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Be Spoked: How I Came To Wear Lycra

Feeling caught up in the busy bustle of life? Want to get off the merry-go-round for a moment? Mark Southern discovered the joy and adventure of the British cycling revolution, which shows no sign of abating.

As originally published in Tempus Magazine, 2015

When this writer was a lot younger, the first taste of freedom came on two wheels.

Much like a midnight feast or sneaking into a 15 movie, a bike-shaped parcel on Christmas morning felt like a childhood rite of passage, representing an opportunity to break free from responsibility. On that first bicycle, the big wide world got a little smaller, as we cycled for what felt like miles, but was in fact a couple of streets. The summers were hot, time seemed never-ending, and anything was possible.

But then life happened.

Careers, relationships, children, social pressures, and more; they all take up time and fill up minds, whilst we go about our days moving ever further away from the sense of all-consuming play and possibility of our youth.

And, until recently, this correspondent was in the same 9-5 headspace as the multitude of others you see packed into commuter trains, blindly following a life on tracks.

But then I bought a bike.

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On a whim, and with very little understanding, I found myself in a bike store, and felt the pilot light flicker on inside of me as remnants of free-wheeling childhood memories splintered into my psyche. Taking a spin around the car park became a joyful experience, amid dozens of smile-less car drivers going about their functional weekend shopping, and the purchase was completed.

And then something unexpected unfolded. What I expected to be a briefly distracting hobby turned into a spiritual journey.

The first time I took the bike out for a ride around Richmond Park I was having one of those weeks where I couldn’t see the trees, let alone the wood, with all decision making clouded in fog, and that general sense of modern dissatisfaction lingering. Generally speaking, in that mindset I find it difficult to shift moods, which exacerbates situations, leading to cyclical habits, and not of the good kind.

However, getting changed into my new cycling kit (complete with padded seat lycra shorts), I felt the gloom start to shift. By the time I rolled the bike out of the house, down the pavement, and onto tarmac, I hadn’t just eliminated the shadowy mood, but switched entirely to that of the excitable child ripping open the badly wrapped bike propped up against the Eighties’ wallpaper.

As the pedals started turning, so the world started whirling, and the road that I drive down daily began to take on a brighter and strangely more real look than I had seen before.

By the time I arrived in the park, I was out of breath, but smiling from ear to ear, as the splendour of Richmond’s rolling green hills, loping deer, and canopy of treetops framed every moment. And that word, moment, is important here. How often have you felt you’re in a situation, but not in the moment? How many times have you been somewhere in body, but not spirit?

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Psychologists, spiritual leaders, and many more learned people offer guidance on how to alter this and be present in the moment, but for many, including me, being trapped inside your own thoughts can be simply accepted as the norm. However, with the wind whipping across your face, the serene sound of tyres relentlessly sliding across smooth roads, and the increased senses you need to stay aware of surroundings with only a helmet for protection, the feeling of release is palpable.

As the sometimes beautiful, sometimes fierce world of nature envelopes the world of the cyclist, the red blood cells pump through the body, whilst the mind takes on a level of calm. Post ride, muscles feel tighter, posture is stronger, waistlines are lighter, and thinking patterns are clear and concise. It’s a revelation for anyone feeling a little lost in a modern lifestyle which they are told offers freedom, but in actual fact provides only more barriers of perception.

Mintel research tells us that this explosion of cycling prowess, (or not in the case of this particular writer), is a phenomena that has captured the imagination of British people, specifically in the 25-45 year male old demographic. It’s often referred to as the new form of mid-life crisis, with the frankly ludicrous outfits that even the most unsuited new cyclist somehow feels drawn to wear the new sports car.

However, I think it’s much more interesting than that.

My first childhood bike was black and white, with a big red shield on the front, and the number 5 stamped across it. It represented freedom, joy and adventure. My first adulthood bike is yellow and black, and has no big red shield (I have the smallest semblance of dignity, not that the lycra would demonstrate this). However, to me, it represents exactly the same thing now as it did three decades before. Freedom, joy, and adventure from modern life.

 

This article originally appeared in Tempus Magazine, 2015. See below for full article:

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