London in 2018 is a riot of red, orange and yellow as bikes for hire hit the streets. The first to arrive a few years ago were Boris bikes, named for London’s then mayor. They began their life decked out in blue, now they paint the town red to match new sponsor branding. These are lumbering heavy creatures, elephants of the bicycle world. When not in use they idle in fixed docking stations across the capital. They never get punctures, are almost unbreakable and highly reliable.
Two lighter competitors have recently flown in: bright yellow Ofo from China and luminous orange Mobikes. These have no fixed home, but flock together like parakeets in designated resting places, or sit cheerfully outside coffee shops and pubs. I’ve found them waiting singly and hopefully in parks or by the canal, never there for too long before being picked up and taken for a ride.
I too progress through town on a bike. I learned to ride in childhood, and still delight in balancing and moving on two wheels. As student and commuter I cycled for many years to cover distance cheaply and independently. I had no sense of how I moved and just wanted to get from A to B.
In the midst of pregnancy and family life I upgraded from bike to car. Back and neck problems duly put paid to regular bike rides and I stopped calling myself a cyclist. By the time I returned to my drop handlebar bike I’d begun Alexander lessons and nothing was quite the same. My back was stronger and longer, I moved differently and saw myself, and cycling, in a new way. My bike and I, after 27 years together, didn’t have much in common and parted company.
Since then I’ve played the field and been out on quite a few Boris bikes. Mostly these have been short functional experiences. Sometimes there are several in a day, though I’ve never seen any bike more than once. Just occasionally one of the family borrows my bike ‘key’. Then weekends perk up, and my journey history shows me returning in the early hours from the other side of town.
Last summer I had a longer fling on a German cycling holiday.
Through cobbled streets and stormy nights we were very compatible, and I knew I was ready for something more permanent. I returned home, and after much online searching thought I’d found ‘the one’. We moved in together a couple of months ago and seemed right for each other. By now Alexander thinking and improved body use was part of me, and it felt easier and less effort than before. But it was not to be. After just six weeks of bliss my bike was stolen from me by another, and I’m on my own again, older and wiser.
I chalked it up to experience, and decided I needed advice before putting myself out there again. I went for a lesson with cyclist and Alexander Technique teacher Barry Collins. We discussed bikes and cycling while he worked with me in the chair and on the Alexander table, before moving to the standing bike set up in his teaching room. I came away from the session with a wealth of practical wisdom: what to look for in a new bike, how to set it up, where my weight should be as I ride, how to position myself on saddle, pedals and handlebars, and how to keep freedom and length as I cycle.
Back on Boris bikes, I’m riding with greater ease, hills are less challenging, I enjoy cycling more and I’m moving faster with less effort. I understand better how my body works in cycling and I’m ‘thinking in activity’ as I go. I’m ready for a new bike, but looks and performance don’t matter as much as before. When we finally get together I’ll know better what to do, and it’ll be as easy as …