I wouldn’t class myself as A Cyclist. I have my own hybrid bike which I enjoy riding on from time to time, but I lack clever gadgets and specialist Lycra clothing – padded bum shorts aside. However whenever I do get out there and find myself bowling along with the wind at my back, listening to the birds tweeting and the streams tumbling, I invariably think “This is the life, I must do it more often.”
But West Cornwall is quite a hilly place. It’s not Alps or Mont Ventoux hilly certainly, or even Brecon Beacons hilly, but there are a lot of inclines, and even with my 24 gears, sometimes this causes cursing and wheezing and knee clicking, and musings about why am I actually doing this, wouldn’t a nice walk be just as good? My own personal challenge and gauge of how fit I am at any given time is Raginnis Hill in Mousehole – can I cycle all the way up in one go, or do I need to stop and mainline some chocolate at some point? If the former then I think I’m doing alright (though it has only happened once). If the latter then I think shamefacedly of the cyclist Josie Dew, who is 5 foot nothing and in her early 50s, yet carts her young family round on the school run using a specially adapted bike-and-trailer-combo. Every day. In all weathers, including snow. To say nothing of taking them on impossible sounding cycling adventures in their school holidays. I have been a fan of Josie and her books since my 20s and was happy when I emailed her to ask about padded bum shorts recommendations and she took the trouble to reply. http://josiedew.com
So, when heaving and gasping my way up hill and o’er vale, I sometimes think – what would Josie do? And the answer came to me at Christmas when I went to my mum’s in Wales. My sister and brother in law had brought their bikes for a Boxing Day ride and neglected to tell me they were doing so, which made me huff until Mum said, sighing, that I could use her electric bike. She bought this so she could take on the hills around the Vale of Glamorgan in her seventies and is so far enjoying it very much. We set off for our ride leaving the poor 8 year old sadly cycling round the village on his own, and had a great time. As Laura and Mike panted up the hills in all their Lycra, I breezed past them wearing my trackie bottoms and fleece. The cycling clubs we passed openly sneered at the visible battery on the bike I was riding and my risible attire, but I didn’t care.
This brings me finally to the point, which is Land’s End Cycle Hire http://landsendcyclehire.com . Peter and Ann Rivett operate this great little business in the same space as Lodey Sail Loft (another local recommendation if you’re after sails or upholstery). Lately they have invested in a fleet of electric bikes (or ebikes) as well as their normal bikes, and they are proving popular so I thought I’d have another go. Peter had it all ready for me after a couple of text messages were exchanged, and explained how to use it; very easy with 7 “normal” gears by your right hand, and electric options on your left. Leg power only, eco, a bit more help, a lot of help and loads of help (disclaimer: they might not have been called those exact things). The price for a day’s hire was £35 which I thought was very reasonable, given that the bikes are top notch, well maintained and there has clearly been a lot of investment. Last Wednesday the forecast had been bright sunshine and 14°C unseasonable warmth – what we actually got was a dense sea fog and 10° chill. Never mind.
The first stretch going west is along the level cycle path running between the sea and the railway track. It’s usually busy with other cyclists, walkers and their dogs, children on scooters and trikes, so make full use of the bell. No electric assistance was required thus far, though it was fun flicking up and down the electric range seeing what a sudden burst of power you get from Turbo. At this point I should add that the battery on these bikes isn’t infinite and they don’t have a charger/dynamo, so using turbo the whole time would make the battery run out fairly quickly. The first time I actually used the power was on the hill around the harbour in Newlyn, and the difference it made was amazing. I was able to enjoy the sight of the fishing boats moored up and a seal snoozing in the shallows. After a spot of lunch in Mousehole I was ready to take on Raginnis Hill.
It was easy! I didn’t even have to get up to Turbo, but sailed up the hill in a stately fashion like a vicar’s wife, nodding affably at passers by, who no doubt gasped in awe at the unbelievably fit woman cycling straight up the steep hill without even puffing. And so it continued all over the southern bit of the Penwith Peninsula – through Castallack to Lamorna, up to St Buryan, to Crows An Wra almost to the airport where the sun came out and I watched the Scillies planes land and take off, though it was too hazy to see the actual islands. I also stopped at the Merry Maidens stone circle, which is one of West Penwith’s many prehistoric stone monuments. The ancient granite, colourful lichen and perfect circle always invoke a sense of mystery, and it seems to have the same effect on everyone who visits
At this point the sun came out, and I decided that for me, the most enjoyable thing about cycling in this part of the world is heading away from the coast, though little back lanes, getting higher and higher and seeing West Cornwall drop away beneath me. At this time of year on these tiny roads there is virtually no traffic other than tractors and the odd local driving to or from one of the little granite hamlets you pass through with curious names like Joppa and Grumbla and Ding Dong. On this ride I found almost without exception that the drivers I met in these lanes were considerate and sensible when they encountered me on my bike, and always acknowledged with a wave or a toot if I pulled into a passing place to let them on their way. Maybe this is less of a thing in the summer when the lanes are more crowded with people unused to driving in them.
It’s an early spring this year in contrast to the unusual snow we had in March 2018, and the verges are already blooming with daffodils, celandines, primroses, wild garlic and some of the blackthorn is already out. Drawn up by those long south stretching isobars, I saw my first hummingbird hawkmoth, its wings blurring over a clump of primroses by Sancreed churchyard.
In fact I became so lost in my spring inspired reveries, I found myself still up on the moors at quarter to four – and Peter had said he was locking the gate in Long Rock at 4.30 so I really had to really motor back to be there in time, which luckily I was.
I am incredibly taken with this mode of transport and foresee a time in the near future when people use them not just for leisure, but need to rely on them increasingly for everyday transport needs. Necessity is mother of invention, and just imagine an integrated transport system using electric bikes, buses and trains – given that they are easy to use for anyone able bodied, and that there are all manner of trailer and pannier options, the potential is massive. I’m thinking of a holiday by train to Penzance, whose station is handily the end of the line on the Great Western Railway, a holiday let or B&B within walking or taxi distance, and arranging with Peter to drop off your trusty steeds for the week and to collect them again at the end of your stay. But as I also discovered a long ride round West Penwith using an electric bike in the spring time was a really lovely way to spend a day.
Land’s End Cycle Hire are based in Long Rock between Penzance and Marazion. Pick up and drop offs are available. Half day, full day or weekly hire is available. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for latest news and developments. Another recommendation for further east in Cornwall is Aggie Cycles based in St Agnes, who are doing brilliant work promoting specific cycle routes in the Truro area http://aggiecycles.com