I was about thirty when I got a bike so I could cycle to work.
I had put it off for ages because I didn’t think I could cycle in traffic or take my hands off the handlebars to signal.
I soon got used to it though and became a model of cycling proficiency.
I accessorised my bike with a baby seat so I could drop my son off at nursery before racing the traffic into Bradford city centre.
I became adept at owning the road and keeping an eye out for danger – and there was plenty of danger!
When we moved to Bingley I upgraded to a bike with drop handlebars.
In the main it was a fun commute; especially on sunny days in the school holidays when the roads were quiet.
The last time I cycled to work was in May 2016.
I was cycling back to Bingley to collect my son from school when a car cut across in front of me at the traffic lights at the bottom of Emm Lane.
The car was coming in the opposite direction and turning right.
I wasn’t able to stop in time.
The side of the car grew bigger and bigger, filling my vision.
My only thought was, ‘Oh. I’m going to die now.’
I don’t remember the impact.
I found myself on the road having landed on my face.
I needed stitches where my top lip had ripped up to my nose, and inside my mouth where my chin had sheared off the bone.
On the bright side, after all the dental repairs my teeth are arguably better than before; and I wasn’t dead.
After that my bike remained firmly in the shed with its bent handlebars and buckled wheel.
After the accident
I learned to swim front crawl.
I have always liked running a long way and gradually the temptation of doing a triathlon made me get my bike fixed.
I did a Go-Tri followed by a few sprint and olympic distance triathlons (bike ride up to about 25miles).
I wanted to do an ironman but I was (am) still a slow swimmer so I entered a half-iron distance (with 56 mile bike ride) where I thought I could probably complete the 1.2 mile swim before the cut-off time.
In the background to all this, the legal proceedings for my bike accident were ongoing and the solicitor sent me to see a psychologist.
I explained to her that, although I felt safe enough doing the cycle leg of a triathlon or an organised sportive, I couldn’t cycle to work and I would nearly always stay at home rather than go on a family bike ride.
I was too scared to ride on the canal.
I told her how I had done most of my triathlon training on the turbo trainer with only occasional actual rides that never left the 4-mile stretch of B-road between Bingley and Keighley.
On the couple of occasions I had needed to go on a longer training ride I had gone straight along the valley to Cowling and back to minimise any stopping or signalling at junctions.
I couldn’t cycle up any hills because I was too scared to ride back down.
I’d get up at 5am to avoid traffic and I would barely sleep the night before, unable to stop going over and over and over the route in my mind.
The psychologist told me I had a situational phobia and recommended that I have some basic cycle training to help me get over it.
Friends advised me to cycle little and often, on a short circular route that I could get used to.
I didn’t do any of this!
Triathlon training camp
I bought a carbon fibre road bike, had a proper bike fit, and booked myself on a triathlon training camp in Mallorca thinking that a week of enforced cycling would cure me!
The week in Mallorca started well: swimming every morning, cycling all day, running every evening, the coaches were great and everyone was nice.
I enjoyed my first time in the peloton, the sun shining, the scent of blossom on the breeze.
It was lovely.
On the fourth day we rode up a mountain road with hairpin switchbacks and vertiginous drops.
Going up was fine but I was terrified of cycling back down again so I set off from the cafe at the top before everyone else so I could get a head start.
It was horrible and I sobbed all the way down, my face streaming with tears and snot while the others flew by having a great time.
The next day we were due to cycle up to Cap de Formentor.
I had driven the road before and knew the downhills would be worse than the previous day.
Also I had managed to fall off the bike three times already during the trip (thanks to cleats) and was worried about falling off again.
I was extremely apprehensive but in the morning I decided I would give it a go.
As we approached the edge of town though, I suddenly got very panicky that there would soon be no turning back.
I stopped, burst into tears, and walked the bike straight back to the bike hire place.
Achieving a sportif!
The week after Mallorca, I had a 40 mile sportive in Lancashire booked in.
I didn’t want to do it but thought I should since I’d entered it and I still had my big triathlon coming up.
I sat in the car before the start and almost drove straight home again, but I decided to just get round as quick as I could and get it over with.
I did it without any issues and my bike rode like a dream.
I descended steep downhills, crossed a cattle grid, went through a flood, round roundabouts, actually took my hands off the handlebars to signal, and even stopped at the feed station, all without crying or falling off!
Relieved to be finished and satisfied that I could do it in a race if I had to, I put my bike back on the turbo trainer and never rode it on the road again.
Lockdown and finding the Bingley Belles
Lockdown started the week after and all the triathlons I’d entered that year were cancelled.
I carried on with the turbo trainer for a while but gave up because it was just depressing when I could be running free in the hills instead.
I lost all interest in triathlon and swapped cycling for strength training (which turned out to be an excellent decision and it’s now my main thing).
However, it was still hanging over me that I had bought this fancy bike that I was too pathetic to ride.
I had joined Bingley Belles previously but only been once as it hadn’t fitted with my triathlon training at the time.
In 2021 I decided that I was finally going to release my bike onto the road and joined the Belles again.
Through them I learned there was some bikeability training organised and I went along to Myrtle Park for the first session.
I ended up leaving my bike propped up against the fence and borrowed a ‘normal’ bike to ride round and round the tennis courts, weaving in and out of cones and practicing stopping and starting.
It reminded me that cycling is actually fun!
By the second session I had bought myself a hybrid and put my road bike up for sale.
Over a year later, I still never cycle on my own but love riding in the company of the Bingley Belles.
They are a wonderful group of women who have freed me from wasting loads of energy on needlessly fretting about getting on a bike.
Now I can just get my kit on and go without giving it a second thought, which is amazing!
We go on some brilliant rides and this year I trained to be a ride leader (which I think has helped me more than it has helped the Belles to be honest).
I would really recommend Bingley Belles to anyone who wants to try cycling or get back into it but feels held back for whatever reason.