom. The relaxed chatter in the café stop is the most welcome change I’ve come across compared to running, which can be a very solitary, sometimes miserable sport: just at the point where my fingers and toes have gone numb, out of nowhere looms a café, one of Yorkshire’s many cycling cafés, such as Prologue Cycling in Harrogate, and over all-important coffee and delicious cake, I discover more about my companions on the road, catching up about what we do off the bike, and forging friendships that last long after the Lycra is removed.

‘Free your mind and your legs will follow’ is a piece of advice I didn’t really believe until I look back on the process of becoming a cyclist. It’s actually the most important thing I’ve read in more than one way- the obvious one, about how if you leave your cares behind and focus on the ride, you can achieve more than you thought possible on a bike, but also the less obvious to the new cyclist: you want me put chamois cream WHERE?

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