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Guest blog: The cycling convert

Written by Fiona August 29 2011

Real-time and Facebook friend, former colleague and now cycling convert, Debbie, reveals her discovery of the delights of two-wheeled exercise.

The perfect combo!: Debbie's new Facebook profile pic

Debbie writes: Some people are born to exercise – others have exercise thrust upon them. Anyone who knows me knows which category I fall into. I’ve spent a lifetime battling with my weight, mainly by means of increasingly loopy diets and very sporadic bursts of exercise.

It’s taken me a long time to come to the realisation that, with my genetic heritage and fondness for the more calorific things in life, only sustained exercise will keep middle-aged spread from expanding into chronic obesity.

And for that, I needed to find exercise which I enjoyed sufficiently to persevere with it. Beyond lifting a glass of gin and tonic, that is.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve managed to find a gym I like (Curves) and start walking regularly. The result has been that I’ve slowly shed some of the excess weight.

But I wanted to do more. I’ve toyed with jogging but it’s very dodgy on the knees for a novice who’s past a certain age.

And, until very recently, I’d completely rejected suggestions that I join the increasing ranks of cyclists.

I live in the middle of the west end of Glasgow with all its frantic traffic and I’m  a devout coward. I’ve also cursed pavement cyclists so often that I couldn’t join them.

So no bike for me – I thought.

Then my employers started to offer the Cycle To Work scheme. A shiny new bike to be paid for in easy instalments and with a substantial saving because of the tax breaks.

And I started to think maybe I could get a bike, just for use on cycleways and through the park. I also thought I’d look supercool on a lovely retro Pashley Princess.

Soon after that idle thought, which I’d mentioned to a certain FionaOutdoors, I was in a bike shop close to my house with Fiona on hand to offer advice.

A few minutes later, I was in the park on a bike – not a Pashley, which I had been advised both by Fiona and the staff of Gear Bikes was a heavy machine, not suitable for the hilly west end.

It was only as I got on it that I remembered the last time I’d been on a bike.

Actually, I remembered that I couldn’t remember the last time I was on a bike – which must have been at least 30 years ago.  If my bike guru was dismayed or alarmed by that revelation, she did a good job of hiding it.

Soon we were off through the park and I discovered the cliché that you never forget how to ride a bike is true. The gears on my smart sports hybrid were a bit more challenging. As a kid, I’d only ever ridden a three-speed.

It might have been how much I enjoyed it, it might have been a certain cycle evangelist’s powers of conversion. Whatever the reason,  I went back to the shop and ordered a lovely Ridgeback Velocity very similar to the bike they’d loaned me.

I’ve now had the bike for a couple of weeks. And I wish I hadn’t waited all those years, thinking that cycling wasn’t for me.

I’ve been out exploring along both the Kelvin (the initial limit of my ambitions) and the Clyde. I’ve taken a couple of rides along the Forth and Clyde canal, a revelation to me despite having lived within a short walk of it for the past 20 years.

In the early forays, I scared a couple of pedestrians and wished you got an L plate for bikes so they could be warned to steer clear.

I’ve had to get off and push the bike on some uphill stretches, although they are becoming fewer now.  I sincerely hope there will be no repeat of the smug 10-year-old in the park looking at me with scorn and declaring: “I got to the top.”  To be fair to myself, if it hadn’t been for her adoring army of mum and aunties cheering her on and blocking MY way, I would have too.

And … I’ve been on the roads too. The alternative, given my abhorrence of pavement cycling, was a lot of pushing between the cycle paths. It can be a bit scary at times but again, it’s improving with time and experience.  Great Western Road – done it.  Maryhill Road – done it. Byres Road – done a bit of it.

I can feel  I’m getting stronger and I love the sense of freedom you get from exploring new areas. The other advantage of that is you’re so busy enjoying the scenery it almost doesn’t feel like you’re exercising.

Only down side of the experience  – I suddenly find a whole new area of consumer goods opening out to me, which is possibly not the best thing for a shopaholic.  My new hot pink baselayer  top was, of course, an essential.

More and more women are taking up cycling. But there are probably a lot more still making the same kind of excuses I did.

I’m (age censored because I can’t remember what I’ve told people), still carrying too much weight, still smoke and drink too much.

But I love my bike. And if I can cycle and enjoy it, so can almost anyone.

Ed’s note: I am delighted with Debbie’s new-found love of cycling – and I hear news that two more of our girlfriends are considering new bikes. The more the merrier!

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