Finding the time for a two-wheeled trip

As part of my strategy to become leaner, cleaner and greener, I have this year invested in a shiny new Land Rover. Before anyone starts accusing me of turning into a gas-guzzling 'Chelsea Tractor' maniac, intent on getting fatter and not fitter, I would point out that this Land Rover is not an adventurous family car but a sleek gent's bicycle.

As part of my strategy to become leaner, cleaner and greener, I have this year invested in a shiny new Land Rover.

Before anyone starts accusing me of turning into a gas-guzzling 'Chelsea Tractor' maniac, intent on getting fatter and not fitter, I would point out that this Land Rover is not an adventurous family car but a sleek gent's bicycle.

My bike carries the name and logo of its famous 4x4 big brother and, frankly, it's the closest thing to a brand new Land Rover that I'm ever likely to get.

The debate over buying a bike had become a thorny issue here at Bullock Towers for several years. I'd procrastinated about investing in a 21st century cycle, having been alarmed by the cost and complexity of modern machines.


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I simply couldn't cope with making a decision on which model to buy, fearful that I'd end up with either some laughably inappropriate high-speed racer or a less than macho unisex shopper.

After much deliberation, I plumped for a handsome Land Rover bicycle because it looked relatively 'normal', was fitted with good old-fashioned mudguards and even boasted a sensible carrier for carrying sensible things.

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That said, I was none too keen on its 21 - yes, 21! - gears. In my day you had a simple switch with three gears, only two of which ever worked despite repeated trips to the repair shop: first gear (easy-peasy), second (preferable) and third (flaming hard work).

Just as I'd feared, the oily chain does have an annoying habit of coming off its complicated cogs during gear changes, leaving me looking like a sweaty and stressed Al Jolson tribute act by the time I reach my destination. Staying permanently in 14th gear and hoping I don't encounter any unexpected East Anglian mountains is the most sensible route.

To avoid grease-stained trousers I am prepared to suffer the humiliation of wearing cycle clips. Notwithstanding ugly plastic crash helmets, these are among cycling's many uncool curses.

The cheap pair I use are so shin-pinchingly tight that I'm convinced they not only keep my jeans clean but also prevent mid-journey attacks of deep vein thrombosis.

Having made a healthy decision to switch from petrol to pedal power, the challenge now is finding the time and opportunity to use my new bike. Sometimes it all seems too much like hard work.

If the weather is sticky, windy, stormy, snowy, icy or there's even a hint of rain, for example, cycling is definitely off the agenda - which rules out most days on the average British calendar.

A bike ride, to my mind, should be a coolly pleasant, mercifully brief and clean experience. I can never understand the mentality of cycle fanatics who thrust and strain boldly through the cold and rain, soaked, muddy and yet still pedalling furiously in their unflattering Lycra outfits.

Even when the weather is fine, by the time I've hauled the bike out of the shed, knocked the lawnmower over, impaled myself on an assortment of garden tools, located the padlock key, pumped up the tyres and pedalled to the kerb, I might as well have jumped in the air-conditioned Bullockmobile instead.

Buying a loaf or a pint of milk from our corner shop could be an ideal cycle ride, were it not for all those preparatory hassles and the very real risk of my prestigious Land Rover being stolen or vandalised while I'm shopping. It's probably simpler, and safer, to drive or walk.

Cycling in central Norwich, in my limited experience, involves a delicate balance between keeping wonderfully fit and avoiding a painful death or permanently disabling injury.

So much time is spent worrying about unpredictable cars, abusive drivers, thundering lorries and absurdly fast buses that the pleasure of cycling is often outweighed by the hazards.

Is it just me or is too much time spent pushing a bike around the city instead of pedalling? I regularly dismount at dangerous junctions and busy roundabouts, and resort to the safety of pedestrian crossings to get over main roads.

Psst… don't tell the boys in blue but I sometimes resort to bumping up on to pavements for short spells to avoid negotiating parked cars, skips, roadworks and other obstacles on narrow streets or in heavy traffic. I'd rather be fined but otherwise fine than flattened and flat on my back in hospital.

Two wheels or not two wheels? That is the question. Until Norwich gets substantially more cycle lanes and tracks, I think I might be better off with a four-wheeled Land Rover.

ianb@ianbcommunications.com

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