Actually, I bet Freddie Mercury never got on a bike in his life. Though there’s something appealing about the idea of of the catsuit-clad and abundantly moustachioed king of camp perched astride a sit up and beg contraption with onboard shopping basket.
The rest of us, however, more or less grew up on two wheels. Yes you did, you sedentary porker. Try to remember what life was like before you got a driving licence and a job, and gave up physical activity in favour of lager and the telly. It’s nice to see that the exploits of Mr Wiggins and colleagues seem to have given biking a boost despite the ‘har har lycra shorts’ mockery. Presumably these people would also take the piss if you wore ski clothing for skiing or suits to work.
My first ever bike had three wheels, and was therefore technically a trike. I could also call it a fixie, on the grounds that the pedals were stuck to the front wheel, which means I can legitimately say that I was into fixed wheel bikes before they got so mainstream. Take that, pansy hipster city-cyclists. Unfortunately I didn’t realise at the time how terribly cutting edge this was going to be and spent most of my time coveting a playmate’s trike which had a chain, a place for stand-up passengers between the back wheels and even a sort of boot arrangement in which you could cart your favourite stuffed toys about. This was what passed for sophistication in 1960s Falkirk.
My first foray into proper two wheelers was on another playmate’s bike (small, red, fat white tyres), which I managed to keep upright for just long enough to crash into a rather large middle-aged lady who was walking about minding her own business. (I say large and midde-aged – she was probably a completely normal size and just out of school, but everyone looks old and fat when you’re five.) The only thing I could think of to say as she turned round and eyed me beadily was “I didn’t see you”, which struck me even as the words left my mouth as utterly moronic, given that I was convinced she was the size of half a house.
Having outgrown the trike, I went through a bit of a cycling fallow period until I was presented, aged about eight, with a Raleigh Twenty, something which looked like a folding bike but wasn’t. At the time, I thought this machine was the very nuts of the mutt, though looking at pictures of it now I can see that it was in fact a ridiculous contraption with stupidly small wheels. I spent most of my time swapping it with a mate who had a Moulton Mini, a rather pointless activity snce the only real difference between the two was that hers was a slightly darker shade of red.
The trusty Raleigh only bit the dust when a parental windfall resulted in the purchase of – wait for it – brand new bikes, a ridiculous extravagance in Penicuik in the 1970s. This gave me exclusive rights to a purple Raleigh Caprice complete with those rubbish Sturmey Archer three-speed gears which always got stuck in second gear after the first week. I seem to remember that what I actually coveted was an 18-speed racer with drop handlebars, but I have a vague idea this wasn’t deemed girly enough. Still, the fact that it was blatantly your granny’s shopping bike didn’t stop me razzing round the place pretending to be Batman, though having seen what Batman is really riding I have to confess I now feel a tad foolish.
I am now forced to confess that as a student I abandoned cycling, my completely pathetic excuse for this being that I was at university in Sheffield, a city which resembles Rome in that it was built on seven hills. (This is the only way in which Sheffield resembles Rome.) These days I would think nothing of cycling up and down most of the city’s hills, which gives you some idea of what a bunch of pantywaist pansies students are.
A postgraduate move to Portsmouth saw the purchase of yet another shopper bike (what was I thinking of?), this time in pink, for some reason. This is about the only mode of transport a junior reporter on local newspapers can even think of affording. Besides, commuting to Gosport in anything on four wheels involves getting up earlier than necessary, circumnavigating the harbour and sitting in traffic fumes on the M27 when you could be in bed. Bugger that, quite frankly.
Looking at all this, I am at a loss to say why I’ve neglected biking until this summer and the ripe old age of wossname. Possibly the preponderance of hills in this neck of the woods, though since other people come from the ends of the earth (well, Holland mostly) and pay a lot of good money specifically to cycle up our alps that excuse doesn’t really cut it. I suspect it’s some kind of specialised early-onset dementia in which the gradual deterioration of the mental faculties produces the delusion that biking up 10% gradients to somewhere near the snowline might be a fun way of passing a Sunday afternoon. At least I’m not trying to do it on something which resembles a shopping trolley with a saddle.