Confessions of a Cycling Virgin – Portsmouth to Bournemouth On a Bike in the Wind

Don't drink too much Elvis Juice at the Brewdog pub off Oxford Street, is the moral of today's story. Because that way you might end up committing yourself to cycling 50 miles plus having not done more than about 3 miles on a bike for 30 years ...

So, you may have read the consequences of that foolishness in Guy Allen’s description of Monday 11th September, the day when he and I cycled 83 kilometres in one of the most severe gale force winds that the south coast of England has seen for – oh, at least a week or two. Well, to me, a novice cyclist, it felt pretty damn windy, and of course the problem with doing a linear(ish) route rather than a round-trip is that if it is against you when you start,  the wind is against you all the way. Which it was, from Portsmouth all the way to Bournemouth.

But despite that, and the torrential rain just as we hit the least attractive mile of the trip (alongside the dual carriageway outside Christchurch, past the Sainsbury’s superstore), I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I cycled a lot in my youth, but since the age of about 23 I had not done more than a few miles until our practice run three weeks ago, which was 18 miles along the Basingstoke canal. I do have quite large leg muscles though, thanks perhaps to a youth spent playing football pretty much every day of the year (even if I wasn’t particularly good).  That might have helped …

Anyway, enough about my thighs, which is not a phrase I’ve used often in writing, and more about the experience from the standpoint of a first-time “modern” cyclist. So my first observation is how courteously other road users treated us. Not a single car horn, rude gesture or too-close overtaking manoeuvre all day. I apologise to the John Lewis lorry who had to follow me up a hill for a couple of minutes, but even he behaved perfectly. I was pleasantly surprised, having had visions of being constantly the butt of archetypal white-van type bad behaviour.

Secondly, I found the sense of achievement rather wonderful and in particular, for someone who gets bored easily, I loved the sense of making real progress. I used to do a lot of hill walking, and while I enjoyed that, it could be frustrating to see a peak in the distance, or indeed a far-off village on the way down, but know that it would take the best part of two hours to reach the goal which was maybe five miles away.  I loved the fact last week that once you could see Southampton in the distance, a few miles up the coast, it was only 20 minutes or so before we were there (despite the seriously strong headwind at that point!)

So why not drive, you might say? Well, apart from the extra 2000 calories I could justify consuming because of my exertions, we could not have done the Hamble (see picture) or Hythe ferries in the car, and both were just brilliant experiences, touches of an old England that you might think has gone altogether (see Guy’s piece for more detail). Stopping outside the church in Titchfield where Jane and I got married was rather lovely too.

And cycling through places such as Hythe, Warsash – and even Gosport – you get much more of a “feel” for the place than you ever do in the car. The “off road” sections, both through the New Forest and the final run along the seafront in Bournemouth were both great too, with very different but spectacular scenery, although I was feeling the pain in legs, lungs and bum somewhat on that final stretch. But my goodness, the beer and spare ribs tasted good a couple of hours later!

My knees were sore for 24 hours afterwards – I have had a few knee issues in the past – but there weren’t any more lasting effects. Muscles were surprisingly fine the next day, and yes, I think I might be hooked. I’ve even discovered that you can do parts of Swinley Forest near home on a road bike – it’s not just for mountain bikes – and I’m thinking our next car needs to accommodate cycles. And I can see the Xmas list being heavy on Lycra, Garmin and salt tablets…  Guy, what have you done?!

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