That moment when you let go of the saddle and instead of swerving off to the left or right they glide forwards, feet whirring almost in a blur.
When our eldest Vi learned to ride her bike, it was a slow and painful process. I’d bought a heavy old bike off eBay. At that the time we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac. On a Sunday morning we’d go out and try to get her riding on her own, but it usually ended up in both of us getting frustrated. Bike on the floor. Tears. Shouting. She can ride her bike now. We soon got rid of that clunky old bike for something more lightweight and easy to manoeuvre.
A few years on and it’s Hazel’s turn. Full of gung-ho enthusiasm to emulate her sister. We don’t live on the ‘banjo’ anymore, instead there’s a few quiet village roads which have served as good training. Hazel wobbling along with me running alongside. Grabbing the saddle as she veers towards the curb. Almost there, but not quite.
Easter time and we are away on holiday, staying on the old Stanegate. There’s some traffic during the day to the Roman fort of Vindolanda, but after closing time there’s no traffic at all. After a few test runs she’s racing up and down the Roman road.
Over the next few days we find a few different routes. A disused railway in Kielder Forest and a dedicated trail at Wallington. But it's the deserted Roman Road each evening that's the favourite.
I’ve ridden lots of different bikes, in lots of different places. But this is the first time I’ve ridden fixed gear. With no brakes. On a wooden track that slopes to over 40 degrees in the banking.
But this isn’t just any wooden track - this is the Olympic Velodrome. It’s immediately familiar. I’ve spent hours watching Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton, Trott and many more speed round. Only a few days before my ride, the world championships were filling the place to the rafters.
It’s a different feel today. No crowd and instead of sitting in the gods cheering I’m stood in the middle of the track. Watching the big screen, waiting for my turn to record a flying lap time.
We’ve already had an hour or so of coaching. Learning how to move across the blue boards of the ‘Côte d'Azur’ and speed round the track. Taking just enough speed to hold an improbably high line near the top of the vertiginous banking. I adjust my seat again. In my mind channelling the great Eddy Merckx, though in reality it’s just nerves.
Then I’m off. Slowly at first. Building up speed so I can take the bend as high as possible and then swoop down to the start line. Legs pumping, gripping too tight to the bars.
Down over the line and into the first bend. I’m trying to hold the black line and ride the shortest distance. In my excitement and enthusiasm I’m way above the line. Up near the red, riding too far as I catapult into the back straight. Then round the final bend and I’m already facing the finish line, one last effort and I’m done. I’m breathing so hard that I’m not able to look up and see my time. I slow down and drift back into the middle of the track, as the next rider starts their charge.
My time is pretty terrible, but that’s ok. I’ve ridden the Olympic velodrome and I’ve got a few pointers about where I went wrong. I’ll be back to take some laps soon.
Yorkshire. Huge crowds. Good weather. Great riding. Good company and a long ride.
For the many British pro-riders who didn’t make the tour (or those that did and then didn’tget past the first week), the 2014 Tour de France is probably one to forget. But for British based cycling fans the 101st edition will stay long in the memory.
A dash for the train. Greens and brown blurred as the pedals spin and breathing hurries. The fields have a haze of green, early shoots of growth, wet with a misty rain. A pheasant fails to hide against this baize, an obvious shot, ready to be potted.
Into the effort now. Traffic grows; plumber, Golf, Audi, school bus. Past the two small woodlands, then down and over the little bridge, and up the bailey to skirt the embankment and into a village now fortified by roads and starter homes.
Down into the town, that welcomes careful drivers, though it does a poor job of attracting them, to make the train. Now I’m the one glistening with a morning dew.
The train pulls away, South. From the carriage window a kestrel hovers, already at work.
Our latest bike is a very different machine to my usual rides. The Kona MinUte, a small load carrying bike, is no XtraCycle, but it’s certainly capable of lugging a fair amount of gear around. Our aim isn’t to try and move large loads, but to get the girls out on the back of the bike. With a good sized platform (and some careful drilling for the Yepp Maxi bike seat mount), we should be able to get 2 passengers on the back, but for now it’s set up for just one.
But it’s not the technical specs, gearing or comfortable position that makes this bike my favourite ride, it’s getting out on the road with Violet. Who knew load carrying could be so much fun.
Photo: Violet and I heading home from Hoggeston Fête, taken by Emma.
An update to a post I made this time last year adding Froome to the list of British cyclists who have worn yellow at Le Tour. As I mentioned when I posted about this before, nationalism and sport are tricky areas, especially when we start talking about British sports people. Of the people on the list only 3 were born in the UK (by birth Millar, Wiggins and Froome are Maltese, Belgian and Kenyan respectively), which throws into relief what British might mean in this context.
From my perspective I’d hope to cheer anyone who rides with panache in the pro peloton, but as a British cyclist myself I take some pride in the performances of people representing British cycling. So to these six I say Chapeau.
I haven’t climbed a tree in years, probably not since I was about 14, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be much choice. The crowd is 10, maybe 15 deep on Constitution Hill. The police are stopping anyone getting closer to the finish to avoid overcrowding so I’m stood by the flamme rouge assessing my options. From the PA system I know the riders are leaving Richmond Park, they’ll be here in a little more than 10 minutes. There’s nothing for it, if I want to see anything I’ll need to climb the tree.
I ask the woman in the Italian cycling top if she can step out of the way so I push up off the lampost. I grab one of the low branches and then I’m scrambling up, pushing a grasping until I’m sat high up in one the trees that stands on the run in to the finish.
The PA announces that Wiggins is on the front trying to pull back the breakaway - a huge cheer goes up and the tree shakes a little, but my arms are wrapped around the trunk, and I have a perfect view onto the road waiting for the riders to swing round the bend and on to the finish.
As the riders fly round the corner, an almighty roar leaps up from the crowd - it’s not the British on the front as most of the spectators would want, but the atmosphere is electric. Even from my tree I can see the steely confidence in Vinokurov’s eyes, there’s no way he’s going to let Uran win this one.
Five British men have worn the yellow jersey at The Tour de France. Tom Simpson, Chris Boardman, Sean Yates, David Millar and now Bradley Wiggins.
I find nationalism a difficult area, especially in relation to sport (something which is going to be tested over the course of the next few weeks with the Olympics on our doorstep), despite this the performances of the British riders at La Grande Boucle is important to me.
In years gone by I’ve ridden a stage of the tour, trailed round france and camped out on the top of the alps to cheer the riders, bought L'Equipe, watched entire stages on Dutch TV and immersed myself in every book, magazine and podcast available. This year I'm more excited about “Le Tour” than ever.