Me and My Bike: Aileen

Me and My Bike: Aileen

By Kathryn McNicoll

Aileen describes herself as a nervous cyclist who, up until quite recently, had not cycled since she was a child: why then does she choose to cycle from the Pear Tree Park and Ride to her job as the Senior Facilities Manager at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter? Fitness is her main motivation. She realised that she had reached her 50s, had a busy job and teenage children that needed to be ferried to after school activities and she was spending all her life in the car. She felt unfit and knew she had to make a change in her lifestyle. 

Another strong reason was avoiding the wait in the freezing cold for a bus: sometimes the bus was so full it didn’t stop so she had to wait for the next one. The journey in and out of town by bus was erratic, sometimes smooth and sometimes very slow. In contrast, she knows exactly how long it will take her to get to work on her bike and that takes a lot of stress out of the journey. She can even beat the bus back to the Park and Ride which is a good feeling.

Getting into the cycling habit wasn’t easy at first: she started with a very heavy bike and every hill felt like a mountain. Loading the bike back onto the car for her journey home to Bicester was also really difficult and she often had to get someone in the car park to help her. She had quite a nasty accident after about 6 months of cycling, but she says she just dusted herself off, got back on and kept going. She then managed to get a refurbished bike from Bicester Green, but cycling took on a whole new meaning when she got her Brompton. Oxford University is a good employer for cyclists: they help would-be cyclists with the cost of the bike and they offer locks and lights at a reduced rate. They also have excellent bike lock-up facilities.

Is the cycle ride a piece of cake? Well no.

For a start there is a lot of street furniture in the way on the cycle path, at certain times of the year the path is covered with slippery wet leaves. On top of this, every driveway means a dip in the path which is why, now that she is a bit more confident, she uses the bus lane when she can, even though she has had a taxi driver shout at her for doing so. Vans often choose to park on the cycle path too; there are also potholes and areas where gravel and glass hasn’t been cleared away in spite of the fact that Aileen has marked them up on FixMyStreet several times. The Woodstock Road itself isn’t perfect for cyclists either: the drains block up quickly so there are often large puddles across the road. The infrastructure in places is woeful: the crossing over from the Park and Ride at the lights, in particular, is totally uncontrolled for pedestrians and cyclists.  

So, again, why cycle? Aileen says she just loves her cycle ride each day and misses it when she doesn’t have that ride to work. It is great for her mental health and, although air pollution is bad in places, it is much worse if you are in a car. When she gets to St Edward’s School, she takes Elizabeth Jennings Way and she says she has discovered all sorts of lovely corners of Oxford she didn’t know existed. Does the weather bother her? Not at all: “When the rain’s on your face you know you’re alive.”  


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