Cycling & how I started riding as an adult

Cycling & how I started riding as an adult


My first proper hill climb is one of the most significant moments of my life. It’s very prominent in my mind and I think about it often. It was, as cheesy as it sounds, life changing.

One day, I decided I wanted a bike. That’s me all over – I want it, I’m going to find a way to get it.

I bought a bike for £50 from a Facebook sales page and I started to ride it. I knew how to ride a bike inefficiently. No idea about gears, the tyres were part-deflated because I had no idea that was important and the saddle was awful. I rode that bike enough times to realise that I liked cycling, but I was sick of pushing the bike up banks (not hills), banks in town. Basically I wanted cycling to be easier and the quickest way to do that was to get a new bike!

My youngest brother, Dan and I went out on a bike ride. We went to a bike shop on route and I tried a few bikes. None of them quite right and we carried on with the ride.

Then Dan stopped: “if you want a new bike there’s a bike shop by the food centre”.

At the time I hadn’t heard of Islabikes, but we headed there and I sat on a Beinn 29 for the first time. Islabikes specialise in children’s bikes and they do very well! The Beinn 29 is their only adult bike. It was perfect. I wasn’t overwhelmed by choice. It’s a hybrid and I had no idea what type of cycling I wanted to do. I was taught how the bike works, the mechanics and what makes it special. I rode the bike around the car park and I fell in love instantly.

“You look so natural on that” my brother observed.

I felt great too. I’ve joked in the past that it was like the scene in Harry Potter where the wand chose the wizard. This bike choose me!

Roll on the best-foolish decision I ever made. I purchased the bike on my credit card (naughty!) I paid it off with my student loan and within the summer the bike paid for itself. Before owning my bike I was lazy, I drove everywhere so fuel costs alone paid for the bike, now I cycled…everywhere! I cycled to my friends house, I cycled to meet people for coffee, I cycled to the shops to pick up my shopping wearing a backpack.

One evening, after a bike ride my brother, Adam said: “I’ll show you how to ride your bike properly, how to use the gears.”

I agreed to his bike ride, despite having no idea where he was taking us! He headed out of Ludlow towards Haytons Bents and I followed.

Little did I know this would be the most memorable climb of my life.

Hayton’s Bent is a glorious bank, a country lane between beautiful English countryside. It’s also uphill, and quite significantly so! I’m not sure what the ascent is or how long it goes on for, but I’ve climbed it several times now and it still kills me now.

As we started cycling up the hill, I slowed down significantly (some things never change) and Adam powered on. I’ve always been proud and the thought of stopping felt like a failure. As I pedalled my unfit, heavy body up the bank, red-faced he reminded me that there’s no shame in stopping. I stopped. I felt deflated. I felt shamed. I felt fat. I held back tears – I always wonder if he noticed that.

“I might’ve pushed you too hard” he reasoned “slow and steady, you can do it.”

We carried on, slow and steady indeed. In time I could see the top. I stood up on the pedals, I just wanted it to be over. One final push.

Adam tells me that day he shouted until his throat was sore. Supportive like a good brother should be, he screamed words of encouragement as I made it over the brow of the hill. I was elated. I’d done it, and I’ll do it again and again until I don’t need to stop. That’s exactly what I did and each spring Hayton’s Bent become my benchmark.

Every time I’m faced with a challenging hill I think about that day. I think about how slow the ride was, how difficult it felt and how long it took and I remember that I can do it – and this hill and the next one won’t be any different. When I feel I can’t the voice in my head reminds me, “Haytons Bent” and this applies to other aspects of life – new skills or work challenges. Cycling has built a mental strength within me,

As I write this, I can remember EXACTLY how I felt on that hill. I felt so unfit like I was supposed to be naturally able to cycle Haytons bent easily. That’s ridiculous. It isn’t true. That hill has me sweating and blowing now! Absolutely no doubt it would after a world tour too!

A message to new cyclists or new runners – give yourself a break. No one is naturally fit and it really does start with just having a go. Then another go and another go until it starts to feel a little easier. Also slow and steady is critical – even the strongest athletes factor in steady exercise.

I talk to myself so much differently now.

Until I wrote this I’d never considered that both my brothers played such a significant part in my bike journey. I have to thank them for their part in sculpting a Zoe who can take on a world cycling challenge.



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2 responses to “Cycling & how I started riding as an adult”

  1. Kathryn Chillingworth says:

    Well Zoe if you were riding from Stanton Lacy to Upper Hayton you climb from 106 ft above sea level to 207 feet. About a mile.
    If you rode from Middleton, where we live, it is from 112 feet to 255 at Haytons Bent over 3 miles.
    Love to you both from Chris, Kathryn and Natalie Chillingworth
    Ludlow Baptist Church.

    • Zoe says:

      Hello Kathryn!

      Thank you so much for replying to this! I just saw this comment somehow. Lovely to hear from you.

      I can’t believe it is just 110ish feet – it always feels so tough to me – even now!

      Best wishes xxx

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We're Zoe & Stewart and we've been cycling around the world since March 2019.

This blog was born in 2017 when Stew cycled a 2,500 mile, solo John O' Groats to Land's End (JOGLE) along the west coast of the UK.

At the time Stew was planning a world cycling tour for his 30th birthday, but his plans changed when he met me and invited me along on this trip of a lifetime. I took no hesitation in saying "YES I'd love to come". We quickly threw ourselves into a 1,022 mile bike tour of the UK to make sure I enjoyed it - needless to say - I love it!

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