You may have read my previous article in which I explained that I had registered for the cycling Velo Birmingham and Midlands on 12 May.
Yes, I did complete the 100 miles in 8 hours 33 minutes, much slower than most of the 17,000 entrants who passed me on the way, but in good shape, without aches and pains, exhilarated for three hours or so, until the adrenalin wore off, when I flopped until lunchtime the next day.
Currently I feel on top of the world and I am grateful to all those who encouraged me: those of you who sponsored me for the Climate Justice work of Jubilee Debt Campaign (currently totalling about £1,500); Birmingham City Council who gave me my Big Birmingham Bike three years ago and “On Your Bike” who improved it and gave me professional advice; to the gym at Bournville Village and Laura the instructor there; to Christine my trainer and cycling companion; to those who listened politely as I expanded on my theme; to my son and daughter for the fruits of their own experience; to my mother and father for the good genes allowing me to attempt this venture at the age of 76 when several of my contemporaries have passed away; to this wonderful world and the divine creativity within it…. Have I missed any one out?
But bear with me for a moment. Looked at more coolly my result is not particularly surprising or heroic. People older than I have ridden further and faster. I dare to suggest that most of you could have done it – obviously if you had wanted to! You were no good at sports? Nor in my youth was I; the summit of my athletic achievement was to become captain of chess! My knees don’t like jogging. My cycling has been largely local, and on my first outing four months previously the ride of 40 miles was tiring. But inarticulately I wanted to do something, partly for myself and partly to signal my commitment to helping poor countries combat the unjust effects of climate change. I trained. I went over the route, discovering the big hills were at the end for which energy had to be conserved. I took advice on nutrition and cycle gear. The positions of saddle and handlebars were so adapted for my measurements and the tyres so upgraded that, though the bike was heavy, it was as manoeuvrable as many a lighter one. Apart from some excellent padded cycle trousers I managed without expensive clothing; old Rohan shirts and jumpers were excellent for helping the sweat evaporate from my skin. Although I must have looked mildly ridiculous beside the mass of svelte entrants, earning ribald cries of “come on grandpa”, my gear was fit for purpose, evidence for the possibilities of the common man – and woman, for there were many of them too, overtaking me.
It was a beautiful sunny day but with a cooling breeze; we were spared the cold wind and rain of the previous week. It was exhilarating to be part of a stream flowing one-way, without having to stop at junctions or traffic lights. Other riders were helpful and good-humoured; my only niggle was over those clever dicks who didn’t follow the rules (keep to the left and overtake on the right) but delighted in weaving in and out, potentially dangerous when tired novices going uphill had a tendency to swerve or wobble. There were three accidents that I was aware of, one of which was fatal, and that on a twisty downhill stretch of country road. Cycling does have its risks, though my impression is that the Velo organisation kept these to a minimum. The overall effect, none the less, was joyous and worthwhile.
Dare I say, there are some elements in the Velo that have the makings of a parable. If the UK is to become carbon neutral within one or more decades we will have to change our sources of energy, our transport, heating, diet and military spending. As in my experience of the Velo, with determination, research, advice, funding, monitoring and support, it can be done.