Cycling Stories

Phoenix Rising

February 8, 2020


Phoenix Rising

“After watching plenty of YouTube videos – and feeling like an idiot because I’d resorted to watching videos to learn how to ride a bike – I took the plunge one Saturday morning.”

Alex Pilalis

I was never one for cycling.

Sure, I had a bike when I was younger, but I never really got into the whole riding thing.

I think I’m generally the kind of person that doesn’t function too well once I’m off my feet, whether that involves cycling, skateboarding, ice skating, rollerblading, and so forth. Growing up, one of those even led to broken bones.

Glimpsing the Thrill of Riding

Several years ago, when I lived in Dublin, Ireland, my brother and his wife visited. During their trip, they decided we should cycle around Phoenix Park (one of the biggest parks in Europe).

I knew I wasn’t a great cyclist, but I also didn’t want to be a buzzkill. “I’m probably not as bad as I remember,” I encouraged myself.

I was a bag of nerves as we hired the bikes and walked them to a good starting area.

After hopping on and pedaling, as I expected, I couldn’t stay on for more than a minute before losing control, balance, or both. My brother and his wife quickly realized that I wouldn’t be a good riding companion, although they tried to help me by offering tips and support. And for a few moments, I got the hang of it.

It was at that point when I caught a brief glimpse of the thrill of riding – before realizing I was headed toward a tree. Thankfully, I managed to miss it, but I ended up colliding with another cyclist instead.

A New Day, New Resolve

It wasn’t until much later that I decided to give cycling a try again.

After watching plenty of YouTube videos – and feeling like an idiot because I’d resorted to watching videos to learn how to ride a bike – I took the plunge one Saturday morning.

It was tough going, getting on and off, and steadying myself, and I was soon exhausted. And – as I’m sure everyone reading this knows – riding hurts. It definitely takes some getting used to, so there were a lot of bruises and chafes.

But, somewhere along the way, I very slowly, gradually, got the hang of it. So, after a somewhat successful endeavor, I returned the next day, and again the following week.

Then, something unexpected happened (no, not another broken bone). During an extra-long session where I remained under control, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I went wherever I wanted, although the hills didn’t like me. I explored more of the park than I’d seen before, and in a fraction of the time it would have taken me otherwise.

That was the moment I caught the cycling bug. And from there, my time on the bike increased, while my near-crashes and lost balance slowly decreased. Although the pain from riding took much longer to subside.

I enjoyed more of the same for several weekends afterward, mostly around the park, which is what I loved more about cycling than anything else: exploring and seeing new places.

My ideal holiday involves a long weekend in a European city where I can spend all day walking around, seeing sites, and eating and drinking everything I want. And once I realized that cycling is an extension of that, I was hooked.

Returning to London

It wasn’t until I moved back to London, where I was born and raised, that I bought my first bike: a Riverside 100 hybrid. It seemed like a simple, sturdy model that’s held up well.

I expect that someday I’ll get another bike, though – maybe one that can handle off-road riding – and explore the English countryside. Sometimes, I even think about taking a bike with me on one of my European trips.

I’m by no means an expert cyclist at this point, but I have ridden on the road several times without any incidents, and I can go from A to B without feeling out of control.

Now, I love the freedom and (relative) ease of riding, and how I can just take the bike and go, regardless if I have a destination or not.

Cycling also helped me lose weight when I focused on my diet and maintained gym workouts every week.

Today, I would consider myself a ‘cyclist convert,’ and I’m glad to be one.

Native Londoner Alex Pilalis tells us about his first time cycling as an adult, the challenges he faced, and how bicycles ultimately shifted his perspective.
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