Updated: Sep 28
WORDS & PHOTOS | Varun Jyothykumar
Varun discovered cycling when life threw him a curveball. He tells us how he not only adapted, but thrived.
This is not an article about performance, endurance and speed. I set no Strava PBs, nor did I complete any ‘training.’
Change is, by definition, different. Often uncomfortable but very, very often unplanned. So it was for me, when in August 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, I was informed that I would not receive funding for my teacher training course and very quickly made a decision of then-monumental change: I’d have to sell my car.
The decision was a simple one. The car was a monthly money drain, so with the savings from eliminating that, plus its selling price, I found a means to my survival.
I was quick to decide to buy a bicycle to commute and ended up buying two. My first purchase was a 2005 Specialized Allez road bike from eBay, bought for a princely £195. I quickly realised I needed to be able to fix and service it regularly. Having attempted to fix bicycles in the past, I opened a laptop and typed out the only website I knew that had any advice to help me: Sheldon Brown’s celebrated bicycle service guide. I got reading and experimented with replacing brake cables, servicing bottom brackets and cleaning drivetrains.
So it stood for half a year. The Specialized went with me to my teacher training placement every weekday and would occasionally be taken for longer recreational rides at the weekend. That’s where it remained for a while; I still used the car (which was still accessible to me) to go shopping and carry heavy loads.
It was only after a particularly calamitous moment in my personal life that I decided to purchase a second bike: an £85 Holdsworth mountain bike from the 1980s. With fitments for a front and rear rack, I began to seriously consider using bikes for purposes other than commuting. However, the process of gradually weaning myself away from car use for has taken well over a year of experimentation and error.
The origins of the term are rooted in a cynicism of anything apart from car use for daily utilitarian transport. It seemed right to assume that cars were ‘right’ to do the shopping with and run errands in, when transport systems and infrastructure are centred around car use.
By early 2021, I was already travelling to my place of work on a bike. I was using the bike to get me and luggage around for the vast majority of the time.
The excuses came and went; would the motor traffic be an issue? Would I be able to lock my bike up safely? Would I manage to carry such a significantly heavy load on two wheels? None of the answers to these questions were perfect; each involved an extent of hackery and adaptation.
These hacks grew progressively wilder and more inventive. Initially, I would carry anything I could fit within my rear pannier bags and that was about it. Then, I started lashing things to my front and rear rack; the most memorable of these was another full bike frame! My true watershed moment of load-lugging hackery though, was when I spotted a tip on the chat forum for the incredible Northern Roll Cycling Collective for using old inner tubes as makeshift luggage straps. Soon, increasingly larger, more awkward and seemingly unfeasible loads were being strapped precariously to my bike and transported around town. People stared, not that I cared; this was working.
The story is not fairytale-perfect, each of my journeys by bike were fraught and anxious. They were unpleasant. Drivers honked and acted with impatience - as if I had chosen to disrupt their assumed privilege over the roads.
Cycling infrastructure where I live in Coventry, UK is still a fledgling. A segregated cycle path has just finished being constructed near my home and the city has appointed their first ‘mayor of cycling,’ Adam Tranter, to enact significant changes to active travel infrastructure.
Despite the challenges, the change was possible. I did complete my shopping trips successfully. And the humble £85 80s mountain bike I took to the shops? It just worked - simply and efficiently with some gentle coaxing from all the mechanical skillz (with a ‘z’) I had acquired over the past year.
This story is simply one of realising that the established norm may not be the best, or even very good for you or the environment. I tried using a bicycle whenever I could and wherever I could, to both get around and take things around. I succeeded. It was possible. I hope you do so too.