Monday, May 21, 2012


When I was ten years old, my dad decided on the spur of the moment that we would go to London, on our bikes. At the time we lived in Cambridge and London was about 50 miles (80 kilometres) away. I don't remember if the plan had always been to get as far as London or whether we just kept going, but to London we did get, after about 6 hours of pedalling and a long pub lunch in the middle. About the only thing I do remember clearly was the feeling of lead in my legs after that lunch. I think we even had the idea of going back home by bike but, in the end, we caught the train from Finsbury Park.

This trip became a bit of a legend in our household to the point that my brother also made the pilgrimage with my dad when he turned 10, 8 years after I had done it. The feeling of achievement was fantastic although, for some reason, I never thought of it as a "sporting achievement" - that is, not until now. In fact, it was 5 years later before I even understood the concept of endurance sports - for me, sport was synonymous with "games". In team sports I excelled in the skill of looking like I gave a shit when in fact I did not. Having spent all of my life up to that point in Cambridge in a family with no car (neither of my parents can drive), I was used to getting around everywhere by bike so it was perhaps not as crazy as it might sound to ride 80 kilometres without any kind of specific preparation. The bike was not a leisure or sporting activity: it was a means of transport. It was my freedom.

My eldest son is about to turn 10 and I thought that it would be nice to try to continue the tradition. Unlike me and my brother, he lives in a place where not having a car would be the equivalent to not having shoes so he doesn't have the background training that we had. Once, a couple of years ago, we went from Pozuelo to Majadahonda and back through the forest - some 10 kilometers. He was tired (his bike didn't have gears) but very proud to have done it. Why is it that kid's bikes these days are so heavy? If it tips out of balance while he is stopped, the weight is more than he can manage and the bike crashes to the ground. Do they really need a replica mountain bike? I have had to disable the front derailleur because it was too confusing and unnecessary to have so many gears. Now, if I were to buy him a racing bike like the one I used to have, it would cost a small fortune.

We have quite a long time before he turns 10 in November so we can train for it. My idea is to complete a full circuit of Madrid cycling along the "Anillo Verde" which is more or less the same distance as Cambridge to London (if you include the bit to and from our house).

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