Róisín Ingle: Get on your bike and feel like a newly independent kid again
Cycling can awaken your senses, help you to meet (handsome) new people and provide an excuse to shop
Róisín Ingle: Cyclists are punctual and are never held hostage by an untruthful bus timetable. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.
I’ve been freewheeling around Dublin town since the red letter day aged eight or nine when I inherited a thoroughly banjaxed third-hand bike that once had belonged to several older brothers or sisters. It was blue and bockety, the saddle leather battered and worn, the chain creaky and in need of a good dose of 3-in-1 oil, but it was mine, all mine.
I learned to ride it around Sandymount Green, first with the steadying hand of a sibling on the saddle, and then all by myself. “Let go, will you, I said let GO!”
Most of my early childhood memories are hazy, but that one shines bright like the sun bouncing off the sea down at the Shelly Banks. One last sibling push (“I SAID, let go!”) and I was off, under my own steam, first wobbling, then nearly steady and finally soaring. In that moment, forget cycling, I may as well have been flying.
The magic of flying on wheels has never left me. There are moments now, more than 30 years later, when zipping past a line of gridlocked cars along the Samuel Beckett Bridge say or on the quays on rare days and holidays when it’s really quiet, that I feel like that newly independent kid again.
I felt it when I went a bit mad in the head and agreed to cycle from Malin Head to Derry for an article a few years ago. I felt it on the Greenway in Co Mayo, which is some of the most enjoyable and scenic cycling I’ve done anywhere.
I feel it these days while pedalling away on my little fold-up bike, down Sheriff Street, past the church and on towards that little stretch of water along the side of the national conference centre.
Get on your bike and you can be a kid again. It’s why all through the decades, through stolen bikes and punctured bikes, posh bikes and banger bikes, borrowed bikes and Dublin bikes, even when I stop for a while I keep returning to the two-wheeled life.
It’s probably why, until very recently, I never bothered learning to drive. You don’t need anything extra in the tank to cycle, there are no petrol or NCT requirements. When it comes to bikes you are the only fuel you will ever need.
There are times, it’s true, when I go on taxi sprees, and my bike starts to gather dust in the spare room and I use it as a clothes horse. But if I ever get completely fed up of cycling, I’ll take it as a sign that I am tired of life. So here are my top seven reasons to get on your bike:
1 The smells and the city. I’m not talking about the dusty clouds of exhaust fumes you get when coasting behind a bus, although they can have their own urban charm. I’m talking about the smells you get of people’s dinners wafting through windows. Sausage and mash on one street. Something overloaded with coriander on another.
I’m talking about the cherry blossom tree you smell 10 minutes before it dances into view. I am talking about getting from A to B, not in a bubble of metal and glass, but in a way that leaves you open to all the elements including the smell of a spring rain shower, which has its own damply delicious pong.
2 You get everywhere on time. When you leave the house on a bike you know how long it will take you to get wherever you are going. As cyclists go, I’m a slow one. But I like to know I won’t be held hostage along the way by an untruthful bus timetable, a taxi that takes ages or, for that matter, my own two feet which I’ve been known to drag. Cycling is a punctual person’s friend.
3 Flexidestrianism. One of the best things about cycling is that you don’t have to choose between being a pedestrian and being a cyclist. You get to be both. For example, there’s a notorious stretch as you climb the hill from St Patrick’s Cathedral and approach several lanes of extremely busy traffic. If you want to cross over to head for Dame Street, you take your life and your bike in your hands. I’ve a friend who loves this challenge but this is where I turn flexidestrian, get off my bike, mount the pavement and walk across with the aid of the green man. I’d really like it if my city catered more for the cyclist with plenty of Amsterdam-style cycle lanes or even ones that don’t also double as car park spaces, but until then I’ll stay remain a committed flexidestrian.
4 Cycling is not just for fit people. In fact you can be quite roundy in frame and still build up speed on the saddle. I should know. Being avidly averse to exercise, cycling is the one activity that gives me genuine pleasure even when I’m huffing and puffing up that hill.
5 Pole dances. You know the way. You are trying to get into Cos or (insert your favourite shop here) before it closes and locations for bike locking are scarce. There is only one suitable pole. It calls for a bit of poletiquette. It happens, more often than you might imagine, that there is a young (ok, also handsome) cyclist vacating said pole. “You want my pole?” he might say and you might say “I do” and then you both go about your business with grins on your faces. When they are not soaking wet or narrowly escaping being pushed to the kerb by non-cyclists, the cycling community are a fun, supportive bunch.
6 The accessories. Where are you going with no bell on your bike? Nowhere, that’s where. My latest bike accessory purchase was from Tiger, a strawberry-shaped bell which you can hear a mile off. I like it almost as much as my friend’s bell which reads, “Cycle or Die”.