Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bike riding in Bolton

A few weeks ago we were in Britain during National Bike Week and so accessed information about events in our nearest town, Bolton in northwest England. We rushed back from friends in the Lake District so that C (our hostess) and I could join in a 5 mile cycle ride for ladies, led by Bolton’s cycling officer. Her remit was to work with adults at risk of developing heart disease and other problems and who also were likely to find it hard to cope with price rises in fuel and transport. To this end she had been running courses to persuade folks to take up cycling by providing both bikes and classes.
Our friend C came to cycling late and has few obvious buddies to cycle with locally so we thought the ladies’ ride might be a good idea. C took her Brompton and I used my Dahon Speed TR, veteran of our Swiss seasons (See “Cycle Touring in Switzerland” by Judith and Neil Forsyth, publ. by Cicerone Press). The afternoon was overcast with a threat of rain but all three of us were very disappointed that we were the only ones who had turned up. Nevertheless we went ahead on a quite sporting route, mostly along quiet trails through the Middlebrook valley. C found the rate of acceleration a bit much at times, since she still finds rapid gear changing a problem but she persevered. The route links together paths through parks, past derelict works and out between golf courses to Horwich and the Rebock stadium, so there’s lots of greenery and fresh air. There are only a few roads to negotiate, almost all very quiet. At the end of the tour C looked at the major crossing of two lane highways in front of a giant Tesco store and turned pale. ‘I’ll have to walk this’ she said. However as we pointed out the pedestrian lights these turned green and she swung onto the bike and pedalled across. One road down, one to go and we all managed again with the aid of the lights.
Both C and I were pleased we’d made the effort and discovered a bit of Bolton we’d previously bypassed by car. C was more confident and hopes to meet up with the cycling instructor again to build confidence riding on roads. Our poor cycling instructor was not so happy with her experiences since the ‘mass ride’ had attracted comparatively few people but the weather had been extremely wet. She said a great difficulty is to get people who’ve actually enjoyed the courses to continue to ride. The problems cited included perceived danger, which is not always the same as the actual risks involved, plus exposure to ridicule from friends and family many of whom view cycling as either childish or somehow letting the side down. This is extremely sad and very silly, especially when the media is full of reports of obesity, the value of exercise and fuel poverty. A bike does cost money for sure, needs some maintenance and won’t automatically reduce weight. The costs however vis a vis car transport are tiny. We find a bike ride a day reduces stress and does make a meal and a beer taste good when we’re home and dry.

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