LITTLE wonder it is called a freedom machine. One that becomes more and more so as the years (and miles) roll by.
I refer, of course, to that two-wheeled wonder, the bicycle. Thanks to the recent addition of electrical power, it is now a pleasure that even ancient limbs can continue to enjoy.
It has been transformed from being a single gear contrivance requiring maximum physical effort from all but the fittest user into a conveyance causing not a single trickle of sweat.
Where once it was more often walked rather than ridden up even the slightest of hills, it now glides smoothly up the most precipitous of gradients.
This week, after months of procrastination (my default setting) I have rejoined the cycling set. After yet another session of dithering outside the local bike shop I ventured inside.
Within what now seems an insanely short time, I was back out on the footpath. But now I was straining tendons to swing a leg over the crossbar of a second hand two-wheeler. This painful exercise was ample testament to the many years that have passed since I last sat in the saddle.
It hardly needed the added proof of a halting, wobbling movement as I swayed forward (and sideways) seeking the balance and confidence that I knew once were mine.
It is said riding a bike is something that once learned is never forgotten. I prayed fervently for this to be a truth set in stone as I struggled to keep both feet on the pedals and not tumble groundwards, a bag of brittle bones certain to be shattered by such a mishap.
The hasty purchase was partly due to the knockdown price. Plus the persuasive words of a helpful salesman who obviously knew his spokes from his inner tube. All too good to be resisted.
He fertled around and quickly produced cycle helmet, lock and utility tool, basic necessities that still kept the bill in bargain basement territory, especially when comparison was made with price tags on nearby machines.
Talk about being spoilt for choice; it is bewildering. How can such a basically simple device – known as a “sit up and beg” in my distant youth – have so many permutations? The presence of two wheels is the only constant, and even those come in all manner of sizes, from the perilously thin for the racers to the obesely thick demanded by off-road cyclists.
Frames, handlebars, seats, gears, sprockets and spindles are all features to be debated and decided before a pedal is pushed.
And in the mix we now have the e-bike. Do we or don’t we feel the need for power assistance – and if the answer is Yes, would that be a too public admission that we are feeling our age?
But it doesn’t stop there. We have our bike, but do we have an adequate assortment of the right apparel, the high-viz body clinging tops and the thigh-gripping tights in material that can cope with whatever the weather throws at us.
It must guard against rain, sun, wind, hail and even snow, making sure we neither overheat nor succumb to hypothermia. And have we got similarly protective bags, packs and panniers in which the stash all this gear?
The list goes on and on, never-ending, always a gadget or upgrade on the shopping list, which at least solves the what to buy? dilemma for anyone involved in present-giving for a cyclist.
For now, however, I have the basics, sufficient to relive those joyous days two decades ago when I rode far and wide via beachfront, riverside, marinas, woodlands, forest tracks and even mountain trails.
Also doing the daily commute, mostly lamplit in the nightly dark, along the banks of the river or through eerily deserted back streets.
Setting the pace, working up a sweat or sitting back in the saddle, hands free.
Happy days. And, hopefully, about to return …