Category Listing: Stories

Our journey into cycling: Malcolm & Debbie Wilkinson-Tough

MalcolmDebbieMalcolm - the "necessary" cyclist from the age of about 11. Lived in what was then a remote Sussex village (West Hoathly - East Sussex ) and a bike was his only means of transport. Then later in his 30's as a new Dad, as a way to catch the train to work in Brighton, he used an old rusty bone shaker of a bike picked up second hand for about a fiver. A mad dash in all weathers along the path next to the railway line from Ferring to Goring (West Sussex) quite literally racing the train because he was always late leaving home.

Debbie - the cyclist "that never really was". As a child my parents deemed cycling to be an extremely dangerous occupation and so bicycles were regarded much as sharp implements were to Sleeping Beauty. Needless to say forbidden things attract and by the age of 11 I was caught by my parents riding my best friend's brother's bike (he was 16 and a lot taller than me) in (I realise now) an extremely unsafe and wobbly manner on the main road through our village. Needless to say I received a double/triplicate/quadruplet/1000 times ban on riding bicycles along with a hefty curfew on going out. And so bicycles were placed on the back burner for a number of years.

And then came children. I was determined our children would cycle from an early age despite my apparent inability to stay upright on a bike. On family camping holidays we would manfully strap 5 bikes on the back of the car and the trailer tent to cycle "family railway line routes." As a result our 3 children all became competent cyclists who looked on with some amusement tinged with concern when their Mum fell off "the thing that refused to stay upright" for no apparent reason.

As the children got older Malcolm and I cycled less and less frequently but still retained a mild interest. But then came retirement. What could we do together that was outdoors based, would keep us fit, wouldn't strain the old knees too much and wouldn't be too costly . After much thought - cycling! So we both got new bikes, both hybrids, thinking we would continue to ride cycle trails probably mostly flat ones. Indeed the route from our house in Eastoke along the seafront and up the Hayling Billy Trail to the Ship and back was regarded as a good workout.

Then we saw an advert in the Hayling Islander from the Portsmouth CTC for the Cathedral Challenge - April 2016. The sentence that drew my attention was "If you cant keep up someone will wait for you"! Must be calling to us we thought. So despite the eventual target of a ride to Winchester cathedral from Havant we decided to give it our best shot.

We duly registered and took our bikes on the car to the start of our first ride from Havant. (didnt want to risk not being able to get home when the first ride was about 12 miles!) There were about 30 riders including several CTC members who were very encouraging and welcoming. We were each allocated into groups of about 5 or 6 with a leader and a back marker for each group. Marvellous! as a ride on the road was not the easiest prospect for me.

Half way into the ride Malcolm's bike chain broke. Immediately CTC support leapt into action. The remaining riders in our group were asked to ride on with a leader and 3 other CTC members stopped to help. Malcolm's bike was upended before we knew it and it was fixed 10 minutes later! Amazing!! And all with such cheeriness. Only 10 minutes more to the pub where we consumed tea and cake whilst chatting to several "would be" and experienced cyclists all of whom it seemed regarded tea and cake and a good chat as a necessary highlight of any cycle ride. Hmm - this cycling lark was looking promising! On our return back to base Malcolm and I were invited back to "Bill's" house who offered to properly repair Malcolm's bike as the unofficial CTC "bike mender." Needless to say we took him up on his kind offer. (Thank you again Bill.) And by the way I never thought I would be able to cycle 12 miles.

The cathedral cycle challenge gradually increased the length and hilliness of rides. My stamina and confidence grew. Malcolm's stamina grew. I graduated from the "Cyclist that never really was" to the "Never thought I could do it" cyclist. I progressed from having my saddle really low to a "just right" saddle height. I developed the ability to get through staggered cyclepath entrances without always having to get off. I could stay upright more often than not and my stopping and starting got better. I had never been able to use gears but gradually with CTC members' support and encouragement gear changes are now pretty much OK. I always had to get off a bike to go even slightly uphill. One of my greatest achievements was cycling up Portsdown Hill from Bedhampton albeit at a snail's pace but I did it without getting off! We cycled the Silver Cathedral Challenge ride (25 miles) and our longest ride was 35 miles including some hills. We "never thought we could do it". We will never be the fastest in the group but that's OK by us.

We have recently bought a motorhome with an impressive bike rack. An added bonus to our new found ability to cycle longer distances that are not entirely flat. We look forward to cycling in France, Spain, Italy, Scotland, Wales... and of course more rides in the company of members of Portsmouth CTC through the beautiful Hampshire and West Sussex countryside.

My journey into cycling: Paul Wheeler

Paul at SouthseaDespite having the surname 'Wheeler' I had little previous cycling experience until last year and certainly very little experience of riding in groups. I also had just moved to the area so was a relative stranger to the back roads and lanes around the Hampshire and Sussex border. I was looking for something to get me active and to meet new people when my wife suggested that I should contact Portsmouth CTC and get involved with their Cathedral Challenge. My first thoughts were that it had something to do with eating one of my favourite types of cheddar cheese, but of course it was an opportunity to go cycling.

Once I had this point clarified I contacted the CTC and I arranged to meet the club at the allotted location in Havant. When I arrived, there was a group of cyclist already there but reassuringly they were certainly not a training group of lycra-clad Sky Cycling riders and so I immediately felt comfortable and that I would not be out of place or embarrassed as a 'newbie.'

After an introductory talk on the 'rules of cycling' and some very sensible safe cycling guidance we set off on a series of rides that were suitable for a range of cyclists and always led by an experienced club member together with a good shepherd at the back to ensure no-one got lost. The rides initially took us out from Havant along the mainly flat landscape and gradually increased in distance as us new riders' confidence and capability increased. Over the course of a few weeks we visited, as advertised, the cathedrals of Portsmouth and Chichester to achieve our Bronze and Silver awards while still cycling on roads that were not steep, just rolling, and at a pace that suited the group's ability.

The final challenge was to cycle to Winchester and this was understandably more of a test in terms of distance and the gradients tackled. In 2016 the added challenge was an unseasonably hot day but with good leadership, plenty of water and key stops for refreshments I made it to Winchester Cathedral and then back to the South Coast.

I have neglected to include arguably the main reasons why I came back week after week on the challenge, the people. Whether it was the existing members of the club or the new riders everyone was always very friendly and encouraging and made me want to come back the next week. Oh, and of course all the wonderful cafes where we stopped to enjoy a cup of coffee (or tea) and a slice of cake.

My journey into cycling: Mike Skiffins

Mike Skiffins After a lifetime as a clerical worker and company car driver, when I retired I was taking medication for blood pressure and I had scrapped my old bike.

My son in law in Bristol offered me his old bike as he had bought a new one, so I pumped up the tyres and wobbled round his local streets – well out of practice! Why not, I thought? So I brought the bike home, and tried it out off-road up and down the Billy Trail until I was stable, and then took it out on the streets.

After a while I met a group of riders from Portsmouth CTC who invited me to come along on a Wednesday ride. I was attracted by the possibility of cycling anywhere I wanted.

My first ride was only to coffee and there was always someone with me for company. When I returned there were several other riders who also made it a half day, so I had company all the way back.

After a few months my wife said "If you are having a day out and all it is costing you is your food and coffee, it's saving you at least £10.00 a day. Over a year that will be £500.00 so why don't you spend some of that on a new bike?" So I did, but I didn't spend all that.

One day I had my blood pressure tested by my doctor and he advised that I should stop taking the medication as the cycling had strengthened my heart and cleared out the tubes. Unfortunately, he wouldn't prescribe a new bike on the NHS!

When I was a young cyclist I did a few cycle tours and I thought it would be nice to try again, so I decided to visit my daughter near Bristol and show that I had made good use of the bike they'd given me.

It was too far for one day so I split the ride with a B&B just past Salisbury, had a day with the grandchildren and cycled back.

Ambition satisfied - after 10 years of retirement!

My journey into cycling: Sam Hurst

sam Hi my name is Sam aged 29 and until the September before last I hadn't really cycled since I was a child.

I decided that I wanted to buy a bike to cycle to the gym rather than use my car all the time. I started my search on the internet for a suitable bike; I wanted one that was going to be fairly light, easy to ride on the road and bumpy paths. After reading reviews I decided I was going to buy a hybrid. I didn't want to buy a brand new one as they are quite expensive so started looking on eBay for a good second hand one. Whilst searching I came across an advert that said they had originally bought the bike to ride London to Paris. I immediately thought "wow" that sounds like a great challenge. I looked up online and it said that with training beforehand it was possible for anyone to do... so I signed up!

I wanted to cycle with a group to gain my confidence so I looked up on the internet for local cycling groups. This is when I came across Portsmouth CTC. I noticed they ran a few cycle rides a week, one on a Wednesday and a few over the weekends. I have Wednesday's off so that was ideal.

I turned up one Wednesday morning and everyone welcomed me. I was scared that I wasn't able to do the distance as I had never ridden more than 10 miles before, but I surprised myself and managed to complete the morning ride of about 30 miles. I then started going weekly and with the support of everyone in the CTC soon gained confidence and miles. I was amazed each week I would go home so ecstatic of the distance I had managed to do each time. In April last year I bought a road bike as realised that I was only using the bike for road and was told it would help me for my challenge ahead. Over time my legs got stronger and one of the cycling members said I should go up into the faster group. Again I was unsure but after trying it out I realised I could do it!

sam2My cycle trip to Paris soon came round in July 2015 - I managed to cycle 316 miles from London to Paris. It was hard work, with some very challenging hills and long distances to ride each day but after 4 days I eventually found my self underneath the Eiffel tower. Wow, such an experience and to think that a year before hand I hadn't ridden a bike in many years. It was amazing and I would like to thank the CTC for all their encouragement and support they gave me.

If you think you can't do it, think again. Cycling is not only great exercise but you get to see the country in a different way and you'll surprise yourself at just how far you can go.

My journey into cycling: James Powell

How has being a member of CTC helped me?

James after the Ruby Ride
James after the Ruby Ride

A part of my working life has been with Sussex Police as a traffic officer and the last ten years, before retiring, I was involved in close protection security, this required the highest levels of fitness, so I started speed walking for 6-8 miles, progressed this and became a Nordic walking instructor.

Unfortunately, a few years ago I developed a serious blood disorder and was put on tablet form chemotherapy that I still take to this day. I retired at 65 and then developed a spinal disorder that over the past five years has deteriorated quite significantly and recently causing me to loose the feeling in both legs.

Two years ago I had to stop my Nordic walking due to my medical conditions and became concerned that my general fitness would go downhill, so I spoke at length with my Consultants who suggested I take up riding a bike, as this would not be load-bearing on my spine and would give me the exercise I needed.

In August 2014 I was recommended by a friend to join the CTC, and what a change this has made to my life. In September of that year I did the 30 mile Ruby run for the "Rowans Hospice", something I would never have thought I could do and over this period my fitness levels have gone up, my blood pressure has decreased and I now ride up hills that I would have had to walk!

An even bigger bonus with CTC, is I have met a really nice group of people to enjoy a Wednesday ride with and the most important factor is they all genuinely care, I'm never made to feel bad or I'm holding up the group if my health takes a downward turn due to pain or dehydration. No, there is always someone who will turn back and check to see I'm OK! I never feel concerned for my safety.

To be a member of CTC you don’t have to be a dedicated racing cyclist, they cater for everyone, as my case has proved and I have gone from riding 16 miles locally, to riding out to Arundel or Winchester some 68 miles return and I'm 70 with health issues, what more of a recommendation do you need.

My journey into cycling: Heather

Heather I have always had a bicycle – cycled to school, cycled to college, to the shops, etc, etc. However, I had never really cycled any challenging distances or more challenging rides. When I met my husband we started to cycle together using mountain bikes both on and off road. Initially this was quite amusing (for me anyway) for all the wrong reasons – Bill had not been on a bike since he was a child and so was not that stable or confident initially. Several times I would turn round to see him upturned in to the mud. Fortunately never hurt apart from his pride!

We started doing more challenging rides and, when Bill moved to Hayling, we decided to cycle the South Downs Way over 4 days. We practised and, finally, we were off. What a trip we LOVED it!

Heather and friendsWe then saw the coast to coast ride (St Bees to Tynemouth) we thought that could be our next trip. We managed to persuade 4 other friends to join us. We used a travel company to book accommodation and bags were transported - maximum of 30 miles a day. We all succeeded and loved it. We had lots of coffee, cake and food stops! All of us have continued to cycle to a greater or lesser degree!

Next - My best mate and I had always had on a bucket list – cycling Lands End to John O’Groats. When I moved down to Hayling Island in August 2014 this seemed to be our opportunity as I would be working less and our dates could work – but how to do it!? Longer distances and stamina would be required and a decision about whether we could carry our own stuff. A trip to the Inner Hebrides with friends proved we could carry everything but we were still only doing 30 miles max a day.

I had spotted a Portsmouth CTC flyer in the local bike shop. I contacted the ride leader for that week via the website and asked loads of questions which he patiently answered! Finally with some fear and trepidation I went along on the Wednesday with my newish hybrid bike. I wasn't sure whether I would just go to coffee or the whole ride as I had only completed a maximum of 30 miles before. I completed the whole ride due to the positive encouragement and kindness of other riders. I continued attending whenever I could and even managed 70 miles including my cycle on and off the Island to the meeting point. I certainly would not have thought I could do this without being with the CTC.

Heather and friendsI shared with one of the CTC riders my intention to cycle LeJog as it is called and the next week he kindly lent me a book about the ride! So that was it – had to be done!? Initially it was just me and my friend but we ended up being 5 carrying all our belongings with B&B’s booked on route. Finally July 2015 we set off. An amazing adventure over 3 weeks which was incredible and made even better by the raising of money for the Alzheimer Society. I really do not think we could have done it without the top tips I was given about on-going maintenance of the bikes by CTC members and the increase in distances that I did on Wednesdays.

We then signed up for another different sort of adventure: The Hayling Charity Cycle ride to Le Mans and back last year. Can't imagine not cycling now – I'd never have thought that I would consider cycling to Compton for coffee and think nothing of it. Step by step – or rather pedal? Amazing – thanks CTC!

My journey into cycling: Andy Henderson

Andy Hi, my name's Andy Henderson. Today, I'm a keen cyclist but until a few year's ago I hadn't cycled since I was a teenager.

My first attempt to ride a bike as an adult came just six years ago. My wife, Margaret and I had just seen our youngest daughter off to university and it was time to move somewhere new. We sold our house in Ewell and moved into a flat in Gunwharf Quays that we used as a base for searching for a new home. The flat had a bike store we used for Margaret's and the children's bikes. We decided one day to take a trip down the prom. I don't think we could have gone much more than a mile, but it seemed a massive achievement at the time. Eventually, we managed to get as far as Southsea pier!

Our search for a new home ended in Bacon Lane, Hayling Island. We took over the keys on Christmas Eve 2007 and we've been very happy with the move. We've managed to make a lot of new friends in a short time.

As part of the move to the coast, I decided not to actively continue my IT company and thought it might be interesting going back to a 9-to-5 for a change. I ended up at SSE and - when it moved offices to Penner Road (round the back of Langstone Technology Park) - I saw my opportunity to start cycle-commuting. I bought a cheap full-suspension bike from Halfords and headed up the Billy Trail each day. 5 miles each way. I wasn't sure I could manage it at first, but it soon became a way of life. People noticed I lost weight, I felt fitter than I had in years. I don't think I'd have had the confidence to go far on the roads so I was fortunate I didn't have to use them much.

In 2012, I finally decided to stop working. I was uncertain whether it was the right thing to do, but took the plunge anyway. I'd heard about Portsmouth CTC from near neighbour Robert Sebley and decided to go one one of the easy rides. I really enjoyed it - both the company and being taken through low traffic routes into the South Downs Country Park.

Andyand bikeI decided to try one of the longer rides with the intention of coming back after the coffee stop. But, when I got there, I felt OK and carried on knowing that the group wouldn't leave me behind. I must have done 60 miles that day on an inappropriate bike and no cycling kit except a helmet. It wasn't easy, but I got a lot of encouragement - and no-one looked down on me. Instead, I was made to feel very welcome.

Since then I've become a regular rider. I've upgraded to better bikes. I use more appropriate clothing and I've learnt a lot about riding and bike maintenance. I've also lost 25Kg in weight! With CTC I've done my first 100 kilometre ride, my first 100 mile ride and my first 200 kilometre ride. I've become a ride leader and I'm a regular Dr Bike mechanic at RideLondon. I've also managed four Hayling to 'Paris' rides and done the Isle of Wight Randonée.

Portsmouth CTC caters for a wide range of inclinations and abilities - get in touch if you'd like to find out what you can do.