I live in East Surrey near Gatwick airport, am a geologist by profession and, on and off, have been cycling since the age of about four. My father was a very keen cyclist before WWII, racing and touring but after the war and certainly by the time I was born his time on the bike had, by necessity, become more prosaically just a form of transport for getting to work. However, my parents still had a tandem with a small aluminium sidecar attached, in which I was taken out as a baby around north London and therefore probably qualifies as my first time on a bike – though of course I don’t remember anything. A few years later I often played in the sidecar, shaped like a pointed boat, with a Perspex window shield and a black canvas top, it was great fun. But by now the actual tandem had been put away, until years later as a teenager I refurbished and put it back on the road for myself.
At the age of four my first bike was a red tricycle, which under the watchful eye of my mother I rode around our road and the local park in Dorset, where we now lived. At some point thereafter, I’m guessing about five or six, I was given my first two wheeled bike. I vaguely remember my Dad running up-and-down our road holding the bike upright from behind to provide balance but it wasn’t long thereafter I went solo – then the trouble started! I soon began to wander further afield but only a mile or so from our house to friends; the roads in Dorset were quieter and safer in those days. However, at some point I famously went off on my first real adventure to Poole Harbour, about 4 miles away. Unfortunately I was spotted by a neighbour on my way back, who told my mother who was none too pleased. It was a pointer to my future life of adventure on a bike, which I continue to this day.
I moved back to London at the age of about 9 and not long afterwards the bike became my main way of local transport and a way of life. Starting with long day rides at every available moment, at about the age of 13 I started to tour using the YHA for overnight accommodation, in itself a real eye opener. By now I had two bikes, both of which I had built from scratch with the help of my Dad using two of his old frames. My main bike was Reynolds 531 road bike with an enamel grey finish, a Brooks saddle and an old fashioned canvas saddle bag – I went everywhere on this, including tours all over East Anglia, southern England and the Midlands. I had more ambitious plans but this was the 1960’s and, let’s just say, other things in life took over! My other bike was a bright yellow track bike, with cow horn handlebars, which I used for utility and track riding – until the front forks snapped one day and I went flying over the top!
By this stage I had ambitions to race bikes, avidly following the sport through Cycling Weekly, in particular the careers of my the heroes, Jacque Anquetile and Tommy Simpson; it was very frustrating that the sport received no coverage elsewhere and only in recent years have images and film from that era provided an insight of the people and sport that was otherwise lacking at the time. Unfortunately my desire to race was thwarted by the need to be at least 16 years of age in order to obtain a racing licence. I was about 13 or 14 and so moved into athletics instead, never to cycle race.
When I left senior school and went away to study I stopped cycling and, apart from the odd short ride when I was home, did very little cycling any longer: studying, travel, work and family took over for the next 20 years. Then in about 1990, as a result of various sports injuries, I decided to give up my then main sport of squash and needed to find another way of getting some exercise. Obviously it had to be the bike.
However, by now the roads and traffic had changed dramatically for the worse, so that at first I went off-road. At this time the ‘new’ mountain biking trend had emerged from the USA and so I bought a Trek 830 MTB, purchased the excellent Ordnance Survey cycling route map book for this area and at weekends, when I was not away on overseas business trips and the children were still in bed, took off early on Saturday morning all over Surrey, Kent and Sussex. I still have the Trek 830 which I converted for road riding and have used it for touring and as a winter bike.
After about three or four years of off-road riding I was starting to tire of the mud in the winter and the need each time to travel to off-road locations, which might be up to an hour or more drive away. I wanted (a) to step out the door and start riding, and (b) feel less resistance and faster rolling on a smooth surface i.e. tarmac. And so I ventured back on to the road with a Dawes Giro 500 road bike.
The Dawes Giro was all about exercise and speed. It didn’t have to be super fast but enough to have a good road ride in about 2-hours or so; work and family were still a tie. However, in 2003 the children were starting to leave home and I stepped back from full time work – as a result there was more time for cycling and the cycling bug was back. I was though no longer a teenager and found I often needed a few more gears to get up hills comfortably, I also wanted to extend my riding to three or four hours or even a whole day. The conclusion was that I needed something not unlike the Giro but with a triple chainset, wider gear ratios and a bit more strength for ‘light touring’.
In 2007 I therefore purchased a Dawes Audax, which has until recently been my main bike. When at home I rode half days or more much of the year and the Audax bike was also used for touring in the UK and in Europe. Its dual capability was very good, though I suspect that fully loaded for cycle camping I may be pushing it to its limits. My collection was also supplemented by an Airnimal Joey folding bike in 2015, with the intention of having a machine that would be more adaptable for use with public transport and thus open up new horizons but it’s too early to know if this will be successful – sadly for personal reasons this has not turned out to be the case.
My wife has also taken to cycling and, in particular, like me enjoys touring; she is also a big utility rider. The bike, riding and touring have therefore become an integral part of our day-to-day lifestyle and form the basis of most holidays and days out. Fortunately with time on our hands we can choose when to go touring i.e. wait for the good weather.
Unfortunately during recent years I have had significant problems with my knees, almost certainly arising from past sports injuries when younger. This culminated with a total (left) knee replacement (TKR) in April 2015 and, with the subsequent deterioration of my right knee cycling almost stopped thereafter.
Fortunately in 2017 I successfully converted my trusty Trek 830 MTB to an assisted e-bike and have been back on the road since, culminating in a cycle tour of the Italian Dolomites in 2018. Notwithstanding, I am unlikely to be able to undertake more arduous rides I had hoped for during retirement but apart from local leisure I’m hopeful that some form of e-bike touring will still be possible for a while yet, we shall see.
I am very pleased to see the current cycling revolution in the UK but at the same time disappointed by road conditions and the attitude of drivers towards cyclists, to say nothing of the superficial political attention and lack of funding. The bike is a wonderful invention, simplicity itself, which has formed an important part of my life and, I hope, will continue to do so for many years to come.
On your bike!
Graham Roberts January 2019
Be warned: I’ve reached the age where my brain went from “You probably shouldn’t say that” to “What the hell, let’s see what happens.”