Memories of my early years on a bike

In a new series of guest bloggers for the London Cycling Campaign, Jude Burke recalls her early years on a bike.

Everyone remembers their first time…but I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever.

I mean, it must have happened. I can ride a bike now, and clearly I wasn’t born with this ability. Somewhere in the gap between not knowing and knowing, between non-cyclist and cyclist, there must have been stabilisers, falls, grazed knees, tears and cries of ‘Daddy, don’t let go of me!’ or words to that effect. I know there must have been, yet I can’t remember any of it.

In fact, when I think about riding a bike as a kid, the only memories I can summon are from when I was about nine years old – long after I learned how to ride one.

Photo: A tricycle doesn’t count as a first bike, does it? Me, aged about three, with my sister.

Just off the street I grew up on there’s a footpath known as the gennel (or ‘alleyway’, for those not from Sheffield). It starts just down the street, passes round the back of my parents’ house and comes out around the corner. Other people might see it simply as a shortcut to get from A to B. Back then, for my sister and I, and the other kids on our street, it was a racecourse.

Two of us would race at a time, each heading off in opposite directions on our bikes. The winner was, obviously, the one who got back to the start first. But, in reality, we often knew who had won well before that – it all depended on where you were on the course when you passed the other racer. But at a certain point, you both knew you’d have a race to the finish line.

There was one girl we used to play with, Melissa, who was a poor loser – which was a bit of a problem, seeing as she usually lost. Instead of accepting defeat, she would pretend to have fallen off her bike. When a few minutes had passed after whoever she’d been racing had got back, we’d have to go off in search of her, and would invariably find her on the floor, crying, with her bike next to her. As kids, I don’t recall we had much sympathy for her. Although, looking back, I wonder if we were a little cruel. But then again, no-one can fall off that often – can they?

Being a loser – poor or otherwise – wasn’t so much of a problem for me because I don’t think I lost very often, thanks to my rather fabulous bike. My dad had built it for me, using the frame of an old second-hand bike which he fixed up. I don’t remember exactly what it looked like, only that it was spray-painted metallic blue. I think it was pretty plain – no frills or tassels or baskets. But what it lacked in accoutrements, it made up for in speed.

Melissa had a big brother called Daniel, who was older than the rest of us and didn’t usually join in our games. He may even have started secondary school at this point and probably considered himself far too grown up for such child’s play. I don’t know. But I do remember that he was very interested in my bike. He even had a nickname for it – the ‘mean machine’. I think he used to ask to borrow it, and he may have joined in some of our races on it. I remember feeling quite proud that this older boy was interested in my bike – and, by association, me.

I don’t know what happened to the ‘mean machine’, except that I grew out of it, in the same way that I grew out of bike races and playing out. I don’t think I owned a bike at all while I was a teenager. In fact, I don’t think I had another bike until I was living in Mississippi…but that’s a whole other story.


Jude blogs about cycling and living in the city at

Do you remember your first bike? How did you learn and what adventures did you and your bike have?

Are you blogging about cycling in the city or would like to write articles for London Cycling Campaign, please send an email to

Become a supporter of London Cycling Campaign - to help make London a more liveable city for cyclists and pedestrians.


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