Back In The Saddle On World Bicycle Day

world bicycle day

Since today is World Bicycle Day, we thought we’d revisit the story of Mary Mayes, who first spoke to us in 2014.

Mary made the decision to take up cycling a little later in life ⁠— she was sixty when she was given her first bike!

We’ll let her take it from here . . .

I never owned a bicycle as a child. My family lived near the centre of Cardiff and the traffic was terrible, so any idea of cycling to school was out of the question.

I was secretly relieved, as I simply could not understand how such a strange contraption could possibly remain upright. I did sometimes borrow my friend’s bike and “have a go” in the little lane behind our house.

Sadly all my doubts were confirmed, and I would end up as a heap in the road.

I was determined to succeed

Later in my teens, with a little more knowledge of the laws of physics, I tried again, but still couldn’t take that blind leap of faith.

Fifty years later, after retiring to southern France, my husband Paul bought me my very first bicycle at the age of sixty. All I had to do was learn to ride it — this time I was determined to succeed.

French people in general ride a bike before they can walk.

There is no age barrier — I am amazed to see eighty and ninety-year-old people effortlessly gliding along in the sunshine, paying visits to friends and family. This made me even more determined to succeed.

I decided that the best place to practise was in a small lane near our house.

With nostalgic thoughts of my childhood in Wales (and checking nobody else was about), I pushed myself off to the sound of Paul’s cries: “You’re supposed to keep on pedalling!”


After several more attempts and grazed knees later, I managed to keep going, but zigzagged all the way.

I often used to slip out into the little alley to practise alone. One day, when I was having a particularly difficult time, I looked up to see our ninety year-old neighbour, Giles, cycling towards me.

I felt rising panic. All I could think of was that I mustn’t collide with him.

As soon as that thought was in my head the bicycle seemed to have a mind of its own and I found myself bearing down at him at increasing speed.

He managed to swerve sharply and I missed him by a hair’s breadth. His eyes became very bright and I could see he was trying to suppress laughter.

“Debutante?” he asked, and then, “Bon courage.”

I couldn’t help noticing his shoulders heaving as he made his way home.

All of a sudden I was doing it

Our lovely neighbour, Raymond, turned up when Paul and I were having a particularly fraught time. He is a gentle giant, well over six feet, with enormous hands and twinkling eyes.

Raymond decided to take over. Completely ignoring my pleas, he raised the seat so I was cut off from terra firma. He then pointed out that I had my eyes firmly glued to the ground which was why I went in a zigzag.

Thirdly, I was gripping the handlebars too tightly.

“Can you blame me?” I secretly thought.

world bicycle day

Photograph courtesy of Mary Mayes.

All of a sudden I was doing it. I had the wind in my hair with the sound of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” pounding in my head.

A crowd of children gathered at the boules court shouted, “Bravo, Marie!”

My pride took a fall at the following village craft meeting.

It is really an excuse to make friends with my neighbours, as well as improve my schoolgirl French. Everyone was already sat down when I arrived, needle-work in place.

As I bent down to embrace Bernadette she whispered, “Did you come by bike?”

They accept me for who I am

“No,” I replied. “I walked.”

At this point everyone erupted into peals of laughter, and Bernadette actually had tears running down her cheeks.

People who had not shown the hint of a smile before were now out of control.

It appeared that when I had been practising in the lane, I was oblivious to the people who lived in the surrounding houses. They must have been amazed at what they saw.

Bernadette used to phone them when I appeared. I shared the joke and the laughter that afternoon, and I felt pleased that I had cheered everyone up.

I had so wanted to be accepted by these wonderful people — maybe before I was trying too hard to be perfect, and now they accept me for who I am.

People who used to only give two kisses now give three or even four.

Little did I think learning to ride a bike would make such a difference!

For more on World Bicycle Day, click here.

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Alex Corlett

Alex is the "Friend's" Features Editor, working with the talented Features Team to bring you everything from cryptic crosswords to financial advice, knitting patterns to international travel and inspirational real life stories. Always on the hunt for a new feature idea, Alex also enjoys cycling and loves a good tea room.