For those of you who don’t know. This year I turned 40.

The last time I remember riding a bike I was 18. I was having a picnic in the park with some friends and the public toilets were REALLY far away, so I borrowed my friend’s bike to get there quicker and I remember it was kinda scary.

Before THAT the last time I remember OWNING a bike I was 9. I did my cycling proficiency test and I used to cycle to school. I remember feeling quite fancy signaling to turn corners. This was 1988, the roads were considerably quieter then, especially where I lived at the time.

This means that as of 2019 I hadn’t ridden a bike that wasn’t glued to the floor in the gym for 22 years, and it was probably around 30 years since I’d ridden one on the road.

A few times recently Mr LLL had suggested that a bike might be good idea to get me to and from the gym for client appointments quicker. I dismissed the idea. Not because I didn’t want to get there quicker, but because buying a bike seemed like a big investment when you had no clue if you’d actually be able to ride it or not. I know it’s supposed to be “like riding a bike”, but lets face it, both I and the world are very different now than we were in 1988.

It was like some kind of cosmic harmony, then, when Pushing Ahead Norfolk got in touch to tell me about their Cycle Loan Scheme.

This is a sponsored post, but Pushing Ahead did not need to also give me a free bike, as the whole point is that the bike IS free. Honestly, I was little astonished, who knew that the council would basically give you a free bike for a month?

The Application

To get my free bike I had to fill in a couple of online forms. They asked me about my cycling experience and my health, as well as what style of bike I was after (there were pictures!) and how tall I was so they could suggest the right size.

The forms were fairly simple, but there was a short wait for a suitable bike to become available, so if you’re thinking “I want to borrow a bike to do X next week” it’s probably worth calling ahead!

The Pick-Up

Once I was emailed my collection date for my bike all I needed to do was take along some ID and a £10 note to leave as a refundable deposit.

There was another simple form to sign, they took copies of my ID and then showed me how my bike worked, running briefly through gears, brakes, lights and locks and all that jazz.

I was also offered a helmet on loan in case I didn’t have one.

The most terrifying part of the collection for me was the assessment of my riding ability. I collected my bike from Bicycle Links in Norwich (there is also a Great Yarmouth location available), which is on a quiet side street, though there is also a completely car-free alleyway to ride up and down if, like me, you were too scared to ride on the road yet at all in case someone saw you wobbling, or, you know, you just spontaneously toppled over to the side the minute you took both feet off the floor.

You’ll be pleased to know that neither of those things happened (check out my Instagram Highlights if you want to see my first bike ride in 30 years!) and within half an hour me and my bike were free to go home.

Me and My Bike

I’ll be honest, for much of the first week I eyed the bike with a little nervous suspicion. Pushing Ahead helpfully sent me some links to some of their events. They run a weekly “Park Pedal” (Like Park Run but with bikes). On the Sunday of my first week of Bike Loan there was also a Car Free Day that included a social ride around the cycle paths of Norwich. I thought I might go on it. It was about 5 miles, so I thought I better get some practice in on the bike and took it out to ride to a client appointment at the gym, approximately 1 mile from my house.

The first thing I had to do once I got outside on the road was ring Mr LLL and ask to be reminded what side of the road we are supposed to ride on. I don’t drive, ok, and I was nervous. I rode the bike all the way to the end of my road. Then got off, pushed it round the corner, and down a big hill, and was just gearing up to brave getting on it again on a cycle path when my client called to cancel as her car had broken down.

So I pushed the bike back again, then rode it back along the short road to my house.

This short ride taught me 2 things.

  1. I can still ride a bike.
  2. There was no way I was going to have enough confidence on the bike by Sunday to go on a 5-mile bike ride with strangers.

After that I started taking the bike out more often.

Norwich Car Free Day fell on Sunday and I might not have gone on a 5-mile social ride, but I did take the bike all the way into the City, and rode it around several corners on actual roads (quiet ones, if I saw a car coming I got off and pushed it!)

I also spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out how the lock worked, these things are surprisingly complicated when you haven’t used them before you know.

Gaining Confidence

As the weeks of my loan period progressed I got a lot more confident on the bike. I would arrive at my destination calm, rather than trembling and sweating with terror. I turned corners, I occasionally stayed on the bike when I saw an approaching car (but not vans, they’re scary) and I discovered that even with pushing the bike on the scary bits my journey to the gym was cut from half an hour to 10-15 minutes.

I had yet to figure out gears, and had been advised to try them out on the flat first. Someone advised me to make sure I was pedalling when I changed gear. So I took my bike out down Marriotts Way. The part in Norwich is nice, wide and tarmacked and ideal for getting a feel for a bike. I planned to ride for about 15 minutes, have lunch and a coffee, then ride back. This should be a good chunk of time without pushing it to really get used to the bike! Instead, I rode for approximately 3 minutes, tried to change gears, heard a clunking noise and the chain fell off the bike.

I stopped, panicked for a bit. Searched YouTube for a “how to fix a bike chain” video, found lots of videos telling me I need screwdrivers and other tools I didn’t have. Poked at the chain for a bit and made my fingers all greasy, located a sticker telling me Bicycle Links would fix it, stopped panicking and sat down and had my lunch and a cup of coffee anyway.

Shortly afterwards Mr LLL came along and saved me by turning the bike upside down, at which point I could immediately see that it was super easy to put the chain back on and that YouTube was a liar. So I just rode the bike home again.

You’ll be pleased to know that by week 3 I had received yet more advice on gears, which revealed that my bike had more gears than I first realised. Popping them up to level 3, instead of the 2 it had been on, meant that I actually had to pedal to make the bike move, which made me feel far more in control.

By the fourth week of my loan period I was riding *almost* all the way to the gym, at least on quiet days, and even went out in the dark, making use of the lights and my snazzy reflective jacket.

The Drop-Off

And thus, just as I was feeling like I was getting into this bike riding lark, my loan period came to an end.

The return was simple. I took the bike back, they briefly looked it over, asked me to fill out a questionnaire and gave me my £10 back, it took about 15 minutes.

With literally no idea how much bikes cost I made inquiries about the discounted purchase price of the bike. It turned out that someone already had my bike reserved. The price of the bikes essentially drops by a set amount each time it goes out on a loan, so if you’re interested in purchasing a bike you borrow, but it’s still a bit pricy for you, you can ask them to put you on the waiting list, and when they price drops to, say, £200, they’ll give you a call and you can buy it.

The Verdict

I’m not sure buying a bike is in my budget right now, but less than a week after dropping off my loan bike I’m seriously missing the speedier journies around town, so it’s something I’m going to look into in future.

If you’ve not ridden a bike in years being given a free one for a month, along with all the accessories, is absolutely the perfect way to see if it’s something you can incorporate into your life. If you drive a lot of short journeys then you can reduce your carbon footprint and get a bit more active without it taking ages to get anywhere, and if, like me, you’re a dedicated pedestrian, then you’ll be amazed how much it cuts down your travel time!

If you’re interested in trying out a free bike of your very own, or find out more about Pushing Ahead and the events they organise, then head over to the website!

This post was produced in collaboration with Pushing Ahead Norfolk. As ever, all opinions are my own.