A wheelie good time

I WAS heading for a 12 week working holiday. It was gut-wrenching but whatever way I looked at it there was no way a car, bought or hired, was possible. A car had been my life support system for over 40 years. I was car-dependent and I now had to adapt to meet changed circumstances.

Taking my car 3,500km was a non-starter; I could have bought a second hand one on arrival for less than the return cost. Like a doting mother being parted from her child I considered everything before abandoning my beloved wheels.

I had to bite the bullet on this one. I was condemned to be transport trapped in the Stone Age. Reduced to public transport or worse, riding a bicycle. You may well mock. Shortly after my arrival I shelled out €100 for a previously cherished bike. You call it second-hand if you wish but from there on it was all downhill.  I have never felt so liberated in my life. I took off down country lanes with the air in my hair and I swear to God I felt re-born.

Everyone a winner; the bicycle had a new proud owner. My bank account was no longer ruinously depleted. Forget IVA and SUMA, maintenance, traffic cops, document checks, tailbacks, parking or parking fees.

Now there were forest tracks and cycle routes, parklands and pathways and many other off the road places inviting exploration; all denied to envious car owners. I could now go most places car drivers could go but they were woefully denied my off the track freedoms. I could even enjoy a beer and ride; would any policeman lower himself to breathalyse a wobbly cyclist; come on now.

At first I puffed and pedal-pushed whilst others sailed blithely by. I noticed they were slimmer and fitter than was I but soon I was lean and mean too. My love handles were the first to go. Well, go on; tell me how many fat cyclists have you seen? Now tell me how many obese motorists you have espied.

My desk-bound legs thought I died years ago and my creaky knees had long stopped functioning. Now it was as though I had risen from a wheelchair. My thighs and calves were now pumping iron when at my age they should be pumping rust. Sure it hurt a little at first but no pain – no gain; I was a puppy again.

I no longer passed parklands; I rode gaily in and through them. There was no tiresome walk from the car park to my church door; I left my bike under the belfry. I parked within inches of the shop or pub doorway and in a moment of madness I took off across the grassy gardens to much applause. See what you get if you dare try that with your car. I could smell flowers and hay, chat with passers-by, motorists were forgiving and even kindly.

A bike is a classless form of transport. Alight from a bus and you’re a peasant. Turn up in a car at a function and you expose your social standing. Arrive on a bike and everyone says; ‘how cool.’ You could be a millionaire for anyone knows or cares; you are a greenie; changing the planet; saving on gym fees.

A week or so on and I was as fit as a butcher’s dog; my thighs were radiant with wanderlust; my previously swollen ankles were like a ballerina’s.

My dodgy arthritic swollen knees looked like a young athlete’s. I now dread the day I am confined to the restrictions of my car.

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