Cycling along the Rhein

Cycling and happiness

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Cycling and happiness – how bikes have helped me to measure progress and brought joy to my life – often through small victories.

The joy of punching the air

When was the last time you punched the air and said “yesssssssssss!”?

If you want to understand me a bit, read on.

Happiness, progress and small victories

Air-punching is the stuff of small victories.  You disagree?  Please leave a comment below.  I would argue that with big victories (child born; illness overcome) you feel a powerful inner glow and no air-punching goes on.  But I digress.  My recent small victory involved the mileometer (an English word, the spell-check tells me – more usually odometer in the US and probably more appropriate here also as I actually choose to measure my cycling progress in small, rapidly-mounting kilometres rather than large, hard-to-accumulate miles, a fascinating subject in itself) on my bicycle.

Cycling and happiness: Bonn

I bought my red bike on 16 July 1998 in Bonn, along with three other bicycles which have since perished.  One was out-grown.  Two were destroyed when a car I was in skidded on snowy tires in my garage in Kyiv and crushed the bikes, which were leaning against the wall and thus in the wrong place at the wrong time.  My own bike was leaning against a different wall and escaped.

Robert Pimm's bicycle

The bike on the Rhine tow-path – before I uglified it with yellow tape for Berlin – Photo Robert Pimm

Cycling and happiness: my odometer

In Bonn, I cycled 14 km each day to and from work, mostly on a tow-path along the Rhine, and took pleasure in measuring my progress and speed with my “Cateye Velo 2” bike computer.

Cat Eye velo 2

The “Cateye Velo 2”

An encounter with 12 policemen

I peaked, once, at an average door-to-door speed of 26 km/hour for the 7 km journey, including two hills but no traffic lights.  Serious riders may chortle; I was delighted.  Another time, coming home slowly in the dark along the tow-path on a foggy night, the batteries in my 1998-vintage lights exhausted, I ran into a dozen uniformed German police on foot, who seemed to be coming back from a party.  They kindly did not fine me but told me politely to get off the bike.

More things to be happy about

The advent of LED bike lights, incidentally, whose batteries last for months and are far smaller yet also brighter than old-fashioned bike lights, is one of those small technological advances, like remote locking of car doors, which are not world-changing but make life measurably better.

Cycling and happiness: Berlin

In a year in Bonn, using the bike regularly, my Cateye recorded me cycling more than 1,500 km.  I then moved with the family to Berlin, where conditions were less good for cycling, and did a further 1,000 km over the next seven years.  One evening in 2003 I left the bike, locked with my treasured Kryptonite-brand U-lock (on the pic above and far older than the bike itself) outside a Rolling Stones concert at the Berlin Olympic Stadium.  When I returned, a tiny part of the lock mechanism had broken off so that I could not insert the key to open it.  Next day I called a lock-smith who efficiently sawed off part of my key so that I could insert it and free the bike.   But I had to buy a new lock, a perfectly good but less imaginatively-named Abus.

Cycling and happiness: Kyiv

In 2006 I moved back to the UK for two years, living in Sevenoaks – a hilly place with narrow roads and fast cars.  Poor for cycling.  In 2008 I moved to Kyiv.  Even hillier, worse traffic, roads and weather, diabolical for cycling.

Bicycles in Kyiv

Cycling conditions in Kyiv – often not ideal – Photo Robert Pimm

I did, however, use the bike a bit, often with friends and colleagues, eg on an “Earth Day” rubbish collection expedition in 2010; or for occasional “bike day” events.  The Cateye crept up towards 3,000 km but never quite made it.

Bicycles in Kyiv

Bike at “Earth Day” in Kyiv: you can see the Cateye on the handlebars – Photo RP

No cycling: Istanbul

In 2012 I moved from Kyiv to Istanbul.  Did I say the cycling was bad in hilly Kyiv?  In hilly Istanbul it was even worse.  My bike sat unused; I can find no picture of it in use.

Cycling and happiness: Vienna

In 2016 I moved from Istanbul to Vienna.  I imagined using a bike a lot in Vienna but was doubtful that my Bonn bike, now 18 years old, would make the cut.  I decided to cannibalise it and remove the lock, bell and, of course, the Cateye.  When the tyres were pumped up, however, the bike, although by now somewhat retro, looked irresistible; so I brought it with me to Vienna.  Here, I soon racked up the 3,000 km on countless fine cycle-paths.

How my odometer made me happy

Everyone tells me the red bike will soon be stolen, despite its age and uglification yellow tape.  I guess this is true, but hope to put off the day as long as possible by removing key bits (including the Cateye) whenever I park it, and locking it up religiously.

Robert Pimm's bicycle

On the Danube Island, autumn 2016. Also visible: the Puch-brand bell from my 1984 Steyr Waffenrad, murdered Moscow 1995 – worth a blog in itself – Photo RP

It follows that when in 2017, only 19 years after it was installed and still operating on the original battery, the Cateye Velo 2 appeared no longer to be working, my dismay was considerable.  Last weekend I took it to a bike shop, where an efficient young bloke put in a new battery.  Encouragingly, it fitted fine; but nothing happened.

“Looks like you need a new bike computer”

‘Looks like you need a new bike computer,’ the bloke said.  I asked if he had a battery tester.  He did not.

I examined the new bike computers, which cost around €50, thought about the hassle of installing one, and decided to think a bit more.  On a whim, I went back and bought the new battery anyhow, thinking I could perhaps fiddle around with the Cateye a bit.

Deploying the battery tester

Later, with the weekend drawing to a close after a certain amount of unrecorded bike activity (itself raising existential questions about whether any of this matters or whether interest in such matters is simply the domaine of Nick Hornby-type saddos) I sat down with the new battery and the old Cateye to see if I could salvage anything.  Things started well: my battery tester (a valuable tool) showed that the old battery was dead.

I discovered a “set” button on the back of the Cateye; and pressed it in various combinations with the one button on the front of the device.  A tiny “km” display appeared.  Then a series of zeros at the bottom of the screen.  No amount of pressing buttons seemed to help beyond this point.

Success!  Happiness ensues

Might I have kept the instructions for the Cateye?  I found the instructions for my ARLS Acoustic Research speakers, bought in 1977 and still going strong on their second pair of speaker cones (erm… who needs instructions for loudspeakers?); but nothing for the Cateye.  Step forward, Google.  At the magnificent “Manuals Directory” I found a manual for the Cateye Velo 2, along with countless more modern versions.  Armed with this, I was able to push buttons in the correct sequence not only to get the device working, but also to enter the number of kilometres which had been recorded before the battery expired.

Air-punching occurred.

All that remains is for me to reunite the Cateye with the red bike and cycle somewhere, pushing the number of km gradually higher until such time as something else breaks or is stolen.  Meanwhile the pleasure of accumulating kilometres and seeing how fast and far I am travelling will be enhanced incalculably by the age, familiarity and shared history of the equipment I am using.


I hope you have enjoyed this post on Cycling and Happiness.  For more personal stuff about Robert Pimm, please see the “Personal Stuff” tab.  If you enjoy fresh, original writing, you can follow me on Facebook or sign up for my newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).


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5 Responses

  1. Small pleasures eh? But rich pickings here about the throw-away society, and the satisfaction it can give to bunk it.

  2. Yesssss ! Mein Wasserkocher für den early morning tea gab heute früh den Geist auf. Nach einigem Stöbern fand ich die Rechnung und die Garantie für ein neues s Gerät läuft erst in 3 Wochen ab. So konnte ich bei meinem
    Eisenhändler um die Ecke ein funkelnagelneues Gerät nach Hause tragen.

  3. Great post. However it sounds as if you removed the lock and the bell from the old bike but not the saddle. Surely, as Flann O’Brien described so acutely, this is the area where the exchange of atoms between owner and machine has been at its most intimate!

    1. Indeed bicycle seats are mystic. I had a fine Brooks leather seat on my fine first adult bike, a red racing Raleigh I bought second-hand for £10 (with my dad paying half) in 1972. Slender, rigid and punishing it was. I rode the bike for years around London until 1992, and if that leather saddle moulded itself to me it did so in subtle and undetectable ways – it was like resting your rear on a steel rolling pin. The poor Raleigh slowly deteriorated and when we went to Moscow in 1992 I left it in the basement of my first flat in Gloucester Street SW1. When we returned in 1995 I went back, thinking to retrieve the saddle, but someone had put a lock on the door of the basement.

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