PH: Do you remember your first bike?
LP: My first bike was a Zippy Orange and at first, I was really resistant to the whole idea. My first memory is my Dad taking me to our local green which seemed huge at the time (though now I realise it was actually quite small); however I still managed to hit the only post in the field! Once I got the hang of riding I really enjoyed playing out on my bike, later going off for bike rides with a picnic. Cycling gave me a real sense of freedom.
When I lived in Manningtree I had a bike with a child seat on the back, but I didn’t go very far with the kids as it was quite a trek to the next town. However, I moved to Colchester five years ago and it became clear how cycling was by far the easiest, fastest and most pleasant way to travel. My husband, Andrew had already set up his life around cycling and so it was easy for us all to convert to cycling. This was so successful that we no longer needed my car, which we sold over a year ago. I love the continual movement of cycling, which avoids the traffic and I am someone who loves being outdoors so it is a great way to be outdoors and keep fit.
I refuse to see being on a bike as having to change what I wear and I always wear dresses or a nice skirt and shoes.
PN: What do you enjoy most about cycling in Colchester?
LP: I love the interaction with other road users – I’ve learnt that it is important to be confident and make eye contact with other road users – if you make eye contact, it proves you’re human. I love the ease of popping into town for a coffee, or going for a drink where I don’t need to worry about parking or drinking and driving. You see the world differently from a bike. On my way to work I meet my regulars – a couple of homeless people; then a motorbike that pulls up at the traffic lights, sometimes he has his girlfriend on the back and we have a chat. Cycling is political for me – it is a positive, visible alternative to reliance on fossil fuels. I honestly don’t see why more people don’t ride.
PN: Are there good cycling facilities where you work?
LP: Yes, Keith Ellis at the Sixth Form College is brilliant, he organises Dr Bike days, and he drew my attention to the Cyclescheme, so I could buy myself a new bike. I chose a Giant, with a super comfy saddle – she’s called Peggy; that’s Peggy from Madmen – stable, female, quiet, dark! The bike sheds at work are always full, especially on Wednesdays. If I go in late, I have to tie up to a post! I’m always trying to convert everyone in my office to cycling.
PN: Are the rest of the family keen cyclists?
LP: Yes, all of us, my husband and our seven children. The eldest three are at Uni, so they’ve taken their bikes with them, as none of them has a car. .. Our family all love swimming, tennis and eating, and my husband loves to go cycle camping, for example to places like Thetford. My youngest, Zac has just done Bikeability at school which was great. When we chose schools for our kids, one of the main priorities was always the cycle route.
Arriving as a family by bike, the kids don’t have the same pent-up frustration as when they explode out of a car. On our bikes we’re able to talk and enjoy nature, it’s calm and serene. We got married on a tandem a friend lent us, and now we have one of our own. My husband Andrew has a bike trailer for doing the shopping, and he has a few maintenance sessions each year to get all of our bikes properly serviced. We buy all our bikes from Re-Cycle, they’re always brilliant, really good value. The only way I’d go back to a car would be if I got an electric one. But I only need it a couple of times a month in which case we hire one or borrow one, but really it is much easier to manage without than people imagine. My pipe dream is for us to cycle from the north of Spain to Gibraltar, we’re just waiting for my youngest to be old enough to do it, it won’t be long. We’re thinking of going to the Netherlands next.
PN: Which is your favourite place to cycle?
LP: Berlin is the ultimate cycling city. On my first visit, I slowed down at a junction, and this car waited and gave me right of way, I nearly fell off my bike with shock! They have lovely clear bike lanes there, I wish that we could have the same here in Colchester – they’re all muddled, and the streets are all so clogged up. With the rate of house building and over-development here in Colchester – we must improve the cycling infrastructure, it is the only way forward! Pollution is a real concern for me especially in the town, it is going to get worse unless alternatives to cars are taken seriously.
PN: What do you think about Cycling UK’s ‘Too Close For Comfort’ campaign?
LP: I think overtaking can be worse on country roads, where people drive really dangerously fast. Interestingly it’s much better for me as a woman, I’ve noticed. I tell the kids, you have to be assertive, don’t hover near the kerb. They all wear high visibility gear especially in the winter. . I sometimes wear a helmet, it depends on what sort of journey and what mood I’m in. Our family rides as a péléton, so cars don’t drive too close.
PN: What’s the worst thing about cycling?
LP: It’s difficult to start with, you have to be very organised. And the pollution in Colchester is simply hideous. At the same time as I bought my new bike, I was looking at the Borough Council website and the Air Quality Management Areas. There’s so much pollution from the buses, the Park & Ride bus is always empty, and then there’s the school run, with all those frustrated parents whose kids need to be doing more exercise; I just don’t understand why they can’t walk or ride to school!
PN: And what’s the best thing about cycling?
LP: It’s such a good lifestyle. And I feel very safe cycling late at night, rather than walking, you’re not so vulnerable. You get such a high from cycling long distances. I run as well, but I think cycling has more longevity, I can see myself doing it for much longer. I’m not emailable, there’s no need to answer the phone. In a very busy life, I have time to enjoy my own space.