I have always hated cars. I was born pedaling, brought up pedaling and, when old enough to choose my freedom machine at 17, I chose a bicycle over driving lessons. Cue my late teens and early twenties cruising from A to B on my bicycle to get to school, to get to university, to get to work.
Living in London I became used to the road as a battleground between cars, pedestrians, taxis, buses & cyclists. The cyclist was the social deviant, breaking social norms and expressing freedom in contrast to those claustrophobic metal boxes that people stuck in the rat race insist on driving. Even if I had to breathe in their fumes and get hit every now and then (three times in six years to be precise) I was happier on my bicycle than stuck in the never ending traffic queue.
On long university summer holidays I escaped the city and trundled around the country with my bike, a tent and a set of panniers. I discovered an interest in sustainable living, I vowed never to fly or drive a car, I became vegetarian and did my best to spread the word.
After eking out my time as a student for five years I caved in and got myself a proper full time job. It was for an environmental charity and, true to form, I cycled to work every day. The cause was great but the lifestyle was dull: wake-up, commute, work, 1 hour of sunlight, work, commute, sleep. I looked forward to my twice daily 40 min commute through heavy traffic. It was my adrenaline boost, my endorphin release, the part of the day when I felt most alive.
I needed another outlet. I turned to racing. I joined a team and started to travel longer distances to races. It used to be the after-work evening crit race. Now it was an early weekend start and an 8 hour round trip to get to somewhere far away. And that journey was only ever really feasible in car. I became reliant on teammates for lifts, feeling more and more guilty the more I couldn’t offer to return the favour.
The increased exercise also led to dangerous steak cravings and soon after I met Lee, a lean meat-eating racing machine (also resident in the same office as me). That was the end of vegetarianism. Then Lee tempted me onto a plane for the first time in a year to go cycling in the Dolomites (the previous year was for my team training camp in Mallorca, before that I hadn’t flown for 8 years).
That opened the floodgates for subsequent weeks away in the sun all made possible by flying. The cycling was glorious. The carbon footprint was not. I was conflicted. I wanted to travel, I wanted to cycle in new sunshiny places, I wanted to race all around the UK. Instead of part of a sustainable lifestyle cycling was leading to me abandoning long held values.
Two years ago we moved to Girona and with it came the end of the need to escape to exotic locations to cope with day to day life. But instead I was flying regularly to the UK to race, travelling long distances in cars, living the dream and cycling full time.
Now we have Eat Sleep Cycle and I have a local team to race with. I have less need to travel – just to see family in the UK and everything is a bit more sensible. But I still rely on others to get to races and I lean heavily on Lee and Brian to provide the vehicle support our trips. And in short, it just isn’t fair.
Learning to drive is the final letting go of my 17 year old self. It’s an acceptance that a van is a necessary evil of doing what we do, that a car is the sacrifice that comes with bike racing, and that it’s time to grow up and stop relying on others.
Now all I have to do is master the theory test in Spanish and how to actually drive!