Kelli Schmalenbach is a first year student at the University of Essex, and one of the first things she did on arriving on campus was buy a bike from Re-Cycle.
PN: Tell me about your first cycling experience.
KS: My great grandpa taught me how to ride, I liked the sense of freedom, I loved the hills round the house, and I loved riding fast. At first I skinned my knees multiple times, I couldn’t do it, but it didn’t put me off. I lived in a suburban area, with not many bike paths, so I rode on trails through the woods. My first bike was a pink Barbie bike with streamers, then at 8 I got a blue bike with mermaids, and then in 7th grade I got a blue Schwinn mountain bike. I still have it at home, it’s very durable.
PN: Whereabouts are you from?
I’m originally from a place called Erie in Pennsylvania. It doesn’t have a huge bike culture, but there are some good bike trails. There’s a 12 mile route around the peninsula by Lake Erie, which is the best place to ride a bike, it’s completely flat, with lots of woods. The weather gets pretty cold there, it was the second snowiest city in the US a couple of years ago.
PN: So when did you arrive in Colchester?
KS: I came in September, a week before the Freshers Fair, and I wanted to find a good quality bike. I got so excited about the Re-Cycle stand, oh my gosh, I love the idea of sending bikes to Africa, I’ve told all my friends and family about it. I got a black and white Carrera Crossfire, it was my first time on a hybrid, and it was so good for riding on the road. I rode around campus to start with, and ended up in Wivenhoe by accident. Then I tried the Wivenhoe Trail as far as Alresford, and my 30 minute bike ride ended up taking two hours! I went into town a lot to get groceries, and I’ve been into Castle Park. The town centre routes are well signposted.
PN: But you’ve got a mountain bike now, so what happened to the Crossfire?
KS: I went to Aldi in Magdalen Street and parked across the road and locked it up. I was only gone for around 40 minutes, but it was stolen. I didn’t have a UK phone yet, so I asked in Aldi about a payphone, and a man lent me his mobile as he’d had his bike stolen two weeks ago from the same spot. I phoned the Police and I looked on Gumtree and Google and set up notifications to check if anyone was trying to sell my bike, but without any luck. So two weeks later I went back to Re-Cycle and got a new one, very similar to my old mountain bike, it’s fast and feels like my old one.
PN: Do any of your friends here cycle?
KS: I’ve been trying to get Uni friends into cycling, but it’s difficult to convince themthat it gives you more freedom, and it’s cheaper than the bus. I go to the Cowdray Centre, as Asda and Aldi are cheaper, and the ride is fun, it makes shopping more enjoyable. Bike insurance isn’t very common in the US, as not so many people ride there, but I’ve got this one covered now.
PN: Have you got any plans to cycle a bit further afield?
KS: Yes, in a couple of weeks I want to go to Clacton, it’s about 11 miles I think. Back home I did a lot of mountain biking, and I want to get back into it. The Wivenhoe Trail is really nice, it’s easier on long trails, using Google Maps. And I used to camp all the time back home, so I’d like to get a small tent and try out some of the Sustrans cycle routes, and maybe use the Warm Showers website you recommended.
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