Like most boys, I learnt to ride a bike at an early age. I soon found myself exploring the country lanes and villages around my home in Hampshire. I would disappear on my own or with friends for a day at a time; we would just go where we fancied. When I was a teenager I decided that riding on the road was a bit limiting, so I fitted a smaller chainwheel to my 3-speed and started cycling up and down the local hills. I remember stuggling up the grass slopes of St. Catherine’s Hill in Winchester and then charging down again at high speed. One day, this American guy saw me and shouted out “Wow, that looks fun”....and then invented mountain biking when he returned home to California. (That last bit probably isn’t true).
It was 2.3 miles from my house to my secondary school. At first I took the school bus but I soon found that cycling was quicker and a lot more fun. On the way home, there was a long, very gently sloping hill called Chilbolton Avenue. Up to a dozen or so of us would race down the hill, maybe five or six abreast. Sometimes the police would be waiting for us at the bottom; they would stop us and give us firm advice about road safety and the 30mph speed limit, but we would invariably race again the next day.
When I was 17 I went off to university in Bristol. I left home with one suitcase and travelled by train. Same problem: my hall of residence was 2.2 miles away from the university. I tried walking and taking the bus, but neither was much fun, so, the first weekend, I went home by train, picked up my push bike and returned to Bristol. Perfect. I could ride in to lectures in no time at all and explore Bristol and the surrounding countryside at weekends.
In those days, we got a student grant rather than a loan. The grant was paid at the beginning of each term and I blew one term’s money on a new bike. I’m not sure of the exact model - It was a Peugeot with 531 double-butted main tubes. The frame decals and colours were just like this one, but with a Stronglight 49D chainset as in this model. I think the model number might have been PRN10, with the “N” signifying clincher rims (Mavic Module E, which had been introduced in 1975). I would cycle for miles on this bike - typical rides were to Salisbury Plain and back, Wales and back, and, once, to the South Coast and back.
One weekend in the winter of 1977 I rode from our flat in Clifton to Sturminster Newton where Barrie, one of my Bristol housemates, was having a bit of a do for his birthday. As I arrived on the Friday evening it was starting to snow. It carried on snowing all night and all Saturday. The wind got up and, by Sunday when I was due to return, there were deep snow drifts blocking all the roads out of Sturminster. I tried for a couple of hours but got no further than a mile or so. The following day I tried again. This was one of the most memorable rides of my life. The 50-mile ride on the Friday turned into a zig-zagging 75 mile ride at least on the return leg. My 20mm tyres were ploughing through deep snow the whole way and I must have fallen off dozens of times. It was just me, the snow ploughs and the odd milk lorry. Character-building! I arrived back on Monday afternoon a day ahead of Barrie who had sensibly travelled by train.