Why did you start cycling?

We all know why we keep riding, but do you ever wonder why you started in the first place? Steve Williams will spill if you do

We all share a common reality: we love riding enough to keep doing it despite it being expensive, sometimes dangerous, and it not making sense to accept these things just to pedal at length back to where we started.

But what made you begin? Maybe you’ve always ridden. Maybe you came back to it after a break, or after burning through a hundred other hobbies, or by accident via a commute.

Perhaps it was just a whim, or because your mates or partner got into it, or simply because you like the feel of Lycra against your dusty, static-prone skin. I won’t tell anyone, you freak.

Commuting has rekindled more than one person’s love for riding. But if your commute is any more ‘urban’ than this, hats off to you
Commuting has rekindled more than one person’s love for riding. But if your commute is any more ‘urban’ than this, hats off to you

Personally, I loved cycling from childhood. Then I found I loved drinking more, and eventually got so good I could outperform my own liver, which was considering throwing in the towel.

Bicycles are time machines

With a doctor’s help I stopped. I then rapidly lost weight, only for the effect to taper off. Excited to continue the experience of not constantly swelling, which felt so alien, I skivved off work to buy a mountain bike and started riding again.

And that’s how it happened. I haven’t stopped riding in the 17 years since, and it’s transformed my life.

At first I could barely climb a 100ft hill without seized legs. The first time I crashed properly was actually, after the pain, a relief — so that’s what it felt like as an adult! It’s nice to no longer worry I might cry.

And the first time I felt my heart rate recovering after a steep ramp while still climbing, instead of well after the whole ascent had ended, was unforgettable. Fitness! Improvement! TREMBLE YE MIGHTY FOR I HAVE CONQUERED HILLOCKS!

No wonder so many cyclists are middle-aged: bicycles are time machines, reversing (if only partially) the long, sad slide into feeble inflexibility that our birth-school-work-death lifestyles so encourage.

The rise of MAMILs is inexorable… even elderly, grizzled riders like this are giving it a go before senility inevitably takes them (image courtesy R Spedding, Cycling Plus Editor) (we're joking - sorry Rob!)
The rise of MAMILs is inexorable… even elderly, grizzled riders like this are giving it a go before senility inevitably takes them (image courtesy R Spedding, Cycling Plus Editor) (we're joking - sorry Rob!)

Yet it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a fitness enthusiast is the most crushing kind of bore.

That’s where bikes win again. Obsessing over bikes is a far richer experience than obsessing over exercise alone. Cycling is a healthy thing to fall in love with, because it encompasses way, way more than just endorphins and their supposed highs. Let’s face it, bourbon works much better than endorphins, and is less tiring.

Play is good for body and soul, and it’s not just for kids. Why should kids have all the fun?

As a party drug, endorphins rate somewhere below an overdose of Haliborange. Fitness fanatics only bang on about endorphins because there’s no other way to make the wearying drudgery of, say, jogging until your bowels publicly liquify — phone strapped to your arm and clutching a triangular bottle like it’s Dennis Hopper’s bomb trigger from Speed — sound even remotely fun.

I could never stick with pure ‘exercise’. Ruinous gym memberships, running shoes like starships and good intentions just don’t work on me. But it’s been easy to stick with cycling no matter how hard it’s got, and it’s been hard enough to put me in hospital.

There’s a very good chance you’re the same, and you started cycling as a way to stay fit that didn’t, ironically, make you yearn for death. The grinding repetition of pure ‘exercise’ is revealed even in the way we speak about it: we ‘play’ sports but merely ‘do’ exercise.

And cycling, of course, is a sport. We can play at it. By contrast, show me someone who messes about with weights to relax and have a laugh, and I’ll show you either a maniac or Mark Wahlberg.

This is either great exercise, or he’s suffered a trip or fall at work. Either way, I’m the real victim here, and I demand compensation
This is either great exercise, or he’s suffered a trip or fall at work. Either way, I’m the real victim here, and I demand compensation

So maybe you started cycling because, deep down, you knew it was something you could play at, via everything from skids and wheelies to impromptu sprints to the next signpost and mates’ races to the top of the hill.

Play is good for body and soul, and it’s not just for kids. Why should kids have all the fun? They already act drunk all the time, and get up too early to even think about hangovers, so it’s not like they need any more breaks.

(By the way, if you both ride and go to the gym, I should take this opportunity to apologise, but quite obviously won’t, because ha ha ha no.)

Anyway, so… this is all EXACTLY why you started riding… as well… right?

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