I want to ride my bicycle: cycling and me
2020’s coronavirus pandemic saw a whopping 300% more people hopping on their bikes on some days. We’ve spoken to some people for whom, following lockdown, cycling has become a new way of life.
Naturally, we at CPRE are fans of cycling. It’s a green, healthy way to get around which looks after the planet and us!
But it doesn’t always feel easy to get stuck in, and we’re all at different levels of cycling confidence. Here, we share stories of brilliant cycling experiences from lockdown (and beyond!) from four very different cyclists. Get inspired, and get on your bike!
‘The fresh green leaves of the trees in spring was a real calming tonic.’
Nici Rymer started cycling during the amazing weather during lockdown in Devon. ‘I thought perhaps I should get out and about and try the odd bike ride to get fit (a change from gardening and going to the allotment)!’
Before she knew it, Nici was hooked! ‘I didn’t realise just how addictive it would be! I live close to the Tarka Trail so having tried out the local lanes – blissful when car-free – I thought I would venture further afield.
‘I would often cycle to Instow beach for a sneaky picnic and a paddle. Or I cycled up the other way of the trail to Meeth – mostly uphill going but brilliant coming back!’
And like so many of us, being outdoors in the countryside during this odd and unusual time proved a real joy for Nici. ‘Watching the wildlife and scenery, listening to the birds as I cycled past, and the fresh green leaves of the trees in spring was a real calming tonic.’
From short journeys to longer beach adventures (what could be better than a cycle and a dip – bliss!), Nici’s now a confirmed cyclist – but there’s one thing that there’s no getting around… ‘The only problem of living in a Devon village is the huge hill I have to climb (or rather walk) to get home again after a long cycle!’
‘It focuses my mind on the simplicity of one pedal stroke after another’
Londoner Dave Newman wasn’t new to cycling but found a new relationship with it during lockdown. Always a fan, he says: ‘I’ve always loved cycling, since the very first time I got on a bike. I love the freedom it gives you – not being beholden to public transport, never getting stuck in traffic.’
And he was an accomplished cyclist long before the coronavirus pandemic kicked in in 2020. ‘I started cycling at uni, just to get around between halls and lectures. Then I moved to London and started commuting to work. That’s probably a good 15 years ago now!’
But his time in the saddle took on a new and vital purpose during the quiet months that London spent locked down.
‘I’ve been unemployed during lockdown, and cycled near enough every day. It’s been integral to my mental and physical wellbeing. It helps me clear my mind of the stresses of daily life.
‘I really feel that it performs a similar role for me as perhaps mindful meditation might for those who practice that. It focuses my mind on the simplicity of one pedal stroke after another and I’m able to process whatever I might be emotionally that day, in this kind of meditative state.’
It was so essential, in fact, that when lockdown tightened and chances to get out and about on his bike became limited, it hit Dave hard.
‘When bikes were, for a time, banned from Richmond Park – my local green space – it felt very difficult for me. It felt like I’d been robbed of the one thing that was getting me through that tough period.
‘When it was allowed, I went to new places instead – I cycled out in the Surrey Hills, up and down Box Hill and out to Windsor. That was wonderful for a few weeks when the roads were free of cars.’
Cycling itself isn’t just about getting from one place to the other, of course, and Dave describes the extra benefits he gets from being on his bike.
‘Cycling is a way of catching up with my friends that doesn’t involve eating or drink something unhealthy. That’s important to me. British culture, certainly among my peers and male friends, often involves drinking alcohol when catching up. I like using cycling as an alternative way of socialising.’
And like so many of us, Dave feels the fitness benefits from pedalling his heart out. ‘Being physically fit is extremely important to me and I feel happiest when I’m feeling fit and healthy. Cycling is the best way for me to stay fit.’
We asked Dave to describe a memorable bike ride – one that sums up everything that’s great about cycling for him. And many ardent cyclists in the south east might recognise his description of Box Hill – a killer incline in Surrey, just outside the capital.
‘Just before lockdown I went on a ride to Box Hill with two friends from my triathlon club. Everything seemed to align just right to make it a great ride. The weather was nice: a sunny, crisp early spring day. We went early in the morning and there weren’t many cars out so we felt safe on the roads.
‘Not so early, though, that the coffee shop at the top of Box Hill wasn’t open. Everyone was relaxed and we could chat most of the way on the ride. And most importantly, there were no mechanical failures!’
‘I love just going ahead of my sisters and being by myself because they are so slow!’
Geeta Parekh (the brilliant network learning and development lead at CPRE national office) and her family were always fans of the great outdoors. ‘We’re a very outdoorsy family and whilst my husband and I enjoy running and my kids love clambering over rocks at our local nature park, cycling is the one activity that we can all enjoy together and have done for many years now.’
But finding themselves in lockdown gave an unexpected opportunity to make their cycling adventures even better. Geeta rose to the challenge: ‘With three young children, I’m always keen to find activities that are affordable and accessible.
‘Cycling not only lets us to enjoy our local countryside but also teaches my children the importance of exercise, using their bikes as an alternative to car travel and a great way to get around.’
Many families hit the lockdown challenge of staying active, healthy and entertained during the many months of limited schooling and travel. Geeta and her husband reached for the bikes and as well as staying fit, found themselves getting on new terms with their local area.
‘Our bikes have been a great distraction during recent months and helped us to enjoy parts of our local area that we hadn’t explored before lockdown. We’ve used more of the cycle routes in our area and it’s been great to explore traffic-free routes and green spaces that I never knew existed until we got on our bikes!’
We’re pretty impressed with the Parekhs for hopping in the saddles, getting outdoors and getting regenerated! But enough from Geeta – let’s hear from the real cyclists… As Geeta said, ‘Rather than just take my word for it, I thought I’d get my kids to share first-hand what cycling means to them.’ Take it away, Parekh family!
Anya, aged 15: ‘You can just enjoy it whilst being around nature.’
‘I really enjoy going on family bike rides, whether it’s around our village or on the cycling trails in Sherwood Forest. I think cycling is great in multiple ways; it helps the environment and doesn’t burn fuel, it’s great for my health and you can just enjoy it whilst being around nature.
‘Obviously we have our different limits and paces, for example my dad does more intense rides on a road but I feel comfortable on a path or cycle path.
‘I mostly enjoy riding my bike when we stay at Sherwood Forest because there are various difficulty paths, lots of trees and good hills and having a relaxing, well-earned soak in the hot tub at the end of the day.’
Aryan, aged 10: ‘Riding my bike makes me feel free and it can help me concentrate sometimes.’
‘I absolutely love riding my bike with my family and by myself. Riding my bike makes me feel free and it can help me concentrate sometimes but I love it most when we go to Sherwood Forest and go off-road because it is great for my mountain bike and we all cycle together.
‘And then after a long bike ride, we get in the hot tub at the cabin and it’s just great. I tend to keep on the road but my sisters just go on the path even though I taught them properly how to cycle on the road. I love just going ahead of them and being by myself because they are so slow! 😀’
Tia, aged 13: ‘My dad likes to go to his limit and do long intense ones (he even rode 100 miles)!’
‘I like to ride my bike with family as we always race down the hills and I adore the feeling of the wind rushing at me and through me. I also feel free when I’m fast I don’t feel worried or have to worry about anything other than what’s in front of me.
‘I enjoy having fun with my brother and sister when we are out on our bikes as we can admire the scenery that’s around us.
‘What’s also important to me about bike riding is keeping fit and healthy. This is important to me as the fitter you are the happier you are and riding a bike can keep you fit and in good shape. I believe that it’s ok to just go on a nice leisurely stroll (as we do) or push yourself like my dad for example. He likes to go to his limit and do long intense ones (he even rode 100 miles)!
‘Riding a bike is helpful as it always helps you to focus and improve your concentration of what’s going on around you and it also teaches you road safety too.’
‘I’d say it’s one of the main things of lockdown for me, finding a whole new thing I love.’
Mark Robinson, one of our lovely CPRE campaigns officers, had cycled before lockdown but, in his words, ‘I’d got lazy with it! I’d always cycled a bit, in my childhood biking to friends’ houses, and in adulthood mainly for commuting to work, but never a huge amount.’
The practical, straightforward benefits of being on the bike had never escaped him. ‘As an impatient person, I always liked how cycling could get me from A to B faster. I loved how it could get me to work completely free, and improve my health at the same time – it seemed like an unmissable win-win.’
But like Geeta and Nici, cycling took on a new shape for Mark during the pandemic and became a new way of expanding his world. ‘In lockdown, when the space around me shrunk so much, cycling was my way of getting further, seeing the world (well, south west London) and feeling free.
‘I started cycling around nearby parks more, then cycling to explore new areas, then when the lockdown was easing slightly I’d bike to see friends. Suddenly it made London – which always seemed so massive by train travel – feel smaller and more local, which is exactly what I needed from it.’
And far from being a lonely or solitary pursuit, in a time when we became aware of our connections to friends and family, Mark found cycling a great way to connect. ‘It’s a different experience cycling with others – I love it in a completely different way.
‘We chat and when it’s quiet enough, we can ride side-by-side and natter as we glide. It’s also quite nice sometimes to be in the presence of good company without always having to talk – you can be with each other in silence as you enjoy the views together, and the feeling of exploring new places.
‘My bike is helping me see my friends at a time when I really need them.’
And Mark’s not just freewheeling close to home or as part of a commute. Cancelled holidays – so familiar to lots of us in 2020 – encouraged him to ‘be a bit more creative in the breaks we take’.
‘Me and two friends decided to try out a cycling ‘holiday’ for the first time. Over three days, we biked 150 miles from my house in London to Lewes, Newhaven on the coast, and west through Brighton to Portsmouth.’ No mean feat – and not something Mark takes lightly.
‘I never would have thought I could have done it before (having never cycled more than 10-15ish miles at a time in my life). That uplifting feeling that you get when you’ve done exercise – we felt it non-stop for 72 hours!’
Being outdoors, breathing fresh air and spending time in the countryside became essential during lockdown – our CPRE research showed that many of us have come to value our green spaces more than ever. Mark was no exception, and his mammoth bike ride gave him a plethora of invigorating countryside experiences.
‘I cycled through the South Downs countryside as it got dark, inhaling lungfuls of cool fresh air and feeling as free as a bird; along the bottom of the white chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters (stopping of course for an irresistible swim); and got through the last few miles before Portsmouth in the pouring rain singing out my favourite childhood tunes. We saw all kinds of new places, and even cycled through Gatwick Airport, worried at one point we might actually pedal into the back of one of the planes!
‘I owe a lot of this experience to Sustrans, the sustainable travel charity. They must have put a lot of effort into making these national routes, and to think that I can leave my house, follow some blue signs, and end up at the south coast – that just changes my whole view of where I am and where I can go!
‘As someone who’s never done anything like this, I definitely recommend to anyone that if you can, get on your bike and try something new! I’ve got the bug for biking now, and I hope it stays with me for a long time. 😊’
When asked how he feels about cycling now, following his lockdown adventures, Mark lights up. ‘It’s magical! I’m very lucky to have my friend’s bike after my wheels were stolen, but it feels like a part of me now. I’m even starting to kit out a bit more!’
And like Dave, Mark says he finds a new kind of regenerative wellness through cycling, and he has the strange times caused by coronavirus to thank for that. ‘I’d say it’s one of the main things of lockdown for me, finding a whole new thing I love. It’s my peace and quiet now – whenever I need space, I hop on the bike.’