Joe Bennett takes a wild Dyers Pass ride

22:53, Jun 03 2014

Who doesn't remember their first bicycle?

I don't, as it happens, but I do remember how it felt to ride it. And in particular I remember riding it down the steepest hill in the world which was on Ockley Lane and which we called the one-in-one and which came back to me in all its thrilling terror this weekend.

On the list of things that I would never have thought to invent, the bicycle is near the top. It was clearly modelled on the horse, in that the rider straddles it.

But unlike a horse a bike exists in only two dimensions. It has height and length but effectively no width. So unless it's propped up it falls down, just as a two-dimensional horse would.

That such an device could be ridden would never have occurred to me.

It did occur to someone, however, and I'm glad it did, because a bike to a child means freedom. It's his first passport, a licence to widen the world.


The bikes of my childhood took me fishing, took me to friends' houses that smelt different, took me to fabled foreign lands that were more than a mile from home.

And as I rode that mile I felt the apron strings that yoked me to infancy stretching until they snapped.

The last bike of my life was a heavy iron beast that I bought tenth-hand on my first day at university.

And on my last day at university I lifted it above my head and, in the manner of a Viking sacrificing to the gods before embarking on a raid by long ship, I hurled it into the river.

Then I ambled into a most unViking adulthood during which time I've never owned a bike and rarely ridden one.

But when at the foot of the Cashmere hills last weekend a friend opened his garage to reveal a pair of bikes and suggested we work off our lunch, I was eager.

So eager that I seized the handlebars and placed a foot on the pedal in a manner that was as instinctive as walking and I was on the point of swinging my other leg over as I haven't done in years when "you'll need this", he said.

He handed me a polystyrene mushroom.

I stared at it and felt very much like pointing out that I had managed to get all the way through childhood without wearing such a thing, and so had all of my contemporaries, except, that, is for the one who was murdered, the one who got cancer and the one who fell down dead after playing basketball, and none of those would have found his chances of survival greatly enhanced by strapping on a cycle helmet.

And I remembered when I was teaching and the things became compulsory and boys would loosen the strap on purpose so that if they crashed they'd part ways with the helmet in mid-air, leaving their tender craniums to fend for themselves as god intended.

In a young man's world all caution is dispensable; looking cool is not.

But I bit my lip and strapped the mushroom on and swung into the saddle and with barely a wobble we were off.

By and large and quite remarkably it was like riding a bike, but a couple of things had changed.

The modern bike does not go up a hill as easily as the old ones did.

And saddle design has worsened, too. Within minutes I had the sensation that my perineum was being persistently attacked by a gnome with a ball-peen hammer.

But all that was forgotten when we turned onto Dyers Pass Rd and I saw the hill stretching away below me and felt gravity seize the two-dimensional horse and suddenly there was no need to pedal and I was being hauled ever faster down towards the metal centre of the earth, hauled by the mass of the planet, thrillingly accelerated with no glass to shelter me from the onrush of the air and only the thin wheels bouncing on the rough hard road.

I looked down and my shins and thighs were 8-years-old and hairless and this was the one-in-one on Ockley Lane and we were travelling faster than anyone had ever travelled before, piercing clouds of glory on the screaming edge of traction and feeling like a little boy again and screaming to the winter air and round the bend I came and saw, with something halfway between fatalism and a bowel-disrupting terror, a roundabout.

I remain grateful that nothing chose to come along Centaurus Rd at the relevant moment.

Dangerous things, bikes.

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