Becoming a cyclist (ride one) / by Charlotte Marriner

Today’s the day! I’ve passed my probation period, I’ve got my ride-to-work certificate thingy approved and I’ve scuttled out of work to go bike shopping. Gripping tightly onto my voucher, it feels like the best present ever. Even though, technically, I’m going to be paying for it out of my salary for the next twelve months. As I waltz into Evans with a very small hangover, I suddenly get a little flustered by a very handsome man (who are these men? Neither professional cyclists nor shop assistants, they’re nonetheless dressed as if they’re just about to go out for a ride; constantly walking down the stairs to The Basement or dishing out allen keys and yelled-across-the-room advice on cleats to regulars. They’re like the barmen of the cycling world.) who wants to know how he can help.

It’s then that I realise I know literally nothing about bicycles, especially since I’ve been temporarily blinded by his white, flashing teeth and have forgotten what the name of the bike I quite fancied online is called. Mercifully, I remember it after only a few minutes of slightly weird mumbling. A Bobbin Brownie! The mint green one! That’s what I want. Yes, siree. I try to engage him in what I think sounds like sensible bicycle conversation chat: So is that the kind of hybrid, wheeled, thing I should bike, around, erm, safely and daily – er, in the streets? He’s not exactly bowled over by my cycling knowledge but nods vaguely and we both pretend that I didn’t say anything. After ordering my bike he shepherds me around the shop to various accessories (helmet: check, lock thing: check, wicker basket: check) and I choose everything based entirely on its colour. He says that’s okay. We both know he thinks I’m an idiot. Finishing up is a bit of an anticlimax, as I’d had a vision of breezing out of there on my new steed. But it has to be ordered, sent to them, and then put together by them. I’m very glad I’m not expected to Put It Together. It’s then that I realise at some point I should learn how, just a little bit, in case my wheel flies off at a t-junction (you never know) and I can calmly and coolly pop it back on, no big deal.

So I wander out and a few days later I get an email beckoning me back in-store to collect it. Handsome man isn’t there and someone with less time on their hands and more spots on their chin hands my bike over. She’s so pretty. I do a little clap and turn to say thank you but he’s already wandered off. My basket was probably a dead giveaway that I would have nothing interesting, cycling-related, to talk about with him. I want to name her (she’s definitely a she, since she’s all pastel-y and pretty) but I resist the urge until we’ve had the first cycle ride and I know her a little more. (Yes. That’s a perfectly normal thing to say out loud to other people.) Before I even leave it takes me fifteen minutes to work out the allen key properly to adjust my seat, almost knock over the same bike twice, back into an unassuming human foot and nearly send my bike crashing three times. Suddenly, the realisation that I need to cycle home from the shop – on actual roads with actual cars, lorries and buses – dawns on me, and I want to vomit into my basket. I only know one way home (the way I’d walk or bus to work) and feel like the one-handed use of Google maps whilst cycling is probably frowned upon, so I take a deep breath and decide to copy all the other cyclists going home. I only get almost-squashed by a bus once (going round the fairly horrifying Elephant and Castle roundabout) and I’m fairly sure the high pitched screaming was all done in my head. Arriving home less than half an hour later, I pull off my helmet (white, with one green and one purple strap) and walk dizzily into my house. Yes I have flop sweat. And my hair looks bedraggled. And I will definitely need some modesty shorts the next time I wear a dress. But I’m in a good mood! And my journey was free! Take that, public transport. These cyclists had been on to something all along and now I was in on it too. *karate chop*