Pure freedom: Only on a bike ride
Becky's love of cycling has not only changed her life, it has shaped who she is. Despite being violently hit by a careless taxi-driver in 2013, she wasn't deterred from doing the thing that gave her most happiness. Her inspirational story is a testament to how resilient people do not let adversity define them, rather they find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and fear as a temporary state of affairs. Here's her inspiring story:
Everyone has a story about a bicycle. And here is mine. In fact it seems to be the story of my life, with my two wheels becoming both my compass and north star as I drift further into it all.
It started with an eager first day at school, where a trip and tumble on the pavement won me the coveted little back seat on my friend’s mum’s bicycle and a free ride to the school gate. Despite that first brush with the easy freedom of the bicycle, I spent all my school years — save the standard issue cycling proficiency test — in the back seat of a car. The only other exception was our annual summer pilgrimage to southwest France, which saw the kitchen sink, along with five bikes and a vintage windsurfer bundled onto the back and top of the car. Once installed on the continent we enjoyed two weeks of pure two-wheeled freedom.
It must be those simple practical pleasures of riding to the beach or the boulangerie that nudged me back onto my bike when I left home. Like many students I started cycling as matter of practicality. Faster and cheaper than the bus, it afforded you an extra drink in the pub and a bit more time under the duvet the following morning. And it turns out the days when you get soaked to the skin are actually much fewer than you’d imagined. Coming from a childhood of back-seat commuting, the sheer sense of freedom that came with self- powered transport was addictive, and the timing was perfectly matched with flying the nest and starting a new independent chapter in my life.
On leaving uni I upgraded by old Raleigh mountain bike for a nippy turquoise Kona hybrid on the cycle to work scheme; it was almost a proper road bike but I was too scared to go the whole way with drop handlebars and I liked the colour anyway. I suddenly found myself riding 24 miles up and down along the Sussex coast to work and back. The first day felt quite intrepid and I had no idea if I would make it, but it’s strange how quickly you assimilate new challenges. It soon became the best hour of my day riding out along the coast. On leaving my job — but not the bike — I joined a couple of friends who thought it would be fun to cycle down through France to Spain. They were right. Three weeks flew by and again I was amazed at how far you could travel on your own steam. Its the journey not the destination rang true over and over.
Moving to London in 2010 it felt only natural to get around by bike. Despite the sometimes angry, heavy motor traffic in the capital, and my worried Mum, I am still an advocate of the freedom that a bike affords you in the city. Different to a liberating sea-air ride in Sussex, the urban roads demand a level of concentration that hones the senses, making synchronized rhythms of movement from eyes and ears down to your legs and out through the wheels as you slip easily through the streets.
This was how I rolled everyday until summer of 2013 when I was struck violently by a careless taxi and ended up in the back of an ambulance. I was lucky though, with a few stitches in my leg and a beaten up helmet, I walked home the same day. My poor bike was
less fortunate though and would need significant repairs and new parts to be road worthy again. It didn’t stop me though. Enter Squeak, a rusty old rust bucket of a bike, an old faithful left to me by a recently departed flat mate. Now was her time, and I was up and sailing round the city again in a couple of weeks, albeit a bit slower. I was free again! And it felt great. A year later I was awarded enough compensation to repair my beloved Kona and then I was really back in business.
By this time I had moved back to my university hometown of Brighton. It felt so good to be back by the sea, but so small! I was barely turning the pedals a dozen times before I was in town. I wasn’t getting my fix in the same way that you do around London, so I decided to step it up a notch. Over the next two years, I made friends with a local social group of road cyclists and discovered the network of country lanes that crisscross up and over the South Downs out of Brighton, into the villages of East and West Sussex, beyond into Kent and Surrey, and even back up to London. I remember the very first ride I went out with them: a loop leading west out of Brighton along the coast road to Shoreham-by-Sea, then inland and back east towards Brighton. Fortunately for me it was a foggy Sunday in October, otherwise I would have felt rather intimidated pedaling off the back of the group up the steep climb of Devil’s Dyke back into Brighton. Hills are now my friend though and I was even lucky enough to enjoy a few mountain passes in the Alps this summer. I am still a scaredy-cat going down, but I enjoy a good climb when I’m on it, and the reward of the euphoric summit with its precious, transitory views down to the sea or wherever the horizon lies.
I’m going to miss these rides deeply now that I am moving back to London again. Twice a week we push out over the South Downs or along the coast, letting the day’s worries fly off us, and letting our legs take over. It feels wonderful and liberating.
Becky Miller @beckymiller33 Sept 2016 #OnlyOnABikeRide