Well, that went quickly.
It’s almost time for the Tour de France to arrive in Sheffield, and nearly 100 days since I nervously saddled up for the first time in decades.
Every man and his dog is getting involved - from community festivals, daft Tour songs and a legion of companies jumping on the two-wheeled bandwagon.
Indeed, if there was a quid available for every press release about some airline/cheesemonger/vacuum repair shop staff doing a charity bike ride I would be, perhaps not fabulously wealthy, but able to afford a new folding Brompton.
So after three months, many mistakes and about 500 miles behind me, here’s what I know about cycling:
1) It is the quickest, most convenient, way to travel. Buses and walking now seem excruciatingly slow
2) Cycling does not necessarily make you thinner, especially if you eat more crisps as ‘fuel’ and discover bike-friendly cafés
3) You will however, develop impressive calf and thigh muscles, and an arse like stone
4) Cycling is not - despite what friends and family fear - inherently dangerous. I haven’t crashed or fallen off once. In the same time period I have tripped twice walking in heels
5) There is nothing better than riding past a line of rush-hour traffic on your bike.
6) There is nothing worse than being stuck behind a waste collection truck on your bike
7) Your bum will stop aching in a week. But you will develop an itchy, flaky forehead from helmet wear
8) Cycling uphill is the best form of exercise ever
9) It is possible to get a weekly shop in a rucksack and cycle home. Not uphill though
10) You haven’t seen - or felt - the scale of Sheffield’s pothole problem until you’ve experienced it from a saddle
11) It is quite difficult to appear both professionally dressed and wear appropriate cycling gear. The bodyguards of Nick Clegg - who caught me changing from trainers to heels behind a bin near his office - can attest to this
12) Cyclists, paticularly in Sheffield, are the friendliest people in the world. Thank you to everyone for their advice, support and suggestions, paticularly Giant Sheffield on Queens Road for loaning me the bike, kit and giving much advice.
Welcome reader, to Jenkin Road in Wincobank.
This notorious road has several twists and turns, and a gradient of 33 per cent.
Its been declared as the toughest climb of the Grand Depart in Yorkshire by some - although the elite cyclists will certainly face far worse in France.
I knew it was something that could be done by a mere mortal. While doing a feature on communities along the route, earlier this week, I met a hardy cyclist who did it every day on his way home from work and a woman who climbed it four times a day when her children were at school.
But taking it on yourself is a different matter.
My fellow Star reporter Polly Rippon came along for the ride, and, squashed water bottles aside, we made it to the hill in one piece.
It started quite well. Stood on the pedals, the bike went up and around the first corner, getting progessively slower, although I couldn’t seem to get in the right gear.
Then it started to get hard.
I was going at a snail’s pace, legs burning, bike weaving with the effort and my breath coming like a 90-year-old man with emphysema. I had to sit down.
That was a fatal mistake as at the second turn down, and four minutes in, I had to stop and just gasp for a few seconds.
Back on the go, two lads on a bike raced past, shouting ‘go on’. The backpack was unbearably heavy, but the end looked in sight.
It wasn’t and I had to stop again at the tightest corner past Jenkin Avenue. Polly passed me and went ahead.
Finally it was the home stretch, and the last reserves of energy were used.
Anyone who uses the road will know its only a slight incline to the top, but it felt like murder after the previous gradient.
I’ve never been happier to get off a bike.
As we posed for the pictures by the Jenkin Road sign, two more cyclists passed quite easily.
Jenkin Road might have beaten me this time - I’m told it doesn’t count if you have to stop by those in the know - but I will be back.
In a few days, anyway.
There’s just one month left to go before the Tour de France arrives in Sheffield.
If this wasn’t already common knowledge, you would be able to tell because of the sudden upsurge in slightly panicky press releases, street signs and articles that are arriving.
People are starting to realise that this is actually happening. On July 6. In just four weeks.
It was brought home to me at the spectacular launch night of Bespoke, a Sheffield Hallam University project which has turned cycling stories from local people into a piece of live theatre.
I spoke to Chris Bush, the playwright, many weeks ago and at the time the Tour seemed like such a long way off, the project was only an idea.
Last night there were seven students who told seven cycling stories - real stories, from real Sheffield people - on the steps of the university’s Hallam Square.
They brought to life how cycling can create a funny story, such as the baby who tumbled from a tandem or the man who raced to meet his ferry by riding up the gangplank.
The show - in parts musical and funny, with lots of jokes about Sheffield’s ‘seven hills’- delved into the reasons why people ride, be it for friendship, for fitness, or to raise money for an important charity.
It looked at people, not bikes. How a father and daughter’s strained relationship could be kept together by a bike ride.
And my favourite part examined how the pursuit of the pastime, albeit unwisely, with much confusion about rolled-up trouser legs, can lead to romance. I know of several couples, after just a few weeks of riding, who met this way.
The show is just one of many, many events taking part for the cultural countdown the Yorkshire Festival. The diary is getting full of all things bike-related, from the science behind it to how to cheer on the riders.
And I can’t wait.
Bespoke is to be shown again tonight at 7pm and tomorrow, at a 2pm matinee and then another at 7pm.
Catch it if you can.
They said it was an ‘easy’ ride in the Peak District.
It seemed like a lovely way to break the cycle of commuting by bike, and so we headed out with the Nether Edge Bikebus crew on Sunday.
In recent weeks I have started to feel much more confident on two wheels, and even quite smug about overtaking the odd biker on Ecclesall Road on the way home.
Well, they say pride comes before a fall.
It was something to think about while tortuously making our way up a stupidly steep hill from Hassop to Great Longstone.
There really had to be some leaning back in the seat and a massive amount of muscle effort to keep going.
I haven’t been that out of breath since I did a boxercise class with Herrol Bomber Graham.
And it was only pride that stopped me from getting off and wheeling it up the rest of the way.
Luckily there is much to enjoy at the top of the hills. Mainly the jaw-dropping views, the solitude of lonely lanes and a cheese scone with tea at the cafe on Monsal Head.
The route we took, from Baslow to Hassop, Great Longstone to Monsal Head, then back to Hassop and on to Chatsworth, could easily become a tour of pubs and eating spots.
It was around 15 miles long.
To experienced cyclists, that is nothing.
As a journalist who has written hundreds, and hundreds, of charity bike ride stories over the years, it wouldn’t even be worth even a few lines.
It’s a lot tougher when you are actually in the saddle.
Several cups of tea, and much more panting, later the ride was finished.
It was a brilliant day, and to my surprise there were no aching muscles, only terrible tan lines to contend with. It topped off a great weekend of cycling after I was number 167 - total number 215 - in the Space for Cycling ride calling for action to make cycling safer in Sheffield.
Now I’m hoping to find some more Peak District rides to continue the challenge.
Send your best routes to email@example.com.
Blog four Does Bradley Wiggins cycle on his day off?
I ask because cycling seems to be slotting into every aspect of life.
It’s been just over a month since this two wheeled challenge began in the countdown to the Tour de France.
Abusive pedestrians or pedalling in the pouring rain aside - it is getting more and more genuinely enjoyable.
I ride to work and to interviews, even when it means chatting to the gorgeous Charlie Webster in sweaty trousers and helmet at Sheffield United or changing shoes by the bins outside an MP’s office.
At the weekends, a bike is the quickest way to meet friends and heading through Endcliffe Park up the Porter Valley is both stunning and speedy exercise.
An invitation to the cinema was even rejected as it clashed with a jaunt to the Peak District. Now that’s a phrase I never expected to say.
I was sceptical of both the health benefits and the fun aspect of cycling beforehand.
Sports nutrition experts at Sheffield Hallam University calculate that cycling for leisure at 16 kilometres an hour burns 294 calories an hour, rising to 1,000 an hour for racing speeds.
The areas of the body targeted most are the quadriceps, glutes and calves.
I didn’t think it would make that much difference, but there is definitely an acceleration in definition. You can feel the muscles working up Cemetery Road, my own version of Jenkin Hill.
And in the words of my mum: “Your arse has lifted up by about three inches since I last saw you.” I’ve taken it as a compliment.
Elite cyclists riding the hilly stages of the Tour will eat up to 7,000 calories a day.
That can be easily matched - just pass the bucket of KFC, please - but I might need to clock up a few more miles to burn that off.
He called me a ‘cycling slag.’
The pedestrian who stepped into the cycle lane on Arundel Gate - after looking and watching me approach - shouted a tirade of abuse as I slammed the brakes on to avoid him.
This was the strangest insult I’ve received so far, but not an isolated incident.
Buses have pushed me on to pavements, taxis have refused to wait an extra two seconds so I can get around a parked car, and drivers have shouted out of the window as I crawled up a hill.
Friends had warned about the safety of taking to two wheels before this challenge, worried about busy roads.
But I never expected this level of hatred, it was a surprise, and bear in mind I speak as a journalist.
This week a new report into cycling was produced by Sheffield Council, working with various organisations including Cycle Sheffield.
It makes 19 recommendations on how to get more people on their bikes, including appointing a cycling champion, promoting the cycling network more, and maintaining training levels.
Cyclists, many of them with years of experience, have since told me that safety is the number one barrier to novices getting on two wheels, and the main thing that any work should focus on. People just don’t feel confident or safe enough to give it a go.
I can understand why. It’s only thanks to free training with Pedal Ready that I dare get out there. Yet it seems a shame when the benefits, health, cost and fun wise, are so great.
They say any work on cycling in the city must focus on improving safety - but how?
It’s not new infastructure that’s necessarily needed.
Cycle lanes can be great but some of them stop in the middle of nowhere and attracts riders to the edge of the road, where drivers can’t always see them.
I went out with the Nether Edge Bikebus at the weekend, which helps people discover new routes around the area and runs every Saturday morning.
We found a much more pleasant way to town and went on roads I never had before stopping for a coffee (Harland cafe off London Road, it was brilliant).
Chris Rust, the organiser, gave out lots of tips, from speaking to pedestrians rather than ringing a bell - and most of all smiling. At everyone.
This seems to be the key.
If you make eye contact or smile at someone, then they have to realise you are not just a lycra top, sweating and going very slowly up a hill, but an actual person.
I know it works both ways, as well. There are some cyclists who concentrating on their music rather than the road ahead, and skip red lights as though they don’t apply.
It must be cheaper to build a culture of road users being, even slightly, more considerate to each other than an expensive new road network.
And that can only mean more people getting on bikes, so things improve further.
After all, there is safety in numbers.
* What do you think about the new cycling report for Sheffield? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.
For more details on the Nether Edge Bikebus visit http://edgecyclists.wordpress.com/nether-edge-bikebus/about-the-bikebus/.
Week one on a bike had its ups and downs.
And plenty of cyclists have been in touch to share their tips.
Paul Young from Pedal Ready - a great organisation which offers free cycling training - helped with the best routes into the city centre and even to try the rather terrifying university roundabout for the first time. (It was the easiest junction, turning left down to Shalesmoor, but still)
But then there was cycling in the rain, getting a puncture, and being thrown off a tram, all in the same day.
I’d gone to Hillsborough Park to cover a Sport Relief event when the bike started to feel a bit odd. Using the pump didn’t do a thing to the flat tyre and even the help of a passer-by could not make a difference.
So it was off to the tram stop to get back into town.
A few seconds after getting on, the conductor said I had to leave as it was ‘policy’ not to allow bikes on. I was stunned. It was still fairly early on a Sunday, and the tram was almost empty.
It was a very long walk back to the office, seething about the lack of integrated transport in Sheffield.
Surely it must have been a mistake?
No, it hadn’t. It turns out that Stagecoach have never let normal cycles on their trams, and the policy has been in place for 20 years, before the operator even took over the service.
Folding bikes only are allowed.
The official line is that this is for a ‘number of reasons’, but mainly because of limited space which could result in ‘potential accessibility issues for other customers.’
Well, if there had been any wheelchairs or pushchairs on the tram, that would have been completely understandable.
Yet there wasn’t a bulky vehicle, barely a passenger, in sight. There was room for half the Tour de France peloton on there.
I asked Stagecoach if there were any plans to relax or review this, given that the Tour is heading to Sheffield on July. Every day, another press release pops into the inbox about another event, and the organisers all want people to cycle there.
If you live more than a few miles out of the city centre, there’s more than a slight chance you might want to get the tram back or even halfway. It’s not a great impression to make to enthusiastic visitors on two wheels either.
The answer was no. A spokesman said trams would be ‘busier than ever during the Tour de France’ and there was also no way to fix bikes securely.
There are no plans to review the policy, she added.
Now, just because something has been in place for 20 years, doesn’t mean it has to carry on for another two decades.
And surely the trams are missing out on a trick - and an income stream - by refusing cyclists a service? They may not make up the majority of passengers, but they are a growing number.
I hope there’s time for Supertram bosses to get on board with a rethink.
Let me know what you think about the policy by emailing email@example.com.
Blog one - Friday March 28
Bikes and I had never been the best of friends.
At the age of six, when the stabilisers came off my first cycle, I was sent flying down the hill in a local park to land in a pile at the bottom.
And as a reporter in Derbyshire, I borrowed a Brompton folding bike for an awareness week featured, and ended up leaving a colleague’s borrowed helmet on a train to Edinburgh.
A bike bought from Gumtree afterwards was then stolen from outside our flat on Scotland Street.
It had been tied up with a belt, mind, rather than a proper lock.
But as The Star launched its Let’s Get Cycling campaign to encourage people to get into gear, I thought there could be no better time to give it one last go.
The challenge is to ride every day for 100 straight days as Sheffield counts down to the arrival of the Tour de France in July.
I’ll be riding on the commute to work, for fitness, to yoga classes, friends’ houses and on weekend rides with groups across the city in a bid to find out if two wheels are the best way to get around.
Luckily, this isn’t a solo journey.
Expert advice will be on hand from the Giant Sheffield store on Queens Road, which has donated a bike, helmet and safety gear for the cause.
Manager Andy Liversidge will also be providing top tips on everything from getting started, to maintenance, cycle friendly cafes and equipment.
Dozens of cyclists have already been in touch to offer their support and invitations to a ride.
So I’ve saddled up, and set off...
* Andy Liversidge from the Giant Sheffield store has given these handy tips to novice cyclists.
He said: “Cycling can be a daunting prospect if you are new to the sport.
One very important message we try to broadcast at Giant Sheffield is don’t leave yourself ill-prepared for your cycling ventures.
Whether it be a Sunday afternoon jaunt, a commute to work, or an endurance event you’ve been preparing for all winter – be prepared.
Carrying the essential equipment can be the difference between having a huge amount of fun, and having an experience that results in you putting the bike back in the garage to collect dust.
Here is a list of bare essentials I recommend you carry on every cycle journey.
Helmet - Though not a legal requirement, we’d advise that you wear one.
Lighting – Lights have two functions, to see, and to be seen.
Bottle Cage and Bottle – Staying hydrated is a crucial element of cycling.
Lock – Important for commuters and city travelling adventurers.
Mini Tool – Perfect for tightening up any loose bolts on your travels.
Pump – Mini pumps fit to your bicycle via the bottle cage bolts.
Spare Tubes – Minimum of two to replace punctured ones.
Tyre Levers – These allow the easy removal of tyres when fixing a puncture.
Cleaning Kit/Lubricants – Cleaning solutions allow you to properly maintain your bike and increase longevity –after riding be sure to clean down your bike, dry it, and carefully store it until the next adventure.
At Giant Sheffield we have two Essential Starter packs, and on both you can save a whopping 25 per cent on RRP of individual items. Come in store to find out more.