Lessons I’ve Learned on a Bicycle: Jim’s Story

In the run up to our bike breakfast we’re sharing stories of people in Dumfries who use their bikes to get around, whether they’re new riders or old hands. Proving that it’s not just women who cycle in the town, here’s Jim Craig’s lessons he’s learned on a bike:

Jim animation

Jim, in animated mode

I started to cycle to work in earnest when I moved to Dumfries during the winter of 2008. This was me getting back into the regular 9 to 5 world following a long bicycle trip overseas, so it seemed natural for me to continue using a bike for my new daily journey to and from my place of work. It was the dark, damp mornings that got to me that first winter, but I persevered and by the spring I had made a habit of using my bike every day, not just for work, but for almost all of my journeys in and around town. A town the size of Dumfries makes it especially easy. I live near the town centre and there really isn’t anywhere around town I couldn’t reach in less time than it would have taken in the car. Lesson one I’ll pass on to you immediately. Starting in winter is hard. Starting in a West of Scotland winter is even harder.

I have been fortunate enough to have lived and cycled in a few different climates, I can vouch that colder is easier, as it’s usually drier, and warmer climates a doddle. As this blog aims to inspire some of you readers to take that bike out of your shed and pedal your own way to work, I advise starting now! The autumn promises great cycling and by winter it’ll be an enjoyable habit you’ll be reluctant to give up. Which brings me on to lesson number two. It does not rain as much as you think.

Sure, it has quite often rained through the night, or will pour down while you work through the day, but our frontal weather and frequently showers mean that there are lots of gaps in the rain. I can honestly count the number of times that I have been uncomfortably drenched on the bike in eight years of commuting on the one hand. Buying a cape allowed me to replace most of those uncomfortable drenchings with occasional forays into looking ridiculous but remaining mostly dry. I’ve sheltered in bike sheds and bus-stops for downpours to pass and they always do, quicker than expected. In light rain you won;t actually get that wet, assuming you adopt lesson three. Get some mudguards fitted.

Spray from my own bike wheels was my biggest enemy in efforts to stay dry. It’s the only essential feature of a bike that I’d recommend for cycling all year. And while we are talking kit I’ll add lesson four. Any bike will do.

The bike I started using to ferry me to and from work was, and still remains, a rough and ready collection of old bike parts which had gathered in my parents’ garage over the years. Adding a few new items filled in the blanks and completed a perfectly functional bike for me to use around town. I have had other bikes, some more valuable and some more practical for other uses like mountain biking or longer distance riding but over the last eight years they have come and gone while my trusty commuter bike has remained a reliable constant. If a totalitarian regime arrived tomorrow and demanded a single bike per person policy I know which one I‘d keep. Which brings me neatly on to lesson five.

Bicycling as practical everyday transport wasn’t something that I thought about that seriously before I moved here and started to ride everywhere. Yes, I have always had bikes and been an active cyclist but lesson five for me was one that I was not expecting to learn. It is the most rewarding cycling that I’ve done. It’s efficient, low impact and healthy. I wouldn’t have learned all of the above if I hadn’t started. What are you waiting for?

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