by Our Bicycle Lives
By Lilli Hoikka
My name is Lilli and I am the slowest cyclist on the Clapham to Clerkenwell commuter route. Well, second slowest on the rare occasions when I catch up with a newbie on a hire bike in front of me. But, to be quite truthful, I cannot remember when this last happened! As a rule I am overtaken by absolutely everyone: kids on their way to school, Bromptons, cyclists almost twice my age, countless hired bikes and so on. The six-mile journey on mainly quiet back roads normally takes me 45 minutes so that makes my average cruising speed a very leisurely eight miles per hour. I am actually surprised at this. I would say I am by nature a fast person: a fast walker, so much so that others often ask me slow down; a fast talker; and I make decisions fast. But I just love slow cycling. It gives me a great start to a new day and calms me down after a hectic one in the office. So how did I manage to find the meditative pace in cycling?
I started cycling in London in the 1990’s when there were not many bikes on the roads and pedestrians and drivers were not as aware of us as they are now. After a couple of minor crashes, I realised the accidents often happened when I was going fast. I did not have enough time to brake when a pedestrian suddenly stepped onto the road in front of me or a bus pulled out without indicating or looking if anyone was coming. Some kind of action was needed. I made a conscious decision to slow down and started to allow myself more time to reach my destination. It felt strangely different at first not to rush, pedal fast and whizz through amber traffic lights. But soon I started to notice beautiful new things on my route as I now had time to observe my surroundings properly. Slowing down gave me the opportunity to look at buildings, to breathe in the smell of flowering trees, to catch secret glimpses of other people’s lives . . . My whole experience of cycling was transformed. No longer did I need a shower at the end of the ride and I felt relaxed and energised when I arrived at my destination. Before I realised it, I had completely changed my cycling style and I simply loved it! I started cycling everywhere, not just to work, and what had begun as a commute turned into a much-loved hobby.
I have to admit it is an easy life being a middle-aged female rider. I have no need to prove anything to anyone, unlike some young male (sorry!) cyclists whose worst case scenario is to be overtaken by a woman cyclist. They will promptly give chase and start a race, complete with grimace and gritted teeth, which for an outsider is always amusing to observe. But who says we need to be pushing ourselves all the time? We do that enough at other times in our lives. Cycling can be pure pleasure and enjoyment. Finding a comfortable cycling speed is key to making even a longer ride a very pleasant experience. I took part in the overnight Dunwich Dynamo two summers ago and by cycling at my own speed within the group, I had plenty of energy left at the end of the 120 miles. No sign of the dreaded pain barrier. I am sure the supportive and welcoming atmosphere (and generous applications of chamois cream . . .) helped as well but following the speed that came naturally to me, rather than the many fast young things overtaking me, made all the difference. And although I was cycling in slow motion compared to the majority of cyclists on the Dun Run, somehow my average speed was a whopping twelve miles per hour! Well, night-time riding on quiet country lanes is quite different from rush hour commuting across London.
So why not give slow cycling a go for a month? You never know – you might just like it.