Today I found out what gears mean on a bicycle. This is big news. When I last rode a bike it was way back in student days and they were all friendly old basic bone-shakers. They had no airs and graces whatsoever. You could actually leave them anywhere unlocked and they were so very unspecial that nobody even bothered to steal them. It was like having a pair of plain useful old shoes.
Yes, there were gears around then, but a very particular type of person had them and they were very particular types of bikes. They were low-slung and chrome and had exaggeratedly curved, drop handlebars. And they were ridden by aloof sporty types in goggles who crouched low over them and went very fast, as if they were scorning the mundane world. They might have been gods, but they could equally well have been nerds. Since they never stopped, I never got to find out.
So gears and I were never friendly. We lived in different worlds.
When, a few months back, I bought a folding bike, I thought happily, ‘I don’t have to even touch the gears.’ (Ah, fool!) It was sort of hard, cycling. I had to push like crazy, and that made me wobble and that made me deeply frightened in traffic. So I buried the bike under a silver grey tarpaulin in my back yard and tried to forget about it.
Today I took the bull by the horns and the bike by the handlebars. The local paper told me my borough gives me two free hours of bike tuition. So I unburied the bike and drove us both down to Bikeworks.
There is something wonderfully liberating in admitting cowardice. I told my trainer – a 6-foot fit young man called Joe – that I was frightened by my bike. And I owned up to my feelings about gears. And do you know, it’s really all quite simple. There is no mystique about it at all. And gears make sense!
We cycled round Vicky Park with Trainer Joe getting me to turn round and tell him how many fingers he was holding up. And I didn’t fall off and I didn’t wobble (much) and I changed gears with aplomb and kindly people out for walks smiled and waved encouragingly.
And when I got home, it was with an elaborate certificate (rather like the ones that my kids used to be given when they had been to Accidents and Emergency, to make them feel proud they’d been brave) declaring that I had passed Level 1. And that I too had been brave.