Aged five, I briefly had a bicycle. It had a neon yellow frame with stabilisers. But when I tried to get the thing going in our back yard, the dog ate the tyres. After that, bike-riding was put on ice in favour of other early learning feats. Swimming, for example, which I mastered for reasons of self-preservation.
As I grew older, the bike became rusty and undersized. So too grew my fear of trying something I was no good at. That is how I became, for two decades, the odd-one out. The metaphor, “as easy as riding a bike” was lost on me. Bank holiday weekend transit was limited to stuffy cars.
It will be a long time before I brave the Old Street roundabout, but I have at least joined the community of bike riders.
At university I was the slow coach, walking behind be-wheeled friends and learning the art of fashionable lateness (and, in slothful moments, sacrificing much of my bursary to bus fares). For years, “I can’t ride a bike” was a most shocking revelation for new friends. Until this summer, that is, when, at 25, I decided to join the normies. The peer pressure of sharing a flat with two cyclists (one even has lycra) became unbearable. Plus there was my growing resentment at the slow motion collapse of Transport for London: 10 minutes until the next Victoria line train?
Lessons began on an August afternoon in the quiet estate behind our flat, where a young lad on a BMX taunted me with trickstands as I struggled to balance. I learned quickly to put one foot in front of the other and soon I was moving free, albeit erratically.
It will be a long time before I brave the Old Street roundabout — where from a top-deck window I recently saw a velo-maniac nearly squashed by a lorry — but I have at least joined the community of bike riders.
The plan is to develop confidence in the countryside, and eventually to ride all the way out to the English coast, where I shall kneel down victoriously in the Essex sands and pop a bottle of champagne at sunset.
Last month I bought my second bike, a handsome sit-up-and-beg that I hope won’t be stolen. And now that I am one of this fair city’s rental serfs, bound by “no pets allowed” rules, there will be no dog to bite the tyres off.
Ethan Croft is editor of the Londoner’s Diary