It started with the golf course across the road. That’s the Brent Valley Golf Course in Hanwell, West London and it was only 20 yards from our front door. We moved there in 1954 when I was just 8yrs, but by the time I was 11, my older brother and me were out on the golf course, fishing balls out of the River Brent and getting 6 pence (2 1/2p) a ball from the grateful golfers. We had an extendable tank aerial, up to 12 feet, with an old bedspring stuck in the end, but it was much more fun to wade in barefoot and feel the soft brown clay squidgy up between our toes.
When the course was shut we hopped over the fence and went kicking the rough to find lost balls, which were sold to the club professional at the club house. For several years I saved every penny; I wanted a bike! Dad said we could have a bike when we could afford one ourselves. That was his way of saying he couldn’t afford two bikes.
It took a lot of saving and at 14 I got a Saturday morning job at a greengrocers. I had roller skates from the age of 8 and still skate at the YMCA in Halifax, so the 1/2 mile to the shop only took 5 minutes going and only 4 minutes coming back, as it was partly downhill. I dreamed of how quickly I could do it on a bike.
And then it happened. I was at the shop and had to pop to the newsagents, just two doors away, to get matches to light the beetroot boiler and there, on the glass fronted door, was a small card with ‘For sale, Carlton Continental – good condition – 1yr old – £20’. I knew I had the money in my Post Office account, so I took the card off the door and as soon as I was finished at 12, I skated the short distance to the advertised address.
This was the bees knees of road racing bikes and all for £20, as the owner needed a quick sale before moving abroad.
I skated home, grabbed the PO book, ran as fast as I could to get the cash and I never spent £20 so happily. Well, you should have seen the look on my Dad’s face when I got back. That bike opened the door to freedom and a small group of us, usually 6, would go off every Sunday, whatever the weather, to some far flung corner of Middlesex, or Surrey. We aimed for around 20 miles out, but did go up to 40 miles in the summer. One clear, but cold winter’s day, we set off for Winsor Great Park, just 18 miles away. When we got there, the lakes were frozen, so two of us mad souls went for a slide on the ice. Incredibly stupid, but oh how much fun.
Then in 1971 I moved to Halifax. Oh, what a shock! Hills! Masses of them and the 5 speed bike struggled, (well I struggled) on the steepest. I could just about get from Bradshaw, where we lived, up to the old Raggalds Pub. Anyway, family came along and the bike was mothballed for several years, but you can’t keep a bike and not ride it, so out it came. I was off again, but just a year later, it was stolen from the garage, along with my son’s bike. With the insurance pay out, I bought two identical, except for colour, Townsend Triathlon bikes, 10 speed. Hills, I laughed at them.
After many years of sterling work, it was time for a change. Much research later and I was at Cycle World in Halifax and bought a Genesis Aether 34. The Genesis, with its 14 gears, is much more suited to my senior years; the shop put a lower low and a higher high gears, so I can still get up Windy Bank if I’m warmed up. However, the extra high gear makes the bike frighteningly fast on downhill runs. Going down Wheatley Lane and Shroggs Road the speedo shows over 30mph, without too much effort, but cars still scream past. I look at the Genesis bike and I can see the train of investment from all those years ago when I was saving so hard.
And there’s more. I am now the proud owner of two replacement hips, the first in 2010, but before that operation I was struggling to mount and dismount the road bike. I needed a step through frame. I didn’t want a lady’s bike, so I looked at folding bikes and after much looking on Ebay, I found the dream machine. I had to wait a month whilst it was shipped from China though, but boy, was it worth waiting for. The 6 speed Shimano gears are just about capable of getting me from home, on to Morrisons and up to the fire station at Illingworth.
But that’s not all that it’s used for. Yes it’s handy to nip to the shops, but one of the main uses is as a warm up machine for when I go refereeing Rink Hockey. I still work at Premier League level and travel all over England, from Middlesbrough to Kings Lynn, or even down to Herne Bay in Kent and I know all the best places to cycle when I arrive. Aiming to arriving 2 hours early not only gives me a good buffer for traffic hold ups, but also allows for a bike ride. It doesn’t matter if it’s an evening game in winter, as I have an awesome front LED light and a great rear light too and if it’s wet I just don rain gear and off I go. I’ve been on muddy riverside tracks, main roads and country lanes and even braved a bit of snow on that bike.
Before this pandemic I would regularly cycle into Halifax from Ovenden and although I have tried to get up Ramsden Street, I can’t get more than about a third of the way up, so I don’t try now. I fold the bike up in town and get the 521 home, for free. I’ve even taken it to London for WaterAid charity meetings. Cycle to the station and take the folded bike on the train to London. Unfold it at King’s Cross and cycle to my location. London is quite a bike friendly city.
For me, the folding bike is purely transport and the road bike for keep fit and a bit of fun. One of these days, I will refurbish my Dad’s bike, a Dawes road bike © 1929 with its peculiar triangular Swiss OS gear. Anyone got some spare time they could give me?
Inspired to get on a bike?
Bike riding is a great cheap, healthy and fun way to get around, for more info of what help is available visit Active Calderdale’s – Bike Riding in Calderdale.