Fitness · Glasgow · Lifestyle


You know how everyone always says you never forget how to ride a bike? Well, they’re wrong. When I was 10 years old I could ride a bike but by the time I was 20 I couldn’t. Granted, I didn’t pick up a bike once in those ten years but to be honest, even as a kid I didn’t do a whole lot of cycling. I probably never quite developed enough of the muscle memory and so, against everyone’s wisdom, I forgot.

I also became afraid of cycling. Actually, I’m afraid of falling. Not of heights, but of impact. I’m afraid of falling over and hitting the ground, whether that’s off a bike or just from standing. The idea of the pain of the impact is far scarier than the actual pain would justify. So, there you have it, proof that I’m not as rational as I like to pretend.

The problem is, P loves cycling. Not just cycling but mountain biking too. The loser even watches the Tour de France. He goes cycling with his siblings every year and he was determined that once I’d spent a little time with a bike I’d be ok. A few years ago we went to Aviemore and he re-taught me to ride a bike. We didn’t quite get the stabilisers out, but we did spend a good half hour going up and down the garden with me wobbling everywhere and panicking horribly.

The Cairngorm National Park near Aviemore. Yeah, nothing over ambitious about taking a new cyclist here. It’ll be fine. Image credit: Wikipedia

Then, once I had my balance, we went out for a “short cycle.” It turns out that even when you have your balance back and you see how cycling works, if it’s the fist time you’ve done it in ~15 years you won’t be very good at it. I had very little control over my balance, speed and direction which meant that everything in my path was a terrifying obstacle, something that I would be unable to avoid and would end up crashing into. It was a whole new reason to fear cycling.

I persevered because P loves it so much and we got away from the busier part of our route and into a pretty area near the town centre and by some small hills and woods. We’d probably been cycling for about ten minutes. I couldn’t go any further. Those muscles you take for granted if you cycle a lot simply didn’t exist for me. I tried to get my thighs to move and my thighs communicated that they weren’t remotely interested. We gave up and went home. We tried again the next day but I was in too much pain from the first day to even be able to sit on the bike.

I think P was a bit fed up, but he was happy I’d tried and, optimistic as ever, insisted that I’d get better with practise. I tried to use the exercise bikes in the gym for a bit but those things are awful. I actually over did it once and passed out after using one and woke up on the gym floor. Fun times. I’m an idiot. Still, while he understood my reluctance to cycle and my temporary refusal to use gym exercise bikes, P was certain that I’d eventually get the hang of it and have fun.

The two of us don’t fight but we’ve definitely occasionally drunkenly bickered about cycling. I would point out I was bad at it, hated it, was afraid of it and didn’t need to do it because you can get everywhere without it. He would point out that this was a terrible attitude and why wouldn’t I give it a chance. Then we’d get over it and make up.

A Nextbike stand by Glasgow Caledonian University. Image credit:

Around the time of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow a series of Nextbike stands were installed around Glasgow. Nextbike is a city bike rental company which allows you to sign up to rent bikes for a short period using an app. I doubted I’d ever use one but I could see the advantage for quick hops across the city. Then maybe a year later, a friend said that Glasgow Uni staff and students got the first 30 minutes of rental free. I signed up and installed the app, but really only thinking that it might be handy in an emergency and hoping not to use it.

A little later, P bought a second hand bike. Previously he’d only had one in Aviemore which had prevented him from suggesting cycling trips while we were in Glasgow. I don’t have a bike, so I wasn’t going to go with him, but when I was out with other plans he did a few short trips around and slightly beyond the city. He went to Pollok Country Park and sent me photos of the Highland Cows there.

I had a temporarily lapse of reason and bought a bike helmet. He saw this as the sign he needed to give me one last gentle push towards cycling, saying “well, you’ve got the helmet and the Nextbike account, we could go to Pollok Country Park, maybe the Highland Cows will be out again? It’s only about 6 km.” I am a sap. I am an idiot. We went.

A highland cow! Who wouldn’t try to overcome their fears to go see one of these ridiculous shaggy ginger creatures? Imaged credit: Wikipedia

We carefully planned the route so that there were plenty of options to escape; a subway station here, a train station there and so on. At each escape point I said I was tired but doing ok and that we should keep going. There was a big hill where I had to get off and push for a bit but after a rest at the top I was ready to go again. Then, we got to the park. As we were heading towards the centre of the park a car approached, I pulled to the side of the road and cycled slowly to let it pass which it did, when it was maybe 5 meters past me I hit the curb and went flying.

We did the route highlighted in blue. I think it’s quite sweet that Google Maps thinks I could do it in 27 minutes. Maybe one day.

This is why cycling is so scary. In spite of P’s insistence that people almost never fall off their bikes I somehow managed it. However, I also didn’t die. It actually didn’t even hurt that much. I scraped my knee a bit and that was it. I got up, waved to the driver that I was ok andΒ got back on the bike.

When it was clear I was fine P was delighted. We finished the journey (the cows were hiding to my great disappointment) and cycled all the way home. The next day we cycled a much shorter route to Glasgow Green, returning my bike and locking his up near West Brewery where we stopped for a pint. I like that. Being able to cycle a short way, put the bike back and enjoy a pint or a meal – yeah, that’s appealing.

I’m slow, I’m wobbly, I still find it difficult to get started and it’s definitely going to take me a while before I am fully in control of my speed or direction. It’ll take me longer before I can make it up a big hill without getting off to push. However, I think I can cycle a bit now. Don’t tell him, but he was right, I am actually enjoying it.



Tonight I’ll be speaking about Gravitational Wave detectors at PubhD at Waxy O’Connors in Glasgow. The evening will also feature my colleague Daniel Williams who will talk about Gravitational Waves as well, and Elaine Ferguson from the School of Law at Glasgow University. Doors are at 7pm and entry is free (although donations are appreciated). If you’re in the Glasgow area I’d love to see you there.

11 thoughts on “Cycling

  1. Haha now that was a fun post to read! Well I love cycling but in India one can’t easily do that, given the traffic is crazy and the rules almost non existent! But when I was in Cambridge, I used to cycle to work through the meadows and it was just amazing… I can never forget the beauty of the place πŸ™‚
    I hope you eventually like cycling! As long as you have P for company you should have fun with it πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve done hardly any cycling in the *mumblemumble* years that I’ve been in Glasgow, but I used to do a decent bit when I was younger. The last time I sat on a bike was several years ago when I took a wee holiday in Millport. It’s traditional to cycle round the island, so I hired a bike and did so. Unfortunately, a combination of a narrow seat and my lack of practice meant that I had a really sore backside by the time I made it back to the hotel. I had to go and lie (face down) on my bed for a while after getting back :).

    But the combination of the uni NextBike offer and the fact that there’s now a stand at Gartnavel, has me thinking about it again. I could grab a bike from the medical building, cycle half way home, drop it off and then walk the rest. In theory. But the thing that really keeps me off (apart from inertia) is fear. I’m really afraid of cycling on the roads in Glasgow. I’ve been on buses that really sit on cyclists tails in the bus/cycle lanes, and that’s when such lanes exist. Motorists seem to give very little attention to cyclists at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glasgow’s roads are awful! I’d like to cycle to the uni but I’d just get hit by a truck. Fortunately there are plenty of routes away from roads to go to the parks but it’s a shame it’s not safer to get around the city.


  3. Great post. I didn’t cycle for several years so the first time I got back on a bike was a bit scary but it was a simple adjustment – probably because I had spent most of my childhood riding. That’s the difference in our stories, I think.
    I admire you for trying and doing it again. I hope you’ll grow to love riding even more and maybe buy a road bike and start training for a tour.
    Hope the talk was great.

    Liked by 1 person

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