Tour De Yorkshire: The Prequel

When I first went to primary school between the ages of five and eleven, it was normal for kids to walk to school. We lived on the extreme edge of town with fields and farmland on one side and the urban edge of town on the other side. My walk was around three miles – most of which was along a ‘tongue’ of countryside that penetrated into the urban world. It was a very pleasant walk to and from school; I used to see the seasons come and go and the various flocks of birds that came and went. In autumn and winter, huge flocks of lapwings with beautiful plumes on their heads would fill the field I walked across. Starlings used to arrive from northern Europe and Russia and form huge flocks that seemed to fill the sky. They arrived in autumn and left in spring. Walking to school was interesting; every day was different and I enjoyed it.

Originally our school had been a village school and so had a quite big catchment area and many, if not most, of my classmates lived five or six miles away from my home. This made meeting and playing with them after school a bit of a challenge when the only way of getting around was by walking.

I had learned how to ride a two wheel bike before I went to school on an old tiny ‘fairy bike’ that sort of belonged to everyone but no one. The ‘training’ took place when all the kids in the area, who were mostly much older than me, decided that I was big enough and marched me to the top of a quite steep hill, gave me lots of tips and instruction with everyone talking at me at the same time, sat me on the bike and launched me down the hill. The bike gathered speed very quickly and I still have the remains of a scar in the middle of my forehead resulting from head-butting the road which terminated that first ride in pain, tears and blood. Over the following days I was re-launched several times and quickly gained a sense of balance and was able to stay in the saddle from top to bottom of the hill and even navigate the sharp bend at the bottom to avoid going into the river. The collective decision among the older kids was that I could now ride a bike.

I must have been about eight when my parents bought me my first bike. It was a ‘pre-owned’ black Hercules. It was a youths bike, much bigger than a child’s bike but not quite so big as a man’s bike. Looking back it was probably a bit big for me because I remember my dad bolting wooden blocks onto the pedals so that I could reach them and I could only put my feet on the ground by getting my bum off the saddle and settling my crotch onto the cross bar. I was immensely pleased and proud of my Hercules even though it was really heavy and had no gears. After my earlier initiation by the older kids I was stunned to find out that I could not ride a bike, I had learned to balance and not fall off as it sped down hill but I had never peddled and steered at the same time and never had to get up enough momentum to be able to throw my leg over the saddle in order to mount the bike. More bruising and bleeding occurred before I gave in and admitted that I could not ride.

My dad was very good, he ran up and down the street holding the back of my saddle to give me support as necessary until finally I could reach the end of the street turn round and peddle my way back without needing to put my feet down. After a week or two of supervised riding around the neighbourhood including signalling intended manoeuvres and practicing looking behind without wobbling before changing direction, I was declared fit to ride my bike.

Wow, nothing before or since has given me the same feeling of adventure and freedom. Not even my first car. Before Hercules arrived my only means of exploring and getting about was walking or by bus and I only went on the bus accompanied by my parents. With my bike I could now comfortably visit classmates homes and play with them in the area they lived, meet other kids that lived near them but did not go to our school – life was exciting and adventurous.

The school arranged a cycling proficiency test, some examiners marked out mock roads with junctions in chalk on the school playground. We were given formal classroom instruction on the highway code and road safety and general bike maintenance. Then one by one we were observed as we navigated the chalk roads on the playground. We were judged on our ability to control the bike, give appropriate signals and demonstrate that we were sufficiently aware and competent to be considered safe on the road. Those of us who passed were given a cycling safety certificate and a badge. Most boys, including myself, took a keen interest in mending, modifying and maintaining our bikes. By the age of nine most of us had learned how to mend a puncture, how to mend a broken chain by inserting a split link, how to strip down hub, wheel and steering bearings clean them and re-assemble with fresh grease.

In our last year at primary school, a little gang of us went on our best yet adventure.

Aged around 75, Male, Yorkshire
August 2018