It is 5am and the roads are silent; the air sharp and steady from the overnight respite. No fumes and clashing horns and rumbling of lorries; no exhaust pipe mushroom clouds in miniature. At 5am, everything is still, and I am alone. These are the only reasons I am out at this hour.
You see, along with everyone else, I decided to get a bike during lockdown. I was far too late to take full advantage of the vacant streets, hence my workaround solution.
After fighting a number of people to the death and passing a ritualistic initiation ceremony that involved fingerless gloves but about which I am not allowed to say more, I arrived at Halfords to pick up a Zelos, which I figured was good, because zelos means zeal. (There is a model called Vengeance in the same range, which I did not trust myself with.) I knew nothing else, because I have not ridden a bike in almost a decade. My head still fits a child’s helmet.
“Starting is the hardest part” is an acknowledged truism, and everyone recognises the glory of the silverware triumph. What people rarely mention is the sheer satisfaction of nailing the bit after the starting. Mastering the basics.
This is a quantum leap: a sudden, tiny jump that has drastic effects. It’s the feeling of suddenly getting a particular technique or movement or step and wondering how we ever found it impossible.
For me, this gained foothold is a greater pleasure than big achievements in areas I am already good in. Footholds is an apt term, because realising I should be letting my legs do the majority of the work in bouldering was a breakthrough. Conversely, after watching YouTube swimming videos on how to improve my tragic front crawl, I learned that the legs, basically, do very little. I can easily remember myself as a frustrated schoolgirl, transformed by grasping theories set out by long-ago dead men via the conduit of a Year 6 comp teacher. (I imagine teachers share that buzz.)
So, I am up at 5am to practise the different gear systems on a road bike and to conquer, well, staying on it. I am not entirely alone. There is a fox, whom I have named Dave. Dave sits and watches as I go up and down a particular street, before I get nervous that my chain will wake its inhabitants and move to another. Nobody but Dave is there to see me signal into nonexistent oncoming traffic. Nobody but Dave is there to judge me when I disappear headfirst into bushes. Dave watches me progress from wobbly to smooth and straight – with zeal.