Pam: How long have you been a cyclist?
Jan: I’ve had a bike on and off since I was 7, when I used to live on the outskirts of Birmingham, close to the countryside. Everyone had bikes then, the roads were quiet and we were allowed out as long as we got home in time for tea. I remember once my grandad coming over from Ireland and I took him on a bike ride – except that he was walking! As a young person for a few years I didn’t really do any cycling – apart from when I had a student summer job and cycled across Birmingham to work on a sit up and beg bike, listening to Radio 4 news on a portable radio in the basket.
Pam: So what got you back into the cycling habit?
Jan: When I went to live in Tanzania for several years. It was normal to cycle there – and again it was safe, apart from the potholes. Most of the bikes were the stout Flying Pigeon brand from China. Then I came to live in Colchester and I took my daughter to the University nursery in a child seat on the back of a pink Raleigh bike. That was how she also got to school – until her feet were almost touching the ground.
I had to use a car for my development education work with schools in Essex but later I decided to travel by train from Colchester to work in Chelmsford and I found that I didn’t use the car for weeks at a time.
But the main reason is that Climate Change has been very much on my mind since 1972 when I read about it in The Blueprint for Survival. I noticed signs of it happening in Tanzania, and when I was travelling in South America, I saw unusual coastal erosion, I also saw melting glaciers which had wiped away complete villages in one night, farmers told me about long term changes in weather which affects their food production, and I saw the fast receding snows of Kilimanjaro, which has implications for drinking water shortages around the world. That, combined with the oil wars, has made me think that changing the sources of our energy, especially here in the richer countries, is the key. I know we have to make rapid and radical changes if we don’t want people and the environment to suffer – so I just couldn’t bring myself to drive a car again.
Pam: So cycling’s been your main mode of transport since then?
Jan: Yes, I’ve been cycling and using the train and bus for over 25 years now, and I don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything, except Jazz at The Fleece! I’ve had this Dawes bike for 15 years now, it’s a hybrid, with suspension on the front and on the seat, as I have arthritis, so I can ride cross country and still be comfortable. About five years ago I did an advanced cycling course with Essex County Council and learned how to cycle successfully around the 5 lane London Road roundabout in the rush hour. This has given me more confidence on the road!
Pam: What are your most regular routes?
Jan: Sometimes I go out riding on my own, and my favourite leisure route is to Harwich and then on the foot ferry over to the Shotley Peninsula, along to Manningtree and then the train back to Colchester. I do lots of exploring of short cuts and byways. I have actually got fitter on my bike as I’m older. I used to live in the Hythe, and cycle up Hythe Hill, then moved to Rowhedge Road where there are two hills on the way into town which I notice less the more times I cycle up them.
Pam: What advice would you give people who are thinking they should cycle more?
Jan: When you get your bike, don’t let it sit there. Think ahead about the journeys in your daily life and pick out the ones for which you can regularly use a bike. Start with the shorter journeys and extend them slowly. Plan so you can do several things on one journey. You don’t need special gear, just keep waterproof and visible in the way you are comfortable with. Saddlebags can carry a lot more than you think. Use the Bike Kitchen to get to know your bike. You will make new friends with other cyclists. Changing habits isn’t easy, but keep on doing it because you know it will make a big difference.
Sometimes I get the bus with my free bus pass, but it does makes me feel older – cycling makes me feel younger, happier, and free!