There’s a phone call on Saturday morning that helps us forget about scans and the almost continual ‘is it or isn’t it a tumour?’ that preoccupies us both at the moment; my ‘electrified’ bike is ready for collection.
Here I am testing it out; the motor is in the front wheel and the battery is in that bag at the back.
The way it works is very simple; when I run out of energy, I push a small lever and the motor kicks in and gives me a hand. The Law limits the top speed that the motor can provide to 15mph. Any faster than that and I’m on my own. If I just sat back and let the motor do all the work, I’d probably get 20-25 miles before the battery needed recharging. If I do most of the work – i.e., pedal and only use the motor when I’m desperate, the range increases to about 60 miles.
Right now the market for electric bikes seems driven by the needs of commuters and the necessity of arriving at work, quickly and cheaply without requiring a change of clothes. But there is another market – what I would call the recuperative/therapeutic market. We’re not just living longer; some of us are living longer while hosting some nasty diseases in our bodies. We want to carry on doing what we do for as long as possible – and for people like me that means an ‘invisible hand’ in my back to give me a push up hill every now and again.
It’s taken about 5 months to get to this stage. Back in January I find a ‘shop’ (more like man-in-shed) supplying conversion kits so that I can convert my own bike. The choice is enormous – each kit or system has its own particular use. How to explain? This has been the dilemma from the beginning. I don’t want to – nor feel I need to – provide a history of the Prodigal Tumour. But I have to explain why I need ‘electric-assist’ – what I actually want it for.
I am still sensitive about a ‘tumour in the lung’. This information is sometimes received fairly coolly, until I explain (usually prompted by the reception I get) that it was a bowel cancer secondary and that I’m not a smoker and it’s not lung cancer. The head goes back and I’m subjected to a long hard look – with an expression that says ‘you poor sod’.
Stating that I have one and a bit lungs does not really cover it either. The unasked ‘why?’ hangs in the air. Annie comes to the rescue. Before our visit to the shop, she made me talk her through our 10 mile circuit explaining when I thought I’d need that push in the back and when I could manage without. She has a breakthrough when she realises that one of the reasons I struggle up hills is that I have no momentum – I’m going too slowly to begin with.
Between us we manage to convey what I’m looking for; the man in the shop gives me his ‘demonstrator’ to try. I whizz up and down the road – it’s probably illegal, but great fun. He offers to build any system I want and we leave with a mass of information and his business card.
In the mean time I find another man-in-shed. I email him with a query – he emails back three times. I’m not playing hard to get, but I back off. My reticence is not just because I see him as being a bit ‘pushy’, it’s more to do with what this all actually means. I see a comment on a bike forum suggesting that while electric bikes wouldn’t do much for solving ‘the obesity problem’, they could be very useful for ‘the elderly’. Nooooooo.
I’ve just taken a drink when I read this and as I bounce up and down with righteous indignation, I spray coffee in the direction of my shiny iMac. By an amazing stroke of luck, not one drop misses.
It eventually dawns on me that this represents a new stage in my life – one I had not anticipated. Not yet anyway. Along with greying hair and the continual need to tell colleagues at work that we always used to do it ‘this way’, an electric-assist bike represents a sign of aging. Are people going to think I’m really old? Or lazy? Or both?
I come across a homily to age; ‘inside every old person is a young person thinking – what happened?’ So in the grand scheme of things – does it really matter what people think? Eventually I call the man in the first ‘shop’ and it’s all systems go.
I’ve just been reading about an 80-year old who has the same bike and same conversion kit as mine; he can now beat all his younger friends up hills and can manage 60 mile day-trips. He says it’s bought back the fun into riding his bike. I know how he feels – I’m like a big kid when I whizz past Annie; “Ciao baby, ciao”.