Today was my first chance to go for a real ride on Bob since bringing him back home on Wednesday. I had a very definite plan which involved cycling north along the High Road, up the hill past High Barnet Station, left at Barnet Church, down Wood Street, right into Galley Lane and off among the fields on one of my favourite recreational rides in the countryside. Let’s just say that it didn’t quite happen like that!
First of all I had to get out onto the High Road. Cycling to the end of my street was reasonably straightforward, but then the tarmac leading up to the High Road, while not that long has a distinct upward incline, getting sharply steeper over the last few yards. I fumbled with the gears, went somewhat more slowly than I’d anticipated and started wobbling around. I tried stopping on the slope and then starting again. “Get the practice in while there’s no pressure” I thought to myself, just in case I have to this on the way up towards Barnet Church. I made sure I was in a low gear, tried to push off and went….nowhere. To get myself moving again required more push than I anticipated and the combined effect of my additional straining on the peddle, shoulders tensing at the unexpected lack of movement and consequent harder gripping / pulling on the handlebars meant that I just wobbled around briefly before starting to topple over with the lack of momentum. At least being on a recumbent all I needed to do was put my foot down (not very far) and there was no need to look for a seat to sit down and recover on. Also, one of the distinct advantages of trying this early on a Saturday morning on a quiet street is that there was nobody around to see all this.
After another couple of abortive efforts, I did get Bob moving again and we did make it to the top where I paused to check the traffic before turning into the High Road – it was nothing to do with being out of breath whatsover. Although to be fair to myself, a few years ago when I first started cycling again after a long break, I didn’t always make it to the top at all without pushing at least some of the way.
Once on the High Road it really hit me that test rides in Dulwich Park just aren’t the same as rides in the big bad outside world where motor vehicles are allowed to go at more than 5 mph (what bloody fool thought that was a good idea?). Although I’d set out early in the morning there was still a certain amount of traffic around and frankly I was a little nervous – only to be expected I suppose. What I didn’t expect was how difficult I’d find the gentle fall and rise of the road as I approached the bottom of the hill leading up to Barnet Church. This wasn’t anywhere near as easy as when I was in the park, however much I changed the gears and I rapidly realised that the only way I’d get to the top of the hill without pushing most of the way was in my dreams. It may have been early in the morning, but the road I was on isn’t called “The Great North Road” for nothing and my recent brief unhappy experience trying to cycle up a short slope at the end of my street demonstrated fairly comprehensively that attempting to follow my initial plan would have been the equivalent of the hedgehog trying to cross the road… in the rush hour. Having been spread across the road due to somebody else’s stupidity a couple of years ago, I didn’t intend repeating the experience by emulating their lack of sense. Instead I turned off the High Road just as the more serious climb was about to begin.
Turning left where I did was a good move. Long quiet roads linked together in a large loop – Grasvenor Avenue largely sloping downwards so I could enjoy gliding downhill in the comfort offered by Bob’s seat and suspension, followed by the climb back up Sherrards Way. I don’t know how many times I went around there, but it was enough for me to truly realise that a recumbent bike requires the use of a different set of muscles to an upright bike. As this lesson began to dawn I decided to give myself a break and head off on the cycle path across Brook Farm Open Space which linked the end of Grasvenor Avenue with Totteridge Lane just below the tube station. Recently upgraded it follows the path of Dollis Brook through fields which are now largely given over to football pitches, albeit somewhat sloping ones, and large numbers of dog walkers.
Newsagent – slope up towards pavilion – seat slipping back – realising set up not right, hence much of strain – Oliver’s tutorial on quick release system applied and seat both brought forward and tightened. Up behind pavilion, left onto High Road and back home.
The front wheel – 20”, not 17” like on the test ride bike. Those 3” make a difference. It is more of a recumbent position and the difference in muscles used is that much more noticeable.
Distance and speed. – 10.72 miles and 7.7 mph
Reflections – am I really that much slower on a recumbent? If that’s the way it is, will I ever be able to use Bob as a commuting bike on the 12.5 mile journey to central London. If I can’t take my own street or the High Road up to Barnet Church, what hope of ever riding up Highgate Hill?
Hang on a minute! This was my first proper ride out on the roads in North London with Bob. I’m not used to recumbents, I’m using a different set of muscles and I need to develop the skills that go with a very different riding style to what I’m used to. All this takes time – undoubtedly more time than I’d like – but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t all be eminently do-able.