Everyday cycle chic

This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 151.

Blogger Claire Wilson leaning against a historic Cambridge college next to a bike with wicker basketI reluctantly moved from London to Cambridge in 2006 with the caveat of getting a bike as soon as I arrived. A reliable Raleigh city bike with a basket was the perfect first bike for getting used to the compact city and its cycle paths.

It was amazing how quickly I enjoyed the freedom of biking and for 15 years now I’ve relied on cycling as my number one mode of transport. I’ve since tried road bikes, spin bikes, tandems, folding bikes and e-bikes. Exploring on a bike is definitely one of my favourite ways of making memories. I even started a new blog called Cycles and Satchels in 2020 to document some of my cycling adventures and life in Cambridge.

For the last 12 years, I’ve lived on Riverside and for 10 of those have been lucky enough to have a commute along the river path. I love that I can stop for a coffee one moment, then spot a heron amongst the rowers the next. The vibrancy of the river path is always a highlight of my days on the bike.

Like many locals, I make the most of the green spaces in the city as apartment living often means little outdoor space. My phone is filled with photos of beautiful sunsets across the meadows, when I’ve stopped my bike just to soak it all in. You can’t beat the Fenland skies on a bike ride. Also, I will never tire of the ‘traffic’ on the commons when the cows decide the cycle path is where they want to congregate for the day. It beats sitting on the Tube in London!

Cycling has been a part of my life every day in Cambridge. I’ll use my city bike for the quick ten-minute commute and trips to the market for groceries. Florence’s big wicker basket helps with carrying items. She’s a reliable, sturdy bike … I do wonder how many miles she’s managed over the years!

New challenges

Red road bike in front of graffitied wall on the busway pathIn Lockdown 1.0 I decided to take up road biking. I’d attended spin classes in the gym for a good few years and felt that I wanted to get some longer rides in and explore a little further afield than the city centre. To build up my confidence, I started heading north on the Busway cycle path. Initially some short rides to Longstanton and back, then a bit further afield to St Ives (a 30-mile round trip from my apartment). What struck me about the longer rides on the Busway was the switch-off it gave my brain. There’s not a huge amount to see and of course it’s very flat, but that gave me the chance to work on some sprints (and invest in some bib shorts and new jerseys!).

Christmas 2020 was of course a strange one for all of us. I realised that with restrictions and my family in Tier 4 in another county, I would be spending Christmas alone. I decided to plan an alternative Christmas in Cambridge and create a cycle tour to visit my friends in their gardens throughout the day. They all welcomed me with a distanced drink or snack and I managed 12 very cold miles on the road bike. I ventured to Histon, Fen Ditton, Orchard Park and Milton Road with numb toes and lots of festive cheer by the time I returned home.

Back in mid-December, I had signed up to cycle 500km to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK after spotting a Facebook advert for a cycling challenge. I knew it would be tough with lockdown restrictions only allowing exercise outside once a day, but I figured it would keep me fit and motivated to raise money for a good cause. I lost my Grandad in 2020 after he battled with dementia, so it felt like a fitting tribute as he was a cyclist in his younger days too.

Many of the cycle trips I took were in icy or windy conditions so it certainly tested my resilience as well as my leg power! I cycled with a friend when restrictions allowed and got some miles in on an indoor spin bike too. I explored new cycle paths, went along my trusty Busway many times, and I raised over £750 in two months. I never thought I would be completing a winter cycling challenge in a pandemic, but it’s amazing what you can achieve if you set your mind to it.

For now I’m back to the daily commute on Florence and enjoying stopping for a coffee in the mornings beside the river. I’m sure I’ll be enjoying some more road biking in the summer months, perhaps to the south of the city which I haven’t explored much on a bike. In the meantime, I’ve discovered the ‘Assault Bike’ in the gym. As my trainer says, ‘it’s a tough and humbling bit of kit’. Even if you think you have power in the legs, your lungs might not match up!

Blogger Claire Wilson sitting on the wall by the Mill Pond with her road bike

Follow Claire’s adventures on her blog at cyclesandsatchels.com