The hedges whizz past as the warm summer wind blows against your face. Climbing the hill, it’s hard work as you pump the pedals.
The top’s soon in sight and, head down, you keep pushing until you’re there. Now you can let the bike freewheel along while you gulp lungfuls of air.
It’s a feeling very familiar to a group of friends from Portsmouth North End Cycling Club, out on a training ride up Portsdown Hill.
The group is just one of hundreds up and down the country who love to get out on the roads whether for sport or leisure.
According to the Cycling Touring Club, in the past 10 years the number of people who own a bike has gone up by 12 per cent, with 43 per cent of the population over the age of five now on two wheels.
But the bike boom can only get bigger now that Brit Bradley Wiggins has just won the Tour de France and other home-grown cycling stars such as Mark Cavendish and Sir Chris Hoy are among the favourites to win gold at the London Olympics.
One of the Team GB track cyclists for London 2012, Dani King, even trained at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth whilst growing up in the Southampton area.
She won a gold medal at the 2011 and 2012 World Championships in Team Pursuit and could add an Olympic medal to that haul.
One member of PNECC who has caught the cycling bug is 27-year-old Jerry Collingwood from Waterlooville.
Last year he sat down to watch the Tour de France and, enthused, decided to try something different from his previous hobby of sailing and joined PNECC.
Just a year later and he has his British Cycling race licence and has completed the La Marmotte and l’Etape du Tour - difficult stages that the professionals ride in the Tour de France.
He says: ‘Every Sunday we have a social ride and we ride anywhere between 30 to 50 miles.
‘It’s nice and steady so we can keep up as a group. We can chat all the way round.’
PNECC is one of many local cycling groups, with others including the Fareham Wheelers Cycling Club.
Jerry believes it has massively improved his fitness.
He says: ‘I’m asthmatic and on the back of this it has really improved. I don’t really feel the need to carry my inhaler round any more.
‘The competition element of it is great too because it’s fun and you go on the roads when it’s very quiet. It’s relatively inexpensive too after you get a road bike.’
He adds: ‘It also keeps me reasonably light because I like my food!’
Jerry says of cycling’s popularity: ‘There’s definitely been an increase in numbers over the past few years.
‘Anyone who is looking for a reasonably cheap hobby can do it and it’s better for you than running because it doesn’t shock your knees.
‘Everyone should do some sort of exercise every day and for me it’s cycling.’
Jerry has even managed to start racing himself as an amateur, and has ridden down the same routes as the Tour de France stars.
He says: ‘I rode La Marmotte on July 7, which covers 174km.
‘I also did both stages of l’Etape du Tour, which are difficult stages that the professionals ride in the Tour de France but are open to amateurs on closed roads four days ahead.’
Men and women are welcome to join PNECC.
It even runs time trials for club members and has a youth section.
Dave Gwilliam is the vice chairman of PNECC and coaches cycling.
His love of riding stems from taking part in triathlons for over a decade.
He says: ‘I thought I wouldn’t be too fussed about being part of a club, but when I joined one I loved it because of the social side of riding together.
‘You meet people in the same sort of mind set as you and I really thought it was great.
‘To be honest, I wish I had done it years before.’
Dave believes it’s the freedom you feel when you’re riding that is making cycling so popular.
He says: ‘The freedom everyone experiences when they first ride a bike is amazing, and you get that again and again – that’s what I love.
‘I became a cycling coach and I go into schools and there are more and more kids involved. They are more aware than I was as a kid.’
Dave adds: ‘I think Bradley Wiggins is probably as big as a footballer now. It’s brilliant.’
Portsmouth is a particularly good place to cycle because it’s reasonably flat.
The city even has its very own iconic cyclist. Clarrie Kingsbury was born in Portsmouth and in the 1908 Olympics he won the gold medal in the 20 kilometres competition as well as in the team pursuit.
PNECC club secretary Paul Martin has grown up around bikes. His mother was part of Gosport Cycling Club, which no longer exists, and his father was also a cyclist.
They met through their shared love of cycling in the 1950s.
Paul says: ‘These days I like cycling because it keeps me fit. I’m 47 now and you notice that you’re not as fit as you were when you were younger.
‘Mark Cavendish brought a more confident approach to it and people realised we really had a place in world cycling.
‘Children now are talent-spotted from a young age, such as Bradley Wiggins.
‘You have to want to win and to win something like the Tour de France takes a long, long time.
‘It takes years, even decades, to be good enough.’
Last Sunday, when Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the legendary race, with his British team-mate Chris Froome second, Paul says it was like living a dream.
Like cycling fans across the UK, he was delighted that one of our riders had taken on the best in the world in arguably THE toughest sporting event and triumphed. He says: ‘When Bradley Wiggins won on Sunday it was just absolutely brilliant. There was a lot of celebration.’
Today is the first day of the London 2012 Olympics and the cycling road race takes place through the streets of the capital.
Paul says: ‘There are a lot of people from the club going up to see the road race. It’s Mark Cavendish everyone will be looking at.
‘People have a lot more respect for cycling as a sport now.’
For more info on PNECC, go to pnecc.co.uk.
If anyone has photographs or any more information about Clarrie Kingsbury, please contact Mischa Allen on (023) 9262 62106 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
COUNCIL PROMOTES CYCLING
Portsmouth is a densely-populated city and a great way to beat congestion on the roads is to get around the city by bike.
The city is an easy place to cycle because it’s flat and compact. It is possible to ride from the bottom of Southsea to the top of Paulsgrove in just 45 minutes at a comfortable pace.
Portsmouth City Council has recently published a number of rides throughout Portsea Island, together with advice leaflets on cycling in the city.
The council is also asking the public for their opinions on a proposed new cycle route that would fill a missing section of the Shipwrights Way – a new 60-mile leisure path starting at Alice Holt Forest near Farnham and ending at Portsmouth.
There is a sustainable transport plan in place, to which the government has given £5m. The project will include installing more signs and maps to help people move around by bike and improving cycle routes.
The council also provides training for children with Bikeability, which is a cycling proficency that has three levels, with children encouraged to achieve all three.
There’s also a new Active travel map due out next week showing cycling routes. For more information on cycling maps go to portsmouth.gov.uk/living/593.html.
GROWTH IN CYCLING
The CTC is the UK’s largest cycling charity and encourages people to cycle. It has more than 70,000 members.
Sarah Walker is a cycling development officer at CTC and works with Hampshire County Council.
She says: ‘We’ve done a lot of research into it and one of the reasons people start cycling is because of a lack of money for other sports.
‘We are getting a lot of people saying they cycle when they go to work because it’s quicker than driving too.
‘The individuals who have been part of the growth in cycling live mainly in cities, such as Portsmouth.’
Cycling is one of the most hotly-anticipated events at the London Olympics, with expectations high for Sir Chris Hoy in the track cycling at the Velodrome and for Mark Cavendish in the road race.
With the opening ceremony taking place last night, the sporting events have finally begun and today was the men’s cycling road race, beginning at 10am.
The women’s road race takes place tomorrow at noon.
Track cycling will also play its part when qualifying for both men and women starts next week on August 2.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Team GB won eight gold medals, four silver medals and two bronze medals in cycling. The next best was the Spanish team with one gold and one bronze medal.