Speed Queen

My friend Jan at Jahn1: Mainly Fair With A Chance Of Rain has made me consider a drastic departure form the norm. The purchase of a bycicle, and a move from from petrol to people power. But before I do: a repost about my on-off relationship with anything which can achieve speed.

I was not a great cyclist when I was younger.

Coincidentally, I am not a great cyclist now.

But briefly, roundabout my fourteenth year, it did dawn on me that this two wheeled contraption might be a good device with which to see a little more of the world.

I looked at the bike one day, while I was dressed in flares and tomboy tops, and I remember concluding: if I get on that and pedal, everything will pass me much faster.

So I began to pedal out with my brother Joe for company, through the lanes, past lych-gates and ploughed fields and beckoning barns. And it was good.

We gained in strength and tenacity, and tried further afield: but one day a puncture put paid to it all. We trudged the miles home, bitterly regretting the untamed enthusiasm with which we had put distance between ourselves and our house.

And that did it for me. Bicycles were instruments to be viewed with suspicion and used with extreme caution.

It would only be a few years until a driver’s license made speed possible once more: but the bicycle did have one last rapprochement during my ill-spent youth.

It came at university. My house was a stiff fifteen-minute walk from the campus, and the journey there was downhill virtually  all the way.

Of course, one can logically conclude that the journey back was almost all uphill.

Cheap speed on easy terms, that outward journey. But the way back from the campus was an arduous business. It required willpower: something which only appears in my life during a Perfect Storm.

And all the conditions for such a phenomenon were simply not present. So this is how I worked it: I would leave the departure for a lecture until the very, very last minute. Sometimes even later.

And then I would hop on the bike and fly like the wind past the little Victorian terraces, through the parochial high street; I would plummet down the hill by the 18th century parish church, and when I got to the bottom there would be enough momentum to propel me to the top of the steep inclinel and a level approach to campus.

If I was lucky, there would be just enough time to grab my music scores and attempt a haphazard dash into the theatre, where our music department was located. Mission accomplished, but breathlessly.

There really was nothing like that plunge downwards, and then upwards. I felt as if I was jumping on Mr Isaac Newton’s bandwagon, experiencing gravity as it really should be savoured. This was speed, and it was delicious.

On the way back, I got off and pushed. Simple as that.

Then I met cars.

My husband recalls an incident before we met properly, when he was sat in a traffic jam in the slow lane of a motorway on his route to work, snailing along. The fast lane was clear, but derserted, because the British are often a comparitively well-mannered race of drivers and everyone was waiting their turn.

And then, in the fast lane, at some unmentionable speed, I cannonballed past him. I was already at my desk by the time he rolled into the car park of our little newspaper’s offices. I am not proud of this incident.

But the advent of children changed everything.

I curbed my speed, because something formed a new regulator on haste. Nothing like a baby in the back to make you as effective as one of those advanced skills drivers.

These days my love of speed lives a vicarious life, through the filthiest and most disreputable member of the household.

My friends, who double as the dog’s harem, love to sit him at the gate which stands at the entrance to the forest.

They actually count down to his release when they are at their most merciless. The lead stays on while they go from five to one and the dog is a small muscly study of static energy about to blow. He positively crackles.

Taut, trembling, protesting, he can barely stand the anticipation. And then they let go, and he shoots, like a bullet out of a gun, up a nearly vertical rampart and down, away out of sight, to ditch some serious kinetic energy in the way he does best. Worry some squirrels, hassle a few muntjacks. And all at frantic speed.

It is an immensely satisfying sight. But these days, life has come full circle, and I watch him as I walk.

Someone, somewhere,  is still watching the world fly by. But I like to stand and stare.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia


49 thoughts on “Speed Queen

  1. I still get a childish thrill out of bicycles. They fill me with admiration for their sheer simplicity and effectiveness. Plus the Scotsman in me likes the fuel bill.
    In the Midlands we were halfway up a range of hills with a choice of the daily ride starting uphill or downhill. I always chose the latter. It was lovely to return at speed and with no more effort!
    I have found Britland wonderful for cycling. It is not often really serious about the hills it does, so with modern geared bikes one copes with ease. Also, the provision for cycles, and the consideration (fear?) shown by motorists,. makes it far more attractive than here where cyclists are regarded as something which should be converted to roadkill asap.

  2. Colonialist has it exactly – revisit those childish thrills, Kate!

    Bike technology means lighter bikes, smoother gears and a bit more excitement than the
    days of old. I’m speaking here as someone whose only childhood bike was a black post-war solid steel monster that was way too big for me.

    Just a short health warning (based on personal experience): be careful not to let your
    exhuberant enthusiasm exceed your physical capabilities. ahem.

    Love your description of the explosive power of Dog. One of the big pleasures of dog ownership, vicariously enjoying the wild-spirited joys of racing around like mad things.

      1. 🙂 Like minds? Specifically, watch out for acorns. You might think they are harmless but they assemble in numbers on woodland trails which you might conceivably be taking too fast and just refuse to give your tyres any grip at all while braking, I found.

  3. Going fast on a bike is so much more fun than speeding in a car. On a bike, 35 to 40 mph going down an incline is positively exhilarating, whereas 40 in a car feels soooo very, very slow.

    I must admit as a 16 year old, I once pushed the speedometer to 116 mph on an old Oldsmobile that ran on only 4 cylinders of 8. That was too fast and too silly for me even then.

    Now I drive pretty close to the speed limit and just stare at the crazy people flying by me on the way to work in the morning. What bozos, they will get there maybe two or three minutes before me, but, weave in and out of traffic and invariably wind up causing an accident.

    It is much more enjoyable to watch the world go by and people watching is one of my faves.

  4. Oh, you must revisit two wheels! I type this while getting a ride in…my road bike is anchored as a stationary til spring. The pup waits her turn for our play outside…speed, indeed! Best about biking to work or about? Fuel savings and built in workout ~

  5. Surprised me yet again! I saw the headline of your post in my in-box and thought we must be headed for a tale of an unruly washing machine! 🙂 http://www.speedqueen.com/home/en-us/about-us/history.aspx

    This was definitely a more entertaining choice — I could see you flying downhill enroute to classes, hair and coattails streaming behind. Personally, I’m not sure the gratification for speed attained in one direction would be sufficient to cancel out the drudgery of the uphill return.

    I looked at bikes last summer, but 1) they’ve gotten to be quite pricey; 2) in this geographic neck of the woods a bike is not a practical mode of transport for several months of the year, if you’re past the foolhardy stage of your life, that is–ice and snow do not make a smooth pathway; and, 3) I’m darn well aware that my good intentions (i.e., using a bike for exercise) seldom translate to great long-term follow through. So, think I’ll just enjoy visualizing you and that energetic terrier and leave it at that. 🙂

    1. Much of the above applies to me, I fear, Karen. However, never say never: and when Jan said her ‘poustinia’ was on her bike it stopped me short. Her writing about her rides is spellbinding and I just thought: why not?

      1. Ah, and now I’ll need to add Jan to my list of must reads!! I don’t know how some folks ever get anything else done, what with all this reading and writing comments (to say nothing of the researching that has to go into some of it).

  6. Get back on that bike! get an old one with a basket on the front, make like a granny and enjoy the air!! not is traffic tho, traffic hates slow bikes! c

  7. Utterley fabulous piece 🙂 I was a “biker” throughout my early days until my first winter at university and the prospect of a “dawnie” lecture at zero degrees. Never again – I would suggest biking in summer and four wheels in winter in your beautiful part of the world 🙂

  8. I used to cycle everywhere around Oxford, between Headington and Oxford especially – for he various hospitals…. Headington Hill, Divinity Road, Southfield Road…. and all those unavoidable other hills and it was a matter of honour never to get off! Difficult on the first bike with old fashioned Stermy Archer gears… only three of them!
    Now I only go out on my bike occasionally. but you have that forest: get a sturdy mixed frame, perhaps fo on road and off road riding. The kids will love you for it 🙂

    1. Good advice, Pseu. And coming from one married to a Cyclomaniac, it’s lovely to hear a bit about your antics on a bike for a change! Stermy Archer- I haven’t heard that name for years…since I last got on a bike, probably!

  9. MTM has an addiction, I mean, a problem, I mean, a hobby of collecting bikes and bike parts. His prized possessions are a BSA from the 1950’s that is in pristine condition and a custom racing bike from the 80’s built by British bike frame builder Dave Moulton. It is called the Widow Maker. It is red. I still do not care for my husband riding around on a thing called the Widow Maker.

    He bought me a Kronan our first Christmas together. I enjoy riding in dresses and fun hats, while he likes speed. I’m sure you can relate. 🙂

    I hope you’re getting another bike, Kate. I love the story of Phil’s noticing the back end of you in traffic, careening on your bike. Good for him.

    1. The Widow Maker! What a name! But it does sound like an amazing bike. one of a kind….I think I shall get that bike, and plan a route to school, and cycle around on days I don’t have to collect Al. It will be huge fun 😀

  10. I used to be an excellent cyclist, if I do say so myself, Kate. That was probably in Victorian times (or when I was younger!) When I cycle now, I have a tendency to forget to breathe, which doesn’t really help. And then, when I dismount, I can’t move for the following day or so. But yes, I fondly remember the sheer enjoyment of hurtling downhill at great speed, with the wind in my face and blowing through my hair… and then, less fondly, the return journey, with more breathlessness, a red face, and bad hair. 😀

  11. The trick with hils is to plan your route very very carefullly, most times you can avoid that uphill return albeit with a few added extra miles!

    Having said that, I too have a great love for fast cars that got somewhat stilted in the bud by the arrival of BabyMibs..maybe I’ll be one of the blue-rinse brigade in a few years time happily putting paid to all those “boy racers” out there! 😉

  12. And talking of routes, this is a very neat piece of software useful for planning routes and for recording them to see just how far you’ve been – and even a profile of the terrain you’ve pedalled.
    There’s also a version for runners – and for dog-walkers 🙂


  13. Kate, you may be standing and watching at this point – being the best example possible. ‘Tween you and me…just wait. Put a Porsche or Ferrari in your hands and I know where I’ll put my money!

  14. I’m not an enthusiast for speed, but I like anything that takes us out of our cars at least some of the time! You have fun! I hope your bike is a great color and has a bell! Be sure to share a picture! Debra

  15. I love cycling. I grew up, going to school and college on cycle. Regret that our roads are choked up with cars now, and we still don’t have cycle ways, in most cities. I’d love to live somewhere, where I can go around on a cycle. No cars for me. 🙂

    1. We’re lucky here: there is a culture of cycling and we have lots of cycle paths. Not to mention a huge forest. I hope one day you get to cycle to your hearts content, Banno 🙂

  16. I love speed, but reserve it for the race track. As for cycling – I got myself a bike 11 years ago and sold it last week, as I have used it less times than I can count on two hands 🙂

    1. Ah yes, Tandy, I forgot about your racing connections! What a coincidence that you sold your bike only last week…..I may be saying precisely what you are saying within a few months. Time will tell 🙂

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