We’ve been bitten by the Tour de France bug here in Central London. Of course, I didn’t get to see it, I was stuck in an extremely boring meeting, but walking along towards Embankment tonight, a lot of the roads were still closed, and the support vehicles were making their way to wherever support vehicles make their way when they’ve finished supporting events.
I admire cyclists. It’s good exercise, for one thing. You get to places quicker than you do by walking. Of course the trade off for that is that it’s harder going up a steep hill on a bicycle than it is if you are walking it. Another reason that I admire cyclists is that they take their lives in their hands when they cycle in Central London. Mind you, they can be a danger to other road users, car drivers and pedestrians alike. There are times when I’ve only narrowly escaped a collision with a cyclist.
I used to be able to ride a bike. That was a long time ago though, from about the ages of 7 to 16. I had the usual tricycle first of all. I still think there is a lot of merit in having a tricycle. Think about it, I could get a lot more shopping on one of those than I could balance on a bicycle, it would balance better.
Anyway, back to bicycles. My big brother got what we called a two-wheeler; I don’t remember exactly how old he was. Daft name, really, considering that the word bicycle means two wheels, but never mind. I remember it vividly. It was a beautiful red and yellow specimen and I was immensely jealous. If I was very good, he’d let me have a go on it, when I grew big enough. It may even have been handed down to me. We did things like that in our family.
Eventually, I got my own bike. I thought it was so grand. It was a proper girls’ bike, maroon in colour, without the cross bar, so you could wear a skirt with it, although frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to wear a skirt when riding a bike. I remember my Mum doing that though, and I suppose, back in Edwardian times, ladies didn’t wear jeans. Or trousers.
Actually, the first verifiable “bicycle” dates back to 1817 – the Draisine. It was quite a strange looking affair; it looks almost as though you’d walk along with it, which clearly defeats the object of the exercise.
From the 1820s to the 1850s, tricycles (see, I knew they were good) and quadracycles were en vogue. They looked a bit like two penny farthings attached back to front, but the penny farthing didn’t come into being until around 1870.
I don’t quite know when I stopped riding my bike; I suspect it was when I started work. About the same time that I discovered the joys of pubs and discos. (That’s what we called them back in those days.) All I know is that the last time I tried riding a bike it was an unmitigated disaster. I just managed to get off before I fell off.
Nowadays in London, we have what we call “Boris bikes.” Or Barclays Cycle Hire, as they are more correctly known, which have been in operation since 30 July 2010. A little known fact about the Boris bikes is that their riders are three times less likely to be injured per trip than cyclists in general. Strange the things you discover.
The Tour de France has come a long way since the very first race back in 1903, when it was run in six stages, each averaging 400km (compared with roughly 171km today). The first tour ran the following route:
Paris – Lyons
Lyons – Marseilles (the only stage with mountains)
Marseilles – Toulouse
Toulouse – Bordeaux
Bordeaux – Nantes
Nantes – Paris
And then, in 1974, the French allowed the Tour to come here. It seems our British xenophobia put the organisers off for quite some time. Apparently, the participants fell foul of the immigration authorities. The Tour came here so that the artichoke growers from Brittany could market their produce.
Still, they’ve obviously not held a grudge, they let it come back again in 2007, and now, again, this year. Maybe 2021 next time?
©Susan Shirley 2014