In 2013, after foolishly accepting a challenge to cycle the London to Brighton bike ride, I scraped myself off the sofa, prised the xbox controller out of my hand and sat on a bike for the first time in over 25 years. Within a few months I went from being in constant pain, to regularly riding 50+ mile rides around the Kent countryside and enjoying every second of it.
In 2014 I accepted another challenge from the same friend, this time to cycle in the RideLondon 100 - a gruelling 100 mile epic which includes the infamous Box and Leith Hills that featured on the olympic cycling route. It was by far the scariest, yet most exhilarating thing I've ever done and on completing it I was convinced that I would no longer be afraid of any cycling challenge. I now firmly believe that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.
Well, at least that was before I decided to take up cycling across London to work anyway.
January 2015 arrived and I decided to take up my company's kind offer of buying a new bike using cyclescheme so that I could ride into work every day. This was to be my third bike in as many years - I'm now the proud owner of a hybrid, a road bike and a shiny new Dahon D8 folding commuter bike. It seemed like a great idea at the time - keep my fitness levels up, save money on tube rides, enjoy the freedom of riding every day of the week... what could possibly be wrong with that?
Allow me to add a little context. Up until now the majority of my rides have been over 50+ miles, in open countryside, in spring or summer. The Kent countryside at that time of the year is like riding through an Enid Blyton novel, perhaps with a dash of Agatha Christie thrown in for good measure. Although you won't come across many groups of young kids playing with sticks in long shorts, it's not unheard of. It's also not unusual to have to slow down to allow sheep to cross the road or shoo along stubborn cats that have taken up lazy residence in the middle of the road. In fact, it's considered plain rude if you don't say "good morning" to every hiker or fellow cyclist - you're likely to be branded as a tourist with muttered grumblings and sneered at by old ladies.
Ok, possibly a little exaggerated, but in a nutshell Kent in the summer is sleepy and relaxed. A cyclists haven.
London in the winter, isn't.
Here are a few things that I've noticed whilst cycling in London over the last month.
- Car drivers are indifferent to you, as long as you don't get in their way.
- Pedestrians hate you and will happily step out in front of you no matter what speed you're travelling.
- Bus drivers and taxi drivers are actively trying to kill you.
- Cycle lanes are actually free car parking spaces.
- When it rains the roads become an anything goes, every-man-for-themselves, free-for-all.
- Turning right at any junction that isn't a traffic light is affectively like announcing "please aim at me".
- Mobile phones and the people that use them, whether walking or in a car, put the fear of God in your heart.
There also appear to be 5 distinct types of cyclist in London:
Usually on mountain bikes, hybrids or foldables, dressed for warmth, happy to plod along. Occasional lycra can be spotted, but more often than not they'll be supporting "Hump" fluorescent green backpacks or high visibility jackets.
Lycra-clad Strava over-achievers
Racing between traffic lights, weaving in and out of traffic, they will happily scream curses at anybody who gets in the way of their latest KOM attempt.
No helmets (usually as they don't want to spoil their hair cuts), riding old crappy bikes (that cost thousands of pounds), they believe traffic lights don't apply to bikes and pavements are for cyclists too. I even spotted one guy reading a book as he rode down the centre of the pavement.
Donning cycle caps and huge bags, they weave in and out of traffic with one agenda - get there quick. Usually to be found stood on their pedals at traffic lights trying to keep balance on their fixies, or creeping slowly through traffic lights impatiently waiting for them to change.
As much as I love the Boris Bike scheme, their riders tend to be a real nightmare. No helmets, no control, wobbling in the centre of the road or along the pavement, generally completely oblivious to the traffic chaos they're leaving behind them. Traffic light? What traffic light?
To be continued...