Sophia Gardens, July 31st. 1998, 1999, 2000.
The mileage readout on my Garmin bike computer turns over to read 20.00. The amount of miles I’ve covered on the way to work this morning.
It’s a journey that began five years ago this year, when I started to cycle to work instead of using the car.
These are five of the many highlights of my cycling journey over the last five years.
I finally gave in to the challenges laid down by a couple of work colleagues. With the opening of the Cardiff Bay Barrage path all the way from my home in Penarth to the City, linking up with the Taff Trail to Llandaff, there were really no excuses not to give it a go. This route enabled me to try the journey without having to experience much busy road traffic.
Even the problem of a bike was solved swiftly as the original persuader, Greg, leant me his old mountain bike.
It was the first time I’d ridden a bike since about 11 or 12, my old black Raleigh Grifter XL a distant memory. They say it’s like riding a bike but in practise you do forget – a lot. Your body forgets too.. I couldn’t get out of the saddle, the muscles in my legs didn’t know what was happening! My brain had to learn how to approach riding on roads. Years of driving were suddenly replaced by a different, more vulnerable perspective.
That said, I decided to give it a go. I set myself the task of making it to the Bay, then to the stadium, then Llandaff fields. Before I knew it, I was at work. My legs were killing me. Walking felt a bit wobbly.
For three days a week at first I tried to ride. I’d take a bottle of water in my bag to stop and have a drink in Bute Park. Then I stopped completely during the winter months. I was a fair weather cyclist at first. I didn’t know the first thing about repairing a puncture or bike maintenance.
One fine morning I was riding my now fairly regular route along the Taff Trail towards Blackweir bridge, enjoying Spring’s first warmth.
As I pedalled the path next to the river suddenly a dog ran out across my path from the river bank. I braked, hard and flew over the handle bars, landing on my MacBook (which is still functioning perfectly today..)
The owners had three dogs, two of which I was trying to avoid by riding far over to the right, near the trees on the river bank. The owner admitted they had no idea their third dog was in the river swimming before it ran out. Luckily, I braked so hard I missed the dog but had hurt my right arm in the fall. Shaken a bit I got back on the bike and headed to work.
It wasn’t until later I realised perhaps I hadn’t just sprained my wrist and got a cab to A&E.
Fracture, plaster, six weeks off the bike.
By mid June I was eager to get back in the saddle, the accident left me undeterred. By this point I knew there was no going back.
Later that year a group of us decided to ride the Taff Trail, a 53 mile route that starts in Brecon and follows a mainly traffic free route all the way to Cardiff Bay. Cardiff bus run a service during the summer months that includes a bike trailer and a one way ticket to Brecon. By mid morning we were off.
20 miles in I flew over the handlebars… again. This time for the sake of a ‘nice view’ I’m told.. I was the only one not paying attention and didn’t stop until it was too late!
This time unijured, I treated my cuts at Merthyr Tesco, at the same time as our food stop.
We reached Cardiff Bay relatively unscathed, a chain repair and a couple of punctures (the last one 900 yards before the end!). The first long ride was done.
Much of the Taff Trail route is maintained by Active travel charity SusTrans. Much of my commute used route 8 along the banks of the Taff and they had also just won funding and built the Pont-y-Werin bridge in Penarth, allowing for the first time a mainly off road loop of Cardiff Bay.
In late 2010 they ran a video competition, the premise of which was to explain what your part of the National Cycle Network meant to you.
A work colleague, Robin, and I shot our entry during the summer of 2010 but found out that we had won the adult category early in 2011. Our prize was a ‘glamping’ weekend in the Forest of Dean, which we spent riding around the area.
I’ve already posted about how this video was made here..
By now I had been riding to work for nearly four years, through winters and summers alike. The winters in Cardiff are never that bad and quite often spring is far wetter!
In April I found the solution to the N+1 equation (the number of bikes you should own is equal to N+1, where N is the number of bikes you currently own). I bought a drop handlebar road bike and had to learn to ride all over again! The position was very different and the increase in performance was huge.. I was off. By the end of the year I was regularly riding 40-50 mile routes around the Vale of Glamorgan on a Sunday morning.
In July I rode a totally different sort of bike, the Velib, around Paris. The French equivalent of the ‘Boris Bikes’ were the best way to get around on a weekend trip to see the 100th edition of the Tour de France. Seeing the pros race up the Champs Elysees was an eye opener! The peloton rattled past over the cobbles at great speed, with the audio equivalent of a Mexican wave of cheers from the crowds.
2014 was marked especially as it was the first time I entered the CarTen100. This is a 100 mile route from Cardiff to Tenby, not a race, not a sportive, just a ride. The entry was made in January and the ride was in May.
The idea was it would be a lovely spring day and a joy to cycle the amazing scenery through the Gower and on to West Wales.
In the event, it was the day of a spring storm – 40mph gusting winds and a fair amount of rain. I’m sure most of the 1200 riders would agree it was EPIC and a large proportion would be asking ‘Can we do it all again next year?’.
Coming right up to date my journey is still progressing. Thanks to using a Garmin cycle computer to track my rides I know that between January and July I have ridden 2700 miles. For reference, in a year I drive about 2400 in the car. In the last month alone (July) I made it to 600 miles. The route to work is about 7 miles but nowadays my journey is extended to 8, 12, 17 or even as far as 20 if my legs feel good. Would you intentionally drive 14 miles further on the way into work just for the sake of it?
There are so many more cycling memories over the last few years – Riding the barrage in -5 degree temperatures, the air freezing on my jacket. Getting caught in numerous rain storms and battling home. Seeing birdlife and wildlife along the route, changing with the seasons. Meeting friends on the way home and making new cycling friends through Twitter and Strava.
I hope this journey continues for many more turns of the pedals.