Another beautiful late winter’s day; snowdrops flirting in the sunlight, the green shoots of spring’s bluebells peeking out from the forest floor, blackbirds suddenly re-occupying the garden, tunefully demanding yet more crumbs and, with the temperature reading an agreeable 11 degrees, time to dispense with at least a couple of winter layers.
Today was our fourth consecutive springlike day and, given the inclement conditions that preceded (and will doubtless follow), far too enticing not to take advantage of. You don’t have to be a fair weather cyclist to appreciate sudden, unseasonal even, good weather and a lovely still morning combined with clear blue skies and great visibility are as good an encouragement as any to coax would-be bikers out of hibernation.
But one of the other great assets of cycling is that you can gan oan yersel, as they would say in the West of Scotland. Roughly translated this means, go on and do it yourself. Now while cycling is a perfect activity for socialising in a healthy way with likeminded friends, it is also one of the few activities that is equally suited to doing on your own. I passed probably a dozen fellow cyclists on my circuit today and all, bar an elderly couple happily eating lunch at the side of the road, were on their own. On a weekend, there will be routinely more pelotons, but solo riders will still form the majority.
I suppose many riders go out on their own because they want to cycle a certain route, or distance. In my case this weekend, there was no one else around – half term probably responsible for that – and I was determined to make the most of the weather. But it is certainly an interesting comparison to consider the number of solo cyclists and runners, compared to the few people who choose to walk on their own, particularly in rural areas.
Take away dog walkers and you see very few solo walkers. I’m not sure if this is because of social reasons – some years ago a neighbour told me one of the worst effects of losing his dog was that other people regarded him very suspiciously when he walked alone over the same fields – or safety considerations, or whether walking is simply regarded as an essentially convivial activity.
Whatever, the same preconceptions, happily, don’t seem to apply to cycling and this is another real advantage when it comes to attracting more women into the saddle. Without getting sucked in to too many generalisations, it is the case that most women have to juggle time very effectively and, as a result, it is not always possible for them to fit it with friends, or join an organised event at and for a specific time. Cycling frees you from these restraints and gives you the independence to come and go when it suits you, without any social stigma attached to being on your own.
It’s often overlooked, or not appreciated, that the bicycle was one of the most liberating factors for women in the late 19th and early 20th, allowing them far greater autonomy, liberty and mobility, as well as playing an important part in the Suffragette movement. It’s not too fanciful to suggest that the humble bicycle could provide a similar measure of independence, as well as major health and economic benefits, to women in the 21st century.