My bike is sitting in the shed at the moment, it has a flat tire, slack breaks, and last week I noticed some small rust spots on the frame. I know how to fix a puncture, but over the last few months I’ve struggled to find the time. I’ve moved house and my boxed up belongings have been shifted from place to place. My bike tools have across London; following the path of a relationship breakdown, thesis submission, new job, new relationship, new home. They now sit in the front cabin, in one of my dad’s Carrimor front panniers that he gave me three years ago because they would fit the back of my small folding bike.
My first bike was a Rayleigh Apple, it was bright red with a white plastic box on the back. I loved it. I remember the stabilisers that were uneven and so never touched the ground at the same time. I remember my dad holding the back of the seat when they were taken off and the feeling of being pushed along slightly faster than felt safe, never quite sure that I wasn’t going to fall off. One day he must have let go and that’s how I learnt to ride a bike.
My dad cycled everywhere when we were younger. Every trip we made as a family, every visit to my grandma’s or holiday to Wales, my mum would drive one of our ever changing cars, me and two sisters in the back, and my dad would follow on his bike with loaded panniers. He’d often arrive a few hours or days later as he took detours, met up with friends and settled down in picturesque camping spots for the night. The inside of the kitchen door always had several pieces of graph paper cello-taped to them and he would plot out the miles he’d cycled each day in neat pencil markings. ‘I’ve bin ’ere on me bike’ is his enduring catchphrase. One of the strongest memories of my childhood is one that shifts across time and place - my dad working on a bike in the kitchen, utility room or driveway of one of the various houses we lived in. Although the setting slightly altered each time, the scene is the same: a bike, upside down with its various parts removed, towels and tools spread across the floor, my dad knelt down absorbed in his task of maintaining one of his bikes – the Claud Butler or the Mercian were our favourites. I can remember the smell and sound of him cleaning his hands with washing up liquid and no water - a potent mix of oil, grease and fairy liquid.
I sometimes think that if I’d been a boy I’d have been down there with him, sorting through the tools, learning how everything works, fixing up the bike, rather than walking past, stepping over the parts scattered all over the floor and trying not to trip. If I’d asked to learn, my dad wouldn’t have said no, but I think, if I were a boy, I would have just been there. I feel like I know so much, yet so little about bikes. My dad’s bikes were everywhere when I was younger; they still fill the house now. My own bikes were usually his old ones – my Claud Butler was stolen when I was in Cardiff because I’d forgotten that I’d cycled into town and so left it there overnight. Another is still in the bike shed at the flat I used to share with my ex-partner, both wheels missing because he’d not locked it up properly. And my Dahon, sitting in the bike shed at my new home, with its flat tire. I’ve never quite managed to maintain a bike.
One of my favourite photographs of me and my dad is us both on our bikes, alongside his friend Chris, before they set off on a big ride. I’m in-between the two cyclists, sitting on my older sister’s blue Rayleigh Princess and smiling proudly. When I look at this photograph I imagine that my dad and Chris are about to set off for Lands’ End - John O’ Groats. This isn’t the case, I’m too young and we’re outside my first home, in the midlands. But I think the pride in the little girl’s face echoes the pride I feel that my dad made that journey a few years later, and so that is what the photograph has become. Cycling is part of who my dad is. It’s always been a connection point between us. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to admit that I’m a fair-weather cyclist who can’t find the time to fix a puncture.
Words by Carly Guest, Image belongs to the Author.