Liz is a crip activist and actor, now trying to gain experience as a stand-up comedian. Originally from the North West, she recently moved to London, lured by the bright lights and the promise of fame and fortune. She's still waiting.
On your bike
8th September 2010
Since then the world of cycling has pretty much passed me by. Until this summer ... when, almost overnight, London became colonised by bicycles.
I woke up one morning to find rows of identical blue and grey contraptions at the end of my road. Three hundred metres down the road I found even more of these cycle like clones. What was going on? Was the earth being taken over by two wheeled aliens? Was I in the middle of my very own episode of Dr Who? Or was I just ignorant of the new scheme in Central London where thousands of bikes are available to hire at locations throughout the city to encourage us to leave our cars at home, go green and get some exercise?
Back to reality, I began to consider having a go myself, daydreaming of being able to cycle beside my partner on long leisurely summer bike rides. So I bit the bullet and decided to look at how I might get back in the saddle after all these years.
Unfortunately, the identical bikes at the end of my road are all identically inaccessible to me. But I was determined. I logged onto the internet, typed 'cycling for disabled people’ into the search engine, and within minutes was on the phone to a very helpful chap called Oliver from the bike hire place at Dulwich Park.
“I’ll have you cycling around the park in no time”, he enthused, undaunted by my list of impairments. I looked down at my stiff and unbending self and wasn’t so sure.
The hire place was scattered with all sorts of bikes for all sorts of bodies. There were multicoloured recumbents - cycles that you rode whilst lying down, tandems, three wheelers and even one where, in place of a basket on the front of the bike, was a big blue and yellow plastic seat. It looked like a baby seat for adults. It looked 'special’.
It was a beautiful summer day, I was cycling through the park, getting a new perspective and going at a speed that I could never have experienced from my electric wheelchair. I felt like ET as he hid from the baddies in the basket at the front of Elliot’s bike, like Kate Winslett as she flung her arms wide on the bow of Titanic, like a stuffed toy on the bumper of a lorry.
By the time we returned to the hire place, the person peddling was shattered but I was on a high.
The next bike I tried reminded me of an old fashioned car; myself and my co-pilot sat side by side and were both expected to peddle and pull our weight ... until they tried to bend my legs to make a cycling motion.
Like a pair of obstinate teenagers, my knees would not do as they were told. No amount of force would work. Instead, Oliver replaced my pedals with a footrest and off we went on 'our bicycle made for two’ - my partner peddling furiously whilst I sat back and enjoyed an ice cream.
He wheeled out a sleek, black, designer recumbent wheelchair. Screws were loosened, new pedals were fitted and I was moved into place. Lying back was strangely comfortable but as one foot bent easily onto the pedal, the other knee remained stubborn and unbending.
I didn’t feel disappointed. I’d ‘cycled’ around the park twice and had a Mr. Whippie. I’d been introduced to a world of adaptations that I never realised existed - an expensive but accessible world of lying down bikes, cycles you propel with your hands, even models that you can ride in while remaining in your wheelchair.
Oliver has an infectious belief that cycling can be for everyone. He’s even managed to convince cynical old me that, if he had smaller pedals, extendable hand grips and a neck rest in stock, there would be no reason why I couldn’t ride a bike on my own.
Maybe one day I will follow the thousands of newly pedaling Londoners and trade my four wheels for two. For now though, I’ll just sit back, enjoy the view, and let someone else do the work.
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