Customisation rapidly followed, of course. The chain guard was the first to go. I can’t remember the other tweaks I snuck in behind my parents’ backs. I do remember the parentally approved water bottles, and I can still taste an aluminium-tinged warm sip through a paper straw. We discussed the feasibility of taking a hacksaw to those clunky lugs to make them look like cutaways; even, I think, drawing fantasy designs, but it was never going to be the racing bike I craved. But I can remember, quite vividly, the short and long expeditions it carried me on. That was my first taste of real freedom, granted me, intentionally or not, I’ll never know, by my parents.
I’d made a few friends at school by then, some of whom were also into bikes. I think my most avid co-biker was called Mike Bone, but I’m sure there were others. The furthest I can remember riding is Badbury Rings, which is about thirty miles from Southbourne. We must have ridden along Castle Lane, then up past Wimborne Minster to reach this Iron Age hill fort, wandered around and marvelled at it, then ridden back home. We also took our bikes across the Sandbanks ferry and hauled ourselves across as far as Kimmeridge and Worth Matravers, noticing the landscape and the coast. These trips were to be a lasting component of my education.