The joy of bikes

Granddaughter 3 (aged 9) has a bike which, although not exactly state-of-the-art, is kind of artistic since it’s a hand-me-down from granddaughter 2 (aged 11) who, of course, customised it. She selected a paint pot from a range of colours left over from those granddaughter 1 (aged 14) had stylishly splatted all over her wardrobe in a sort of cool retro1960s hippy tie dye effect. So the framework of what is now granddaugher 3’s bike was painted pale pink and the tyres with black gloss paint since presumably they were considered not black or glossy enough to granddaughter 2’s creative eye. But she let the paint dry in the back garden so sadly the floors in the house missed out on a tyre print makeover as she wheeled it through to the front door.

Anyway, granddaughter 3 is a keen cyclist and likes to ride her bike up and down outside her house while one of her parents or me keeps an eye. She was therefore super keen on hiring a bike at the holiday park where we went at the end of August. Now my partner is a handy person to have around in a bike-hiring situation since he cycled to work every day for nigh on 30 years so knows a thing or two about saddles, gears, punctures and the like. However, his bike was one of those racey ones with thin sporty tyres and very low handlebars on which you perched precariously (not my kind of conveyance) with your bum up in the air like in the Olympics, though thankfully he didn’t wear lycra. And eons ago I used to ride to junior school on a hand-me-down bike (I had two older sisters) and back home in the garden I practised leaning forward on the handlebars with one leg outstretched like an erstwhile Angelina Ballerina – I fancied myself as a trick cyclist in the circus when I grew up, sadly an ambition yet to be realised. Ah me, those were the days, but alas, things have changed since then. For instance, there’s far more traffic – you couldn’t pay me to peddle along a busy road nowadays. And drivers don’t seem to bother with little things like speed limits and can’t even be fagged to indicate.

But the holiday park was one place you could venture forth without fear – there were only people and other bikes around so for once things registered low on my risk barometer. So off we went, my partner, granddaughter 3 and me to the bike hire place and, good god, there were rows and rows of bikes, over a thousand we were told, all lined up according to size. And, hurrah, every single one was a solid, sit-up-and-beg bike – not dodgy downhill racers like my partner’s was. And, joy of joys, each one had a bell just like we had all those years ago – a round, silver dome with a little lever you pushed with your thumb without letting go of the handlebars. And if it got stuck and didn’t ring, you unscrewed the top and applied 3 in 1 oil and bingo, back in business. And I’d thought they were things of the past, banished to the retro section of souvenir shops next to puncture repair kits in metal boxes – even my partner says he’s tempted just to put in an inner tube these days and he’s a make-do-and-mend kinda guy. But gosh, after all those years, I was on a bike again (my daughter had been a bit sceptical) – ok, not with one leg stretched out like in days of yore but after a few wobbles, peddling along with granddaughter 3 like in that film with ET (but not the dangerous bit where the bike takes off and zooms up into the sky).

The next day it was the hire shop again with grandson (aged 4) who chooses a bike like I’d choose a car. ‘I want a red one,’ he said firmly and was soon equipped with exactly that with trainer wheels. But he took the responsibiity of looking after a hire bike so seriously that he refused to cycle and wheeled it along very slowly and carefully until he got a bit tired so his mum bent double and pushed it back to the cabin trying not to do her back in. The next day, he was out wizzing along and ringing his bell with the best of us. But, oh dear, it seems to me that cyclists outside of holiday parks don’t use bicycle bells at all nowadays. My partner and I like to go walking, good for oldies, along paths through the forest – lovely. He’s is a bit mutt and jeff and wears a hearing aid in each ear and I have tinnitus of the left ear which muffles things. Suddenly a bike looms up fast (no, they don’t slow down) and silent from behind and we have to lurch swiftly to one

side or another. And it’s easy to lurch in the wrong direction and although to date we (us and the cyclists) have only narrowly missed out on a trip to A&E, the heart beat goes bananas – not nice. And yes, we’d hear a bell if they had one and, since they don’t, why don’t they blooming slow down and shout ‘Excuse me, please’ or even ‘Get out of the so-and-soing way’? Maybe shouting out is something you just do not do in our culture. But wouldn’t it be better than going arse over apex into some brambles or an equally prickly pensioner? I have a theory that bicycles, like so many things nowadays, are fashion statements, designed along sleek minimalistic lines like those slinky dresses Tess thingy wears on Strictly. A bell, therefore, might spoil their streamlined stylishness. And, let’s face it, if people can’t raise the energy to signal in a car, they can hardly be expected engage their thumb to ring a bell, can they? But they use both thumbs like pistons to text – what’s that all about?

But I’m all for cycling and it’s great that riding a bike is still in favour with our children and grandchildren in this super-techno screen-bound age. And after my triumph in the holiday park, even I could be tempted to ride through the forest or along country roads (quiet ones, of course) – it’s both healthy and relaxing, you can breathe fresh air, smell the leaves, see over hedges and granddaughter 3 says it helps her to think, and I’m all for thinking. And I’m pondering on buying everyone a bicycle bell for Christmas – you never know, maybe granddaughter 1 will think the old round ones are so retro that they’re now super cool. And as for ringing one, I’ll say that it’s a bit like texting, but less labour-intensive – just think, you only have to use one thumb.

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