Like many Bristolians, I’m adjusting to our new way of living, and one of the things that I miss most is my regular exercise fix.
Lunchtime yoga classes and my usual trips to Circomedia for trapeze classes aren’t an option, so I needed something to fill the gap.
In the words of my chiropractor, my body isn’t built for running, but I do own a bike that hasn’t been used for more time than I’m happy to admit.
So, a few days into the lockdown, I dusted it off and asked the bike shop around the corner to give it a tune-up. A quick tweak of the gear cable, a lube of the chain and it was ready – but was I?
You see, the reason my bike has languished in the garage for so long was because I find Bristol’s roads to be just too scary. I tried to cycle to work a few years before, but a combination of busy roads and some drivers who passed too close had put me off.
Even trying to use only cycle lanes hadn’t worked, as sometimes they just disappeared when the road narrowed and I needed them most.
But with limited lockdown options I had to get over my fears, so I stiffened my resolve, donned my helmet and fetching hi-viz Sam Brown sash and decided to head to the park for some practice.
After initial wobbliness, I found that it was, well, like riding a bike! Time to get out there.
I knew that the lockdown had meant that the roads were quieter, but I wasn’t ready for just how much quieter they were going to be.
Fewer cars meant that I was much more visible, so when cars did come along they gave me plenty of space, far more than I remember getting on previous rides – perhaps they were social distancing!
I also had lots of cheery smiles from other cyclists, all keeping their distance but helping me to feel less alone.
That first ride didn’t just grow my confidence, but it also gave me such a buzz that I’ve tried to get my daily exercise on my bike ever since. The quiet roads have given me the freedom to go and explore new parts of Bristol.
I’ve visited back streets that I would normally have driven past and found small shops and cafes that I resolve to visit when this is all over.
But the biggest difference cycling has made hasn’t been for me – it’s been for my son. When my husband and I first explained to our two-year-old about the “virus” and why playgrounds would now be shut, he was naturally a bit upset and then became a bit agoraphobic, only wanting to play in our garden. This was fine from a lockdown point of view but as a very active boy of nearly three, this wasn’t enough exercise for him.
With my newfound two-wheeled confidence, I splashed out on a front fitting child’s seat for my bike so I could take him out with me. He now sits up front chatting away and talking about all the things he can see.
The combination is great; I get some exercise while we head to our local woods or the playing fields, and he can play to his heart’s content when we get there, as well as having fun along the way.
The one dark spot on the horizon is that I know that this won’t last. Don’t get me wrong, seeing the end of Covid-19 and the end of the lockdown will be wonderful, but it will mean a return to busy roads, congestion and me feeling scared on my bike.
I don’t want to go back to commuting on the bus; I want to ride my bike and turn my commute into my exercise. I want to be able to safely take my son around town on my bike without needing to ferry him everywhere in the car.
And I’m not alone in wanting this. Lots of my friends have also used the quieter roads to get back onto their bikes, and the stories I’ve heard of newfound confidence and fun have been really inspiring. When the lockdown is over, I don’t want our city to return to being congested, polluted and unsafe.
So what can I and others like me do about this? A quick browse online led me to the Bristol Cycling Campaign, a local grassroots group who want to make Bristol a happier, healthier city.
I never thought I’d be a cycling campaigner, but I’ve paid my money and pledged support to help build a city where cycling is the norm and everyone who wants to get on their bike can feel safe and confident in doing so.
Helen Webster is a journalist, wife and mum in her 30s. She works in the city centre and lives in Brislington.
Main photo: Steven Webster