Tag Archives: cycling in London

Cycling To Work Month 5 – The Next Generation

Goodbye old friend (yes I KNOW…)

And so farewell Trek Allant, beloved first London bicycle, Princess of bikes, lost to the gods of thievery and opportunism. Goodbye be-wicker’d holder of baguettes; cushioner of bottom; straightener of back. You left me in your prime, just as I was getting to know you even better. I shall miss your retro green sunshine in my life, your air of coolness and Victorian propriety. You were like cycling on a very comfy sofa. You matched my outfits and made my bum look smaller. I hope your new owner (having found you at the back of Clapham Junction perhaps, or on Brick Lane) appreciates you as much as I did, and will love you just as much.

Hellooooo sailor

But it was time to move on and so with a heavy heart I managed to find you, oh Specialized Vita Sport, replacement only in insurance terminology* but not in nature. Lighter of body, thinner of wheel, you made me cycle home bloody fast tonight, wind in my hair, smile on my lips, sweat on my forehead. Overtaker of all that come before me (unless they are quite fit). You are likely to hurt me less when I fall over looking for a dropped glove. I can see you and I together, commuting from Brixton to Tottenham Court Road; from London to Surrey and Kent; hell even from London to Paris or Brighton or bloody Dakar. You are the next generation, the next stage of my cycling life, a practical, sporty bag of fun. You make me want to wear lycra and go camping. What did I hum all the way home? Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder. You and I are going to be brilliant together, I just know it.**

I should also say Cycle Surgery were just brilliant in advising me on bikes and kitting it out, and I’ve joined the wonderful London Cycling Campaign – as well as doing brilliant things for road safety and looking after cyclists, membership is only £32 a year and gives you 10% off bikes and accessories in most major cycle shops. I got more than my membership money back buying my bike – well worth it!

* less excess, and accessories, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t realise I’d signed up for when I took the policy out

** apart from the little incident today when I thought I’d also lost you but then worked out I’d actually tied you up to a different bike rack a few metres down the street

Cycling to work – week 4

I’m now 4 weeks into my cycling to work project and I’m cycling in pretty much every day. I’m still loving it and reckon I’m toning up (and this is combined with a noticeable decrease in gym attendance + increase in wine-drinking & cheese plates). I’ve stopped having to prepare so much although I still need to pack the next day’s work clothes the night before, and I’ve made some improvements which have made it even nicer:

  • Thanks to some fantastic comments on my first cycling to work post, I’ve ditched the sweat-inducing backpack and now have a back shelf and paniers which I FIXED ON MYSELF using plyers and screws and similar. I bought the red Ortlieb City (approx £30 for a single) which is fully waterproof and fits my handbag, work clothes and lunch, as well as on occasion (this has been tried and tested) 3 bottles of wine, a bag of Neals Yard Cheese and 2 large bags of supermarket shopping. I added my own strap so I can carry it easily. It is fab and hasn’t made me fall over yet.
  • The Chef pointed out my tyres were almost sans air. He pumped them up. That made me go quicker.
  • I have stopped cycling in full sports kit as that meant during the day I was wandering round Soho in fleece and rucksack rather than my normal gear. So I now wear trainers and trackie bums and a t-shirt with a normal jacket that I can wear for lunch. I’ve also cycled straight from work in a dress and knee-high boots to a restaurant which was fine and felt quite glamorous, apart from arriving with a slightly sweaty back (covered with cardigan pronto). I’d be happy to cycle to post-work drinks wearing normal clothes now – knee high boots and a dress works brilliantly, just be aware of saddle-chafing and ripped tights (sorry!).
  • I can also now see sans glasses (a post on eye-lasering is coming this week) so I have escaped the irritation and indignity of steamed-up-rain-soaked glasses when cycling in crappy weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only reason this photo is here is to show that I DID IT MYSELF with a tool box n everything

I feel more confident cycling on the streets now, especially when its light. If I get into a crush, I’m happy to zip around and through it and get into a space, although I’ve had a couple of close calls, mainly with lorries and buses who’ve pulled too close to the left-hand kerb. I have also realised the benefit of cycling a block or two on the pavement to get out of a traffic jam or avoid a one-way long cut. Pedestrians may get irritated but it’s better than being in danger and gets you there quicker. I am VERY aware of pedestrians and make sure I give them a wide birth. Londoners are hilariously distracted at times, especially with their head in an iPhone, but we all need to look out for one another. I have started taking  different routes depending on my mood and how much time I’ve got. I love that London is so flat.

London is opening up to me more. It seems smaller, easier to get around. I know I can get from The Chef’s place to Marble Arch and the shops of Oxford Street in 30 minutes, and it’s flat all the way. I’m getting from Brixton to Tottenham Court Road in 35 minutes, down from 45 at the start. I’m learning the cobbled streets of Covent Garden and have discovered the location of several restaurants and shops that were previously hidden to me. I’m getting to know London’s bridges and the Thames better. I know where the wind  blows stronger and the cars drive faster. I’m saving money on public transport costs.

I’m spending more time hanging out in these sorts of places – this is the fabulous Brixton Cycles

I am feeling London get warmer and lighter, and that makes me happy. I can’t wait to cycle in Summer. I think I’m getting a bit of a tan, or I may be wind-beaten. Either way I think not being on the tube and all this fresh air is good for my skin. Which reminds me, every time I go on the tube, I am reminded that it can be such a horrible experience – boiling hot, dusty, jam-packed, everyone stroppy and mean. I’m happy to have escaped. If you still get the tube everyday then I’m sorry and I don’t mean to make you feel bad, but cycling is a viable alternative and if a big unfit wuss like me can do it then anyone can.

Cycling is a good way to get the measure of Londeners too. I’ve been getting to know different people – cabbies shouting at me for not realising there was a bike path on Battersea Bridge Road, bus drivers who may either squish you into the side of the road or tell you there’s a bike path on Battersea Bridge, lorry drivers who are generally nice with their banter on how bad the traffic is, but who sometimes just DON’T SEEM TO SEE YOU AT ALL. I’m still a stop-at-the-red-light-cyclist unless it’s a one-lane road with no-one crossing, and think that everyone should be. It is definitely the MAJORITY of people who stop, apart from a small number of dickheads who quite rightly get shouted at by pedestrians. Its so dangerous – in fact my friend saw someone get wiped out by Tottenham Court Road by a cyclist last week. It must save you about 1 minute of time and is just so pointless, as well as unnecessarily harming the cyclist-pedestrian bond which is already strained. Sometimes pedestrians are silly – shouting if you cycle on the pavement or across a zebra crossing when its clear I would be killed if I’d stayed on the road or I’m nowhere near them. But we all need to share the love and I understand how annoying certain cyclists can be.

I’d like to see things improving for cyclists in the next few years. Personally, I’ll be hanging out more at Brixton Cycles as an accessories geek and may invest in a faster bike or *shriek* some cycling shorts. I’d like to see cycle lanes marked more clearly – otherwise you don’t know they are there. I’d like lorries and buses to be more considerate. But it is changing my life in a really nice way. It means the thing I hate most about London – transport – has gone from being my biggest pain to one of my biggest pleasures. It is making me do exercise for a purpose and not for guilt. It is becoming my mode of transport to work, a way of life. And that’s the best sort of exercise there is.

And today I worked out something that’s even better (and if this whole post is just getting way too chirpy for you now, please feel free to delete) – I’m finding my working week is going FASTER. Not that my time is going faster, but I suddenly realise it’s Wednesday and my working week has flown by . I think it’s because normally I’d spend 1 hour a day on my tube commute to work and this is pretty much work time too – it’s just getting from A to B, still a bit stressed, thinking about work. Now, the minute I leave work, its ME time – zipping away, thinking about routes, concentrating on beating that bus or overtaking that bloke, smiling. And by the time I’m home I’ve forgotten work entirely.

My biggest worry is that I’m going to give it up or stop being so enthusiastic about it – like I did dance classes, and photography, and yoga, and a million other things – but I’m hoping this won’t be the case. The tube is only likely to get worse and the weather better, and I think my new-found calf muscles are worth the effort alone. I seriously LOVED all your comments on my last post so would love to get more ideas about other things I can try. Next time I’ll try to take some photos of my actual route. And if you’re lucky, my new lycra 🙂

Cycling to work – Week 1

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 :

  1. 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.)
  2. A lock – one of the solid ones. Plus a key to open it.
  3. Bike lights. They should be set to flashy-flashy as this saves batteries and removed when you park it up otherwise they get nicked.
  4. A repair kit (ha! Like I will EVER use this).
  5. A high-vis vest.
  6. A helmet.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.

Guest Post – Get on your bike!

Note from Sasha:  I met Pippa in Prague in 2006.  She moved to London in 2007 and really inspired me to get out there and DO stuff.  She is one of the most active Londoners I know – language courses, sports, exhibitions and gigs.  The perfect HPL guest writer!  Anyway, like many Londonders, I have a bike (traditional ladies bike with wicker basket from Brixton Cycles – I absolutely love it) but am too much of a wuss to cycle to work.  In this first HPL guest post, Pippa argues why more Londoners should get on their bikes.  (If you’re a keen cyclist – also check out Nandos Bike Club).

Having grown up in a city spread over the foothills of a mountain, cycling had never been something I found particularly enjoyable (give me a billycart anyday). When I moved to London, on my daily bus commute I used to peer through the forest of armpits and out the window at the seemingly death-defying cyclists whizzing by and think ‘crazies’.  So when my work introduced the cycle to work scheme, it was really only the thought of saving money that motivated me to get off the bus and get a bike. I was also motivated by the fact that riding would chop about 20 minutes off my commute.  Yes, twenty extra minutes of snoozing = motivational.

I made a deal with myself before I bought the bike. I thought getting on a bike every morning would be a bit of a struggle.  And what would I do about showers and work clothes?  And what about all those cars and –gulp- buses?  The deal was, I had to make myself cycle three days a week, and I could reward myself with bus trips on the other two days.  I really wasn’t sure I’d keep this deal with myself, and thought I might need to send someone round to rough me up and ‘remind’ me to get back on my bike.

But oh my goodness I LOVE cycling!  I love it so much that if I need to leave my beloved bi-wheeled beast behind (eg on those rare occasions I have a half-pint of low-alcohol beer on the way home) (Note from Sasha:  I have never known Pip to drink anything low on alcohol in my life...!)  I actually head back into work over the weekend to pick it up, just to ensure my Monday morning wake-up burst of energisation (is that a word? It makes sense to me).  These days a bus trip to work is not something I would consider a ‘reward’.

I love it so much I rode through winter (even some of the snow days).  I love it so much I have become a ride-to-work evangelist.  I love it so much I agreed to write a guest blog hoping to convert many more people to my cause. I now ride past people waiting at bus stops, smile to myself, and think ‘crazies’!

Why do I love it so much?  Well, now my bike is paid off, my commute is pretty much free (apart from the fun accessories and regular services I see as an investment), I feel wonderful getting a short burst of exercise at the beginning and end of a largely sedentary working day, I love discovering the nuances of back-street London, random shops, quirky bars, peaceful and suprising green spaces.

I have also discovered London is (largely) flat, and if I keep to a leisurely pace for 9 months of the year I can cycle in my work clothes. Many workplaces have bike racks or lockers and even showers if you work up a sweat, and there are so many people cycle-commuting these days, you can band together and ask for facilities many workplaces will supply or ‘discover’ showers and changing facilities on the premises. And if not, (can I say this here?) disabled toilets offer space, privacy, mirrors and the ability to at least have a bird bath if showers are not available on your work premises. 

I suppose the opposite of working up a sweat is cycling through the rain.  I have heard the statistic, that if you cycle commute every work day for a year, both directions, on average you will only get rained on twelve times.  This is an unsubstantiated statistic, but in my experience I do find it somewhat believable.  I figure my options are a) get wet (earn kudos), b) leave bike at home (done that once or twice), c) invest in waterproof trousers (I’m still considering this). And on the way home with a steaming bath and perhaps a glass of warming vino beckoning, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

So what are the dodgy bits? I find Black cab and white van drivers can sometimes be scary (I’m referring to the vehicle colours here), but it just takes a bit of time to find the right balance of caution/confidence on the roads.  I also wish that those who cycle through red lights would stop, and think about what the implications for the rest of us who do obey the rules but sometimes get treated like we don’t. 

And pedestrians. Riding past hundreds of harried city pedestrians at peak hour is a bit like Frogger. These people are ‘obviously’ in a hurry, but pose a danger to themselves as well as to cyclists as they step off the pavement, or cross roads of stationary traffic only to pop out in front of a cyclist whizzing down the bike lane. 

But overall cycling positives far outweigh the dodgy bits. So let me evangalise a bit more.  Spring has just sprung, the leaves are budding, the snow has finally stopped, the clocks have just changed and there are months of bright long evenings stretching ahead of us.  So why not invest in an alternative transportation and hopefully be as surprised as I was at just what cycling can do for your mood, your wallet, your wobbly thighs and your mental health?

  • Transport For London offer 14 brilliant, detailed and free cycling maps of London, which show signed cycling routes, quieter routes recommended by other cyclists ,greenways through parks and along canals, off-carriage way alternatives to busy roads and stations with cycle parking 
  • Many London borough councils offer free or subsidised 1:1 cycling lessons to help build up confidence cycling on roads.  Some also offer guided ‘commutes’ during the summer months –contact your local borough council. 
  • A number of small firms offer onsite bike servicing. Why not get a group of cycling friends together for a sociable day of snacks, chats and bike services?  Janis at havebike.co.uk also offers bike maintenance workshops to give you more confidence keeping your bike in good condition.

Nando’s Bike Club

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because he belonged to the NBC.

Created by my friend Max, the NBC combines two very serious pastimes – cycling in and around London; and eating in Nandos.  With 78 members so far, the NBC is a way to join like-minded people on cycling trips along scenic routes, trying to incorporate higbrow cultural and educational enlightenment, and peri peri chicken, on the way. 

I’ll leave the full description to the NBC (emphasis and photos added):

“The Nando’s Bike Club is an elite and extremely serious members club.

We were established in 2004 with the worthy aim of uniting people, cycles and Nando’s restaurants. The NBC travels to many destinations, always eating at a Nando’s along the way and ideally stopping by a place of interest to learn something. Ultimately, our mission is to nourish stomachs, muscles and minds.

Only the trip leader will know our route or destination so the rest of the coup has developed a unique blend of faith and courage making us a force to be reckoned with – chickens we are not.

Previous locations have included Richmond Park, Hatfield, High Wycombe, Harlow, Harrow, Hornchurch, Enfield, Ealing Common^, Kingston on Thames, Kentish Town [just a quick stop – nothing ordered], Greenwich, Uxbridge, Epsom, Staines, Stroud Green [our official HQ]. St. Albans, Lea Valley*, Malden, Merton, Orpington, Bluewater, Bromley, Bushey*, Beckton and Barnes. Although trips are based around London, we also plan more adventurous overnight outings – Cambridge, Chatham, Canterbury, Crawley, Colchester, Maidstone, Tonbridge*, Oxford, Poole, Epping Forest*, Brighton, Basingstoke and Sheerness (Isle of Sheppey)* have all been roasted. We put our money where our beaks are; on the Brighton Run, we managed to consume an unprecedented two Nando’s in one day [FYI: Crawley and Brighton]. Have a look at our photos before you decide whether you are willing to commit to such an noble organisation.

Your formal acceptance into the Club (transforming you from Fledgling to Chick) will be subject to you planning – and leading – an appropriate route for the meeting. Please take care to utilise less travelled, more scenic routes where appropriate, avoiding dirt tracks (out of consideration for our road bike users).

It goes without saying that Nando’s should be the ultimate focus of your route. Our members do like to learn as they cycle, so any educational slant you can bring would be appreciated.

In addition, the ability to create chicken and bicycle-related puns is a bonus.

*Unfortunately there was no Nando’s at this destination – Nando’s was therefore consumed at another location along the way
^Alas, we arrived to early so this historic Nando’s (first in the UK!) wasn’t yet open for poultry consumption.”

So, if you’re into cycling and chicken, the NBC  – Burning Rubber and Poultry –  might be your best bet.  They even met Eric Parker, Nando’s co-founder:

Check out the Facebook group for more information, details of the latest trips, and photos, contact the Roosters and join the next trip!