x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

From eco-warrior to fitness freak with pedal power

I got a new bicycle a couple of years ago. I was in one of what self-help books and psychologists would call "phases", and had newly initiated myself as an eco-warrior.

I got a new bicycle a couple of years ago. I was in one of what self-help books and psychologists would call "phases", and had newly initiated myself as an eco-warrior. It was a time when schools were becoming excessively concerned about pupils being responsible citizens of the Earth and I'd done six global warming units over four consecutive years in various subjects. The upshot was that a light left on in a room started sending me into shock and I firmly believed that locally grown veggies were the way to world liberation from, well, everything.

Anyway, I got a bicycle, and a pretty expensive one too. Ride a bicycle to school, work and the supermarket, my geography textbook preached. The only one I had was a cutesy relic from my childhood, a pink one with plastic flowers sprouting out of its handles. And so I had to get the super high-performance one with a million gears and lots of bits of metal with different functions, although I couldn't ride it anywhere except for joyrides in the compound because school and the supermarket were kilometres away, separated by impenetrable, unsafe roads with a load of cars and no cycle tracks. All the horror stories in the news about cyclists being knocked down by speeding motorists didn't help either. So it lay forgotten for a year, until I got an inexplicable urge to ride it: the eco-warrior phase was over, the fitness freak one was here to stay.

The only trouble was, the tyres were flat. That's OK, I reasoned. It wouldn't fit in the car, but we could always get new tyres and a pumping machine or something, couldn't we? I might as well have suggested that we avail of Virgin Galactic's 10 per cent discount on flights to Mars for a weekend getaway. We were not wasting money on a teenage whim to pump up a bicycle I would only ride once. And that was it. I lost hope right there, but help was on the way. Our gardener had heard most of the argument, and he offered to fix it up for me. The next day, he brought it back in perfect condition, its tyres inflated, frame gleaming. He even refused to accept payment for fixing it, saying he had a pump anyway as he uses a bicycle to get around. He works all day in the heat, and yet still found the time for a kind gesture towards a much-too-spoilt teenager.

Bicycle fixed, having even gotten a Lance Armstrong Livestrong band for the, you know, pro look, I was good to go. Apparently it's a pretty efficient calorie burner, and all that pedalling's bound to give you Elle MacPherson's legs sooner or later, so there we had it. I would go for a round or two every morning around the lake near our house. Only that's easier said than done, and I blame it on the snooze button on my phone's alarm clock. By the time you finally trudge out of bed, it's time for school. It took three weeks and a lot of steely determination to actually go to the lake, bright and early one day. Well. It was the weekend and I only set off at about 10am, but it was a start. I was pedalling, and I hadn't fallen off.

Every person in the vicinity of the lake in the morning seems to be a dog walker, so by the time I finished a round, I'd been barked at by a pugnacious spaniel and nearly tripped over by a tiny but exceptionally energetic fluffball. The ducks looked scandalised. None of the people seemed particularly impressed by a cyclist desecrating their sacred territory. You can never please everyone. In Amsterdam, I remember being furiously shouted at after I stepped on the cyclists' lane instead of keeping to the pedestrian one: a Dutchman once told us they measure wealth by the number of cycles, not, say, Ferraris, a person has.

Two more rounds later, I thought it wasn't going too badly. It's actually a pretty nice feeling to hurtle on in the fresh air, ponytail streaming behind you and adrenalin flooding your system. True, I'd started looking behind me once and crashed straight into one of those atmospheric lampposts they've stuck all around the lake. But as that famous person said, what's life without the falls and crashing into lampposts? OK, perhaps not, but the proud spirit of the Malhotras dictates that they are not deterred by obstacles in their path, even malevolent lampposts. That doesn't mean, though, that we are immune to occasionally being slaves to our appetites, because it had been only 15 minutes since I started out until the hunger pangs kicked in.

I wound my way back for a (very) early lunch; cycling's all very well but it makes you ravenous. I'll continue my training for the Tour de France, er, next year.

The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai