No-one can accuse the HPL of being all mouth and no trousers and thus my NY resolution to start cycling to work started in earnest this week. I knew next to nothing about cycle commuting so I’m imparting my new-found wisdom for other beginners who are tempted to give it a shot. I still have a LOT to learn, mind. I prepared the way I prepare for any new hobby – I bought lots of new shiny things that I may or may not need. What I bought and/or already had is below :
- A bike. A trek allant with nice whicker basket. Old-fasioned ladies bike that makes me sit up tall and take in the view. Looks best with floral skirt and non-helmet-head flowing locks. With baguette. Hopelessly impractical for commuting as it’s heavy and the basket makes it unwieldy for narrow-space-car-passing. (Total cost about £399 I think – sadly bought before Ride To Work scheme introduced. Am going to buy proper light road bike through RTW soon.)
- A lock – one of the solid ones. Plus a key to open it.
- Bike lights. They should be set to flashy-flashy as this saves batteries and removed when you park it up otherwise they get nicked.
- A repair kit (ha! Like I will EVER use this).
- A high-vis vest.
- A helmet.
- A bike pump to fit on the bike. It falls off constantly and is currently in a drawer somewhere. (All the “extras” cost about £50).
- A rucksack to carry work clothes in while I cycle.
The most important thing is to get your route nailed – avoiding busy roads, learning where the cycle paths are and what lanes you need to be in. The Chef and I did a dry run on Sunday where we got a bit lost but worked out the rough route, and on Monday morning I cycled in with my work mate. There are tons of cycle route planners that you can use.
I’ve now cycled to work and back twice this week and I love it already. The cycle to work is wonderful – it’s light and airy and I cycle along the Thames, past the Houses of Parliament, along Pall Mall, round Trafalgar Square and through Covent Garden. A lovely route for people-watching and admiring London’s great views. And I imagine I’ll see the seasons changing the trees and colours and water far more than before. AND while it’s winter I’m not sweaty enough to merit a shower at the other end so I just need to pop on work clothes and I’m office-ready.
Any stresses are replaced by thinking about whether to cycle slow or fast, what lane I need to be in, enjoying the ride, and humming (this week = Scotland The Brave). Also I’ve been absolutely exhausted both days when I’ve got home and the muscles in my legs feel stronger so I know I’m going to get fit and it means I don’t stress so much about going to the gym. By the time I’ve got to my desk at 9am I’ve done 40 minutes of cardio and this makes me happy.
I’m certainly not cycle-fit yet which explains why every man and his dog has overtaken me, which I’ve blamed on my heavy bike (bad. workman. tools), although I have noticed I’m pedalling about half the speed of the people whizzing by. My newbie tip is to use a couple of flat stretches to cycle walking-pace, checking out the view, and then use your energy to cycle like hell in the really busy bits, especially when squished between a bus and a lorry, or overtaking a bus as it starts to pull out.
The ride home? Hmmm, I’ll be honest – when it’s dark and cold and a bit rainy, its a bit miserable. My hands feel cold even through gloves, and both cyclists and drivers seem really stroppy and go really fast to get home as quickly as possible (totally understandable but I’m a sensitive soul, especially on my first week). There’s no view and it’s a bit scary as you feel less visible.
I haven’t had any major disasters yet – I’ve been in the wrong lane a couple of times, but a few wobbly indications and I’ve got myself in the right place. I’ve also been beeped at twice by taxi drivers when I was a little hesitant about where I was going (I think newbies should really have “learner” signs). There are two horrible bits of my route – Vauxhall roundabout and Trafalgar Square – which I’ve been OK on but often found myself unhappily squished between large vehicles and found that I needed to (i) squeeze my way through them into a bit of space; or (ii) indicate wildly and wobble into the middle of a lane. The good thing is that at rush hour there are tons of other cyclists that you can snuggle up behind and follow. Just sniff out the high-vis. If it all gets a bit scary, I’d suggest just stepping off and pushing your bike to the pavement, crossing the road and then jumping back on when it gets better. Also if you are squished, I’ve found making yourself known to the drivers by giving them a “if you move an inch your wing mirror will smash into my crotch” kind of look then you’ll feel more comfortable. The best thing would be to find a route that avoids these roads but sometimes it’s just not possible.
One moan I have is that I’m a stop-at-the-red-light cyclist and I have almost been knocked over about three times by other cyclists – all lycra or army-combats clad men – who have almost hit my bike as they zoom past. I get that some people don’t feel they need to stop at the lights (which I don’t really agree with ever since I saw an old lady getting knocked over by a cyclist doing exactly that at Liverpool Street) but no reason to go so fast or so close to me.
And anyway, can’t we spread some cyclist love? I know I’m a newbie and thus a bit wobbly and unsure and not privy to THE CODE, but NO-ONE has ever smiled at me, or said “after you” or done anything nice. Is cycling a non-contact commute like the tube? Maybe we should be like Mini drivers or Harley bikers and honk each other (erm or just smile) when we congregate in that square at the front of traffic lights? I know we’re busy and stuff but it would make everyone’s commute a bit nicer.
So, I’m going to continue my cycling to work project, hopefully twice or three times a week, and if you see a blonde with a whicker basket who’s inevitably in the wrong lane and/or in the middle of the road, smiling or indeed honking, you’ll know it’s me.