Julian Sayarer: How I fell in love with cycling

Julian Sayarer in central China
Julian Sayarer is a long-distance cyclist and author. In 2009 he broke the world record for a circumnavigation by bicycle, riding 18,000 miles through 20 countries. In this extract from his book Life Cycles he explains why he loves cycling.

I always rode a bicycle and I always loved that bicycle … it’s only as cliché as it is true. The vehicle of novelists and poets, "when I see an adult riding a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of mankind", that’s how H. G. Wells put it, and I’m just one of many who find in the bicycle a mobile salvation, the ability to propel myself towards my own escape.

As a child I rode near to my house, as a teenager I rode away from it, into the countryside, and once I’d hit the countryside it was only ever my ambition to go further. I rode my bicycle to the disused quarry where I played with my brother, to my grandparents’ house, 10 miles away, to school, and to the restaurants where I worked as a teenager. Eventually I was riding into neighbouring counties, into rides of 40, 50, 60 and 100 miles, chasing average speeds of 20mph. Occasionally I went too far, ambition beyond ability, so that my mother had to drive out and collect me, exhausted, from roadsides far from home.

I fell in love with the sport, with the Tour de France especially. Head over heels it got me, a sport played out across the roads of Europe, all of it, to the last metre, the most magnificent arena for the most magnificent of theatre. Though they may have their favourites, the crowds that flock to watch that race cheer each and every rider, to applaud the sport itself. The yellow jersey, the maillot jaune of the race leader, it bears the colour of the Tour, of July sunflower fields beneath the foothills of the Pyrenees. For those few stages in the 2000 Tour when David Millar won that jersey, he rode in it by day and slept in it at night. That’s what the yellow jersey means, it’s an honour, the culmination of fairytales and childhood dreams.

Cycling gets stuck inside of you, and out of my childhood and into my adult years it’s been in me."

Julian Sayarer

Cycling gets stuck inside of you, and out of my childhood and into my adult years it’s been in me. I found it in the lanes of Leicestershire, endeavouring to go so far and so fast my rides finished with the pulse of my heartbeat tucked inside my skull at the base of my brain. That was what I aspired to, the barometer of my commitment, for I wanted one day to wear a yellow jersey, and I had learned that to extend your limits they had, periodically, to be surpassed. I had to get uncomfortable because… oh boy did I want to wear a yellow jersey one day. I wanted to get better, to be good enough. I know now, it took time, but now I understand just how good a cyclist I am. Let me tell you, take a deep breath and confess: I am now good enough only to fully appreciate just how average I am, perhaps better than most, but truly piffling compared to the best. I knew it when I was younger too, but back then I could hope I might improve, get faster over time. Nowadays I know, I know that I’ll never be fast enough, but I got comfortable with that truth… it took a few years, but eventually I came to terms with it. That’s just growing up; you give up another dream, find happiness by other means.

Throughout that journey, I suppose the bicycle became my touchstone, my talisman. Of all that will be sold away, please allow that the bicycle be the last thing to remain sacred. I loved cycling through impulse, through instinct, and long before I was cursed to try articulating that feeling with words. Across the miles I’ve given it a great deal of thought, finally resolved that perhaps for me the bicycle represents some small saviour from mortality, the opportunity to make something greater of myself, to move with such speed and power that a portion of the mind is able to believe in magic, believe we humans are not after all so banal as I must otherwise confront. I love the bicycle like nothing else, the one institution I’m happy to live by, for in it you can feel euphoria.

About Julian Sayarer

Julian Sayarer is a long-distance cyclist and author, he is a guest speaker at the Cycling UK’s members’ Annual Get Together on 8 October 2016. 

In 2009 he broke the world record for a circumnavigation by bicycle, riding 18,000 miles through 20 countries, which he described in hisbook "Life Cycles". Before and since riding around the world, Julian has ridden numerous times across Europe, pioneering a style of writing politics by bicycle that has appeared in Aeon Magazine, New Statesman, The Guardian and others.

His second book, Messengers, tells the story of his time as a London bicycle courier, borrowing from his experience as a cycle campaigner in the city, while also reflecting on the interactions between urban design and the transformative role of the bicycle within city spaces.

If you would like to meet Julian, and you're a member of Cycling UK, he will be joining us at our Annual Members Get Together in Manchester on 8 October. Sign up now to secure your free place (and it's not too late to join Cycling UK if you're not a member just yet).