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Michele and me cruising the Tarka Trail, Devon.

We live in a world where everything is moving faster and faster. Even in our leisure time we are encouraged to do more and more. In short, if you haven’t got a challenge, why on earth not? What do you mean, you want to take it easy? There are no excuses that hold water, are there? Personally, I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, but I don’t want to feel I have to have one or I’m not part of the program.

One of the things I love about cycling is that, like walking, it doesn’t have to be a challenge. My trike, Kermit, sits in the hall and when I feel like it I can wheel him out and set off on an adventure of any size: small, medium, or large. I can go fast or slow, ten kilometres or two hundred kilometres, depending how I feel. Most bikes, despite what manufacturers say, will do almost anything you want to within reason.

Some people love gathering and disseminating information about their endeavours. Take a look at the popularity of Strava. This is great, so long as it doesn’t take over your enjoyment or leave you feeling inadequate because you are always slowest on that segment or around that route. Strava provides you with endless routes and challenges that you can download and follow. My personal preference is to look at my maps and find my own way, but that takes more time and is less easy to follow, in comparison to a GPS track.

If you are recovering from or living with a serious mental health condition, the last thing your mind and body need, in my opinion, is to be continually hammered by the demands of a serious training programme. Structure your riding to get to where you want to be but learn to listen to and respect what you hear back from your body and mind. It’s relatively easy to go out and bury your emotions in a vat of feel-good chemicals that are produced during exercise. These chemicals help us stay healthy and are important to short and long-term physical and mental health. If you start to rely on them to escape the day-to-day emotional roller coaster of poor mental wellbeing then you may be heading for trouble. In my experience, those buried treasures will always come back to haunt you if you don’t deal with them.

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Time spent walking or riding is time well spent and your body/mind will thank you for it.

Resting is not a sin. When you train or work hard on your bike, your body and mind get distressed and damage occurs in your muscles. Resting allows this to mend and then you adapt to a new and higher level. You can then go out and work hard again, knowing that your body is moving forward and getting stronger. Training effect is strengthened by a proper resting regime, not just during the workouts you complete.

I’m a leisure cyclist and I’m happy to say that there seems to be an ever-increasing number of people who do the same thing. Old, young, large, small, just about everyone can ride a bike or trike. Thousands of people are taking up cycling and many use it for the sole purpose of being a bit fitter, more mindful and getting some fresh air. You don’t have to be a racing snake to enjoy riding a bike. Somebody told me last year that I look like I need to do more miles. I bit my tongue, knowing that they had no clue as to my story or the effort I make to keep cycling regularly. Clearly, they still had those age-old blinkers on of what cycling is and what constitutes a cyclist.

I also advocate what I call practical cycling. I’m lucky enough to have the time to go shopping using Kermit, even though it’s nearly sixteen kilometres each way. I book my doctor’s appointments to coincide with these journeys, but often end up making a separate one, also by trike. These are like extra treats, mini-adventures. I look forward to hooking up the trailer and going shopping. It has become an important part of the routine I often mention here. It is a marker for my health. Less cycling usually ties in with poorer health, and visa-versa. It helps me monitor how to go about my week and I can plainly see when I progress or when I need to slow down. More than that, the space it creates on the way to the shops makes shopping a pleasure, rather than a chore.

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Nobody was around on this day. It was just us, our trikes and one another perfect 🙂

My ride isn’t mainstream either. More and more people seem to be turning to recumbent bikes and trikes. The one thing many find off-putting is the cost of joining the recumbent crowd. It cannot be helped, although good recumbent bikes and trikes, like those from AZUB, are gaining a strong foothold. The low numbers of sales don’t allow companies the economies of scale in the way the mainstream market does. But the market seems to resist as well. I am a member of Cycling UK, which supports and reports on every type of cycling there is. Even so, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge recumbents in any way at all. Other top cycling magazines don’t either. It’s a dark art, the unmentionable at club runs. At sporting events, recumbents have to start from the back. Why? Some are as fast as road bikes and with a good rider, who knows what they can do? They’ve won the RAAM (Race Across AMerica) in various categories.

I understand that recumbents aren’t for everybody, but the comfort factor is so great that, along with the wonderful forward view and stability of three wheels, I’m surprised how few choose to go down this route unless they are forced to by poor physical health. Uprights are not comfortable, you just adjust to the discomfort and your mind switches off the nerves that relay how uncomfortable it is to your brain.

Cycling media journalists would most likely say that recumbents are such a minority thing. Perhaps the bicycle industry isn’t quite ready for them. ‘They are no good up hills’, I hear you say. I reject that. They are about the same as any other bike of the same weight. The reality to me is that people want to emulate their heroes. There’s nothing wrong in that and it suits the industry well. They can sell next years ‘must have’ items to the clambering masses at vast expense having given it to the top riders to promote desire. Manufacturers are constantly redefining cycle-parts, so we keep on buying them. The days of standard bottom brackets and other parts are truly gone, sadly.

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Michele enjoying the Taw estuary between Barnstaple and Braunton on a cold winter day

That may sound a little cynical, but remember that recumbents were banned from all UCI (Cycling sports governing body) events in the 1930s. Why? Because they kept winning and were considered cheating. I heard the same argument from a friend when Guy Martin and another rider broke the world tandem record on a covered recumbent trike. It’s cheating, he vehemently argued. You can’t have it both ways folks. Either they can’t climb, or they can. Either they are competitive, or not. (They are probably not competitive in race terms now with the lack of racing cycle industry development over many years.) Overall, I doubt there is much difference between recumbents and the rest, but for touring comfort there is NO comparison to an upright cycle.

But none of that is why I ride one. I ride recumbent because it allows me to relax in ways that you cannot imagine riding upright. My battered body and mind need to be looked after and Kermit goes a long way to ensuring that happens. With my body so relaxed, my mind tends to follow suit. That means I often get lost in the riding in a way that is restorative and helpful to the cause. I trundle along in joyous  comfort, without a care in the world. This helps me maintain better mental health and helps prevent further collapses of my mind.

Just recently I started taking rests where I never would on a bike, perhaps because I could on a recumbent bike. I began stopping on hills, horror. It isn’t to do with not being able to climb the hill, it’s more about the fact that I can stop. It helps me to open my eyes to my surroundings, rather than grinding away until the top is reached. I stop, admire the view, let my heart rate settle and then set off again. It’s taken me many years to get to be able to allow myself to do this and the trike encourages it. It makes big climbs so much less of a challenge. Long may it last.

You may have guessed already that I’m a little in conflict with the competitive world we live in. For me, there is no desire to push hard, ride ultra-distances each day, go fast (other than downhill) or get anywhere quickly. Yes, I’m getting older, but I like to think I’m getting wiser with it. I recently noticed a put-down on Facebook (surprise). Somebody had completed the North Coast 500 in around a week. (This fabulous route is a 500 mile road route in Scotland that follows the coast, creating a wonderful cycle tour.) Somebody else had added that ‘the record is only x number of hours.’ Why did they do that? The time the group mentioned was less than half the time it would take me to cover the same distance. Who cares what the record is? It’s a great achievement for somebody, but irrelevant for most of us. This kind of snobbery can make it difficult (or even impossible) for somebody to own their own successes, an important part of staying motivated to continue making the effort to get out. While I understand that many people love competitive cycling, there is no reason for putting down another person’s efforts. Live and let live, has always been a kind of motto for me. There are as many ways to cycle as there are to cook potatoes and that’s a good thing to my mind. Who wants mash every day? Please don’t answer that.

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When it’s this beautiful outside, it helps you feel better inside.

When I was cycling in the Pyrenees, I received nothing but good will from the hundreds of road cyclists enjoying the mountains. That was despite the fact that I was towing a trailer and much slower than the other cyclists. Europeans seem to understand that we all love our cycling, even when we do it differently. It’s a healthy way of living and sharing that, should you ride through France, Germany, or many other places, will add to your enjoyment. I also see this on our shared trails and sometimes on the roads too, but I believe we are much more conservative about what a bike should look like than many other nations.

The wonderful thing about cycles is that there are so many different types that you are bound to find something that suits your purpose, needs and desires. For me, cycling is a fun and relaxing way to travel and pootle about. I love to tour my way and it matters not a jot how others might go about it. When I rode around Britain in 2011, I did it the only way that I could: slowly and with plenty of rest days. It suited me well although I have altered that a little bit for more recent tours, it remains much the same to this very day. I intend to keep it fun for as long as possible, and when that stops being the case I will go down the electric-assist route.

Until next time……………….apple-icon-76x76