Philippa York: riding the bike again

Two years and a hundred days. That’s exactly how long I went without riding a cycle in any meaningful way.

I did ride my town bike a couple of times, but that has a basket on the front and a clothes guard on the rear wheel, so it can’t really be called serious exercise. Three hub-based gears and a back-pedal brake further emphasise its casual vocation which is why I use it occasionally for the shopping trip. 

In an effort to reduce the strain even further the sprockets have been changed so that the only hill on the route, a bridge over the railway line, is less perspiration-inducing. Strictly speaking, performance is not needed on the town bike but I have to admit that it’s made out of aluminium and not some awfully heavy plumber’s pipes as is the norm for something that will be chained to the railings in the supermarket car park. Thankfully I have retained some obsessive weight control issues.

Gallery: Drillium and sawn-off bars at the national hill-climb

Why the absence and why the return? Well, three summers ago I found myself in the enviable position of having too much time on my hands and I started going cycling more and more – further and faster. Routes that were hard enough when I only rode sporadically became easy and hills that I avoided became part of my pseudo-training. The only reason I didn’t consider it proper training was the lack of any type of intervals, or as it’s called now, HIIT.

Then one day I looked at myself and was shocked: muscle definition had returned, veins were visible on thighs and dodgy tan lines were re-established. That was the moment I realised that I had lost the plot and instead of being a middle-aged woman who cycled to stay fit and healthy, I was back to being an athletic shape and way too skinny for day-to-day life.


The decision was taken and I stopped riding despite being unsure how I would cope with the absence of exercise, as it was something I had done almost religiously since my teenage years.

It took a while to settle down into a sedentary lifestyle, but I persisted and got used to being slightly fatter and feeling rather less capable when the town bike was dusted down and pedalled up over the mountain that the railway bridge became. To avoid being a complete potato head, I went walking instead and discovered another world of Gore-Tex and suitable rubber treads. After two summers, my tan lines recovered to vaguely acceptable.

Then the opportunity to return to a more public role in the cycling media came along just as I had reached a point in my personal life when the use of my previous name for my various bits of writing was annoying me greatly. 

Read: Philippa York on her new identity

With ITV4 asking me to contribute to their Tour de France coverage, obviously I needed to explain my updated identity, hence the press release that was issued last year just prior to the Tour start. It covered most of the questions that would be asked but being aware that people would then want more basic things – like did I still cycle – I thought it was probably a good idea that I was actually doing some kind of riding, just to feel more relevant and less guilty when I said something about some poor sod suffering or not going fast enough.

Thus I returned to being an active bike rider again, though this time around with more control of just how much, how far and at what intensity that cycling was done at. The good thing is now my walking boots last longer. However, last summer’s fantastic sunshine has inflicted on my person the return of those weird tide marks that come with cycling shorts and jerseys. I’ll cope.

Extract from Women on Tour, first published in Rouleur 18.7



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