My journey into cycling

Hi, my name’s Andy Henderson and I’ve just taken over from Sue Underwood as chair of Cycle Hayling.

Today, I’m a keen cyclist but until a few year’s ago I hadn’t cycled since I was a teenager. I thought you might be interested in my journey into cycling.

My dad bought me a bike when I was about ten. I don’t remember much about it. It was a Hercules with 26 inch wheels – far too big for me at the time. It had three gears but changing gear meant getting off the bike and physically lifting the chain onto the new gear. I didn’t do that very often. I am the oldest of five brothers so the pressure was on me to learn first. I don’t remember having training wheels. Dad’s idea of teaching me was pushing the bike down the garden – which worked. In South East London, there wasn’t much opportunity for cycling. We had a park nearby and part of it was set aside as a play street area with road markings, zebra crossings and a crossroads in the middle. That was fun. It’s no longer there, unfortunately. Otherwise, I didn’t use the bike much – I think it must of got handed down to one of my brothers.

My next cycling experience was vicarious. Margaret and I bought my eldest daughter’s first bike when she was four or five. It came with training wheels, but she didn’t use them much. I loosened them off until it was clear she was ready. I took them off altogether and away she went. I can still remember the expression of achievement and independence on her face. Later we bought her a bike so she could cycle to school. We were living in Ewell at the time so traffic was a major issue, but there was a relatively traffic-free route to school. I’m sure that helped her gain confidence and independence for later life. Not surprisingly I am a strong supporter of the Cycle Hayling ‘Safe cycle routes to school‘ campaign. Teaching my younger daughter to cycle was more difficult – a lot more difficult. She had trouble allowing her instincts to take over, instead she tried to control the bike through conscious thought; and that doesn’t work. Through considerable perseverance (hers and mine) she finally cracked it and was also able to cycle to school. I tried to keep their bikes in good order but – without the internet – I was just muddling through.

My first attempt to ride a bike since I was a teenager came just six years ago. Margaret and I had seen our youngest daughter off to university (Trinity College, Cambridge – no less) and it was time to move somewhere new. My mother was living in Chichester so we decided to look around that area of the south coast. We sold up and moved into a flat in Gunwharf Quays that we used as a base for searching for a new home. The flat had a bike store so we used it to store Margaret’s and the children’s bikes. We decided one day to take a trip down the prom. I don’t think we could have gone much more than a mile, but it seemed a massive achievement at the time. Eventually, we managed to get as far as Southsea pier!

Our search for a new home ended in Bacon Lane, Hayling Island. We took over the keys on Christmas Eve 2007 and we’ve been very happy with the move. We’ve managed to make a lot of new friends in a short time.

Margaret and I occasionally cycled around the island. Margaret more than me. I’ll admit we used the pavements rather than some of the busier roads. It was either that or not cycle at all – we were both very nervous of traffic. We were conscious we shouldn’t have been there and always gave way or dismounted when we encountered pedestrians. I’m still equivocal about pavement cycling. Neither I nor Margaret do it any more, but I think it was an essential part of my journey into cycling. I do sympathise, however, with people that find cyclists on pavements to be intimidating, and I hate seeing it done inconsiderately or unnecessarily.

As part of the move to the coast, I decided not to actively continue my IT company and thought it might be interesting going back to a 9-to-5 for a change. I ended up at SSE and – when it moved offices to Penner Road (round the back of Langstone Technology Park) – I saw my opportunity to start cycle-commuting. I bought a cheap full-suspension bike from Halfords and headed up the Billy Trail each day. 5 miles each way. I wasn’t sure I could manage it at first, but it soon became a way of life. People noticed I lost weight, I felt fitter than I had in years. I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to go far on the roads so I was fortunate I didn’t have to use them much. Given the state of the Billy Trail, mud and sand were an inevitable part of the experience. I’m sure that a better surface – and creation of North-South routes suitable for all Hayling Islanders – would significantly increase the number of cycle-commuters reducing congestion and tail-backs caused by motorists having to queue behind cyclists on our narrow, bendy main roads.

I saved a ton of money not having to have a separate car or use the buses. SSE ran a tax-saving ‘Cycle to work’ scheme so – when the opportunity came – I decided to splash out on a much better bike. I’d run my previous one into the ground (no-one told me that chains stretched and – without attention – would destroy my gears). I therefore decided to read up on bike maintenance so I could look after my new bike properly. I’m pleased I did. I found some of the videos on YouTube especially helpful. You can see some of these in the ‘Bike Maintenance‘ section of the Cycle Hayling web site.

Margaret and I had been on a number of walking holidays, and we decided to look at a cycling holiday. A trip around Langstone harbour (we’d never been that far before) gave us the confidence we could manage 20-30 miles each day so we signed up for a tour around the Loire valley. Some days were hot, others were wet, but we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. French roads are fantastic and we had no trouble navigating. Our cases were transported for us, so all we had to do was enjoy the ride – cycling gives you the opportunity to take in the scenery, and time to stop and stare. We followed that up with a tour round Lake Constance (in one day we travelled through three countries) and then a tour round Suffolk. It’s Norfolk this year.

Me and my road bike
Ready for my next ride out into the countryside

Last year, I finally decided to stop working. I was uncertain whether it was the right thing to do, but took the plunge anyway. I’d heard about the CTC (Cyclist’s Touring Club) from near neighbour Robert Sebley and decided to go one one of their short rides. I really enjoyed it – both the company and being taken through low traffic routes into the South Downs Country Park. I decided to try one of the longer Wednesday and Saturday rides with the intention of coming back after the coffee stop, but I felt OK and was encouraged to go on knowing that the group wouldn’t leave someone behind. I didn’t look back and I’m now a regular rider. I bought a road bike (and, yes, some Lycra – padded shorts are very handy for longer rides) and this year I’m off to Holland with the Hayling Cycle Ride, having done the Bristol to Langstone ride earlier this month.

I still regard myself as a nervous cyclist on the road. I’m a lot more confident than I used to be, but I’ll go out of my way (literally) to avoid fast, heavy traffic. I don’t think that’s altogether a bad way to be. I’m hearing a lot about the ‘war’ between motorists and cyclists. I’m pleased to report that doesn’t match my experience of riding on the roads. Sure there are impatient motorists, people speeding and drivers who seem to think they can see around corners! But the majority of motorists I come across are considerate and I see many examples of drivers going out of their way to help us on the CTC rides. For my part, I try to follow the rules of the road and I try not to antagonise other road users. I’m only human, though, so I appreciate tolerance when I make mistakes. I try to be tolerant of others in return.

I hope that you found my journey interesting and – if you are new to cycling – it encourages you on your own journey wherever it leads you. In my new role, I won’t forget what it was like when I started out. Hayling Island is in many ways an ideal place to cycle. Cycle Hayling works to improve the cycle provision so that everyone has the opportunity to improve their health, wealth and happiness through cycling. If you support what we’re doing, please sign up for our newsletter. It won’t cost you anything and there’s no obligation. You’ll be helping us with our campaigning. Go on, do it now.


2 Replies to “My journey into cycling”

  1. Very nice article, Andy!

    The trouble is that I have been cycling for so long that it is tricky to put myself into the saddle of a person new to the activity – so it’s refreshing to have an article like that, which might encourage new riders

    1. Hi Paul, I have an Old Pennine road bike which when stickers removed Has Paul Fisher signed on the cross bar towards the Handle bars, I was wondering if this could be you as I know it was a team race bike?


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