Through the park

Cycle_path2

Lest you think my daily commute is just one giant battle with buses and cabs and white vans, I thought I’d post this picture.

Every morning I cycle the length of Hyde Park, along a dedicated 2.5km cycle path that runs parallel with Rotten Row (a wide bridleway).

Riding along here is such a joy. In the early morning, with mist shrouding the stately trees, it’s like stepping back in time. Everything is so green and fresh and peaceful.

There are bleary-eyed joggers slogging their way around The Serpentine, smartly uniformed members of the Household Cavalry trotting their horses along the sand-covered bridleway and about a gazillion cyclists pedalling bikes of every shape, size and description along the undulating cycle path.

Looming in the distance is the gentle arc of the London Eye like a compass guiding you ever onwards.

The only sound in the crisp, clear air is the soft quacking of ducks that congregate enmasse, feeding on whatever it is they find that is so delicious on the dewy grass under the trees. Sometimes these ducks even venture onto the cycle path, a traffic hazard of the most natural kind.

Is it any wonder I ride along here every morning with a giant smile on my face?

White Van Man

Ever since I started my daily commute on the back of a bicycle my colleagues have been hugely supportive. I walk in the door red-faced and sweaty and immediately they want to know how my journey was. When I leave in the evening they wish me luck and tell me to take care.

“I bet the white vans are hell,” said one of my colleagues a week or so ago.

I shook my head. “Not had any run-ins with them yet, it’s the black cabs and the red buses I’m more worried about,” I replied.

“Aah, well, wait until White Van Man tries to run you off the road, then you’ll have something to worry about.”

These words resonated in my head when, last Friday night, I had my first run-in with a White Van Man.

I was on the home stretch, my favourite bit of the return journey, because it’s downhill and on a dedicated cycle lane. I was just approaching a set of green traffic lights when a van on my right decided to turn left without warning, cutting across my route, leaving me no room to manoeuvre.

Fortunately, he was going fairly slowly and I had enough time to slam on my brakes, but it did mean I had to make the same turn as him to avoid slamming into the side of the van. As I made the turn I ran out of road space and had to bump my way onto the footpath, avoiding light poles, rubbish bins and god knows how many other bits of street furniture that were cluttering up the intersection.

I was so furious that I’d been placed in such danger that I confess I got a tad angry. The stream of expletives emitted from my mouth don’t bear repeating here, although if memory serves me correctly it was something along the lines of ‘You f**ker!’ at quite loud volume. This was accompanied by the sound of my right fist hammering on the side of
the van over and over, leaving a few dents in an already very dented van.

At this point the driver stopped long enough to turn his head and look in my direction. He was probably wondering what all the commotion was about. By this stage I had righted myself and was ready to pedal off, but when I eyeballed him through the rear window I noticed that he seemed a little shell shocked. But not half as shocked as I was when only moments earlier I’d found myself running out of road space …

Fast forward to now…

Big_ben

This is this morning’s view from my bike.

Three weeks ago, when I started my daily 12 mile (20km) roundtrip commute, I was too scared to cycle through Parliament Square. I’d get off my bike and wheel it along the footpath whenever I got to this very congested traffic roundabout. Now, nerves slightly on edge, I cycle through it, revelling in the knowledge that I’ve got this cycling-amid-London’s-crazy-traffic-phobia licked… as long as I don’t think about it too much beforehand, because that’s when the voices in my head try to talk me out of clambering onto my saddle in the first place ("remember the red bus that almost killed you, remember the red bus that almost killed you, remember the red bus that almost killed you" they mock).

Any commuter who thinks it’s safer to traverse the streets on the back of a bicycle rather than the tube or bus network has rocks in their head. You don’t cycle to escape the suicide bombers: you cycle to feel every nerve ending, every fibre of your being SING with adrenalin, fear and excitement. I truly don’t think you know you’re alive until you tackle the giant urban assault course which is London’s busy road network with nothing more than a helmet, a fluorescent jacket and some pedal-pushers for protection.

At the age of 36, I think I’ve discovered the meaning of the term ‘adrenalin junkie’… And I love it!

In the beginning

About five years ago I bought myself a bike. I had visions of me embarking on casual cycling expeditions through Hyde Park and Kensington Palace Gardens, freewheeling my way through London’s long summer evenings, the breeze in my hair and the sun in my face.

But then one day, hugely unfit, I cycled up Kensington High Street and almost got side swiped by a London bus. The fact that I was pedalling my way along the quietest stretch of the street meant nothing with a huge red double-decker monstrosity looming over me, barrelling into my lane so that I had nowhere to go – unless I fancied slipping under the wheels of a passing car or van in the next lane.

I didn’t hurt myself. I didn’t fall off. I just got the biggest fright of my life, such a fright that I could not bring myself to get on my bike again. Instead I locked it up where it sat gathering dust and cobwebs for several years. I then moved it into a storage room where it lay untouched for another year or two.

Every now and then I’d feel a pang of guilt: I’d spent £150 for a piece of metal that had only been used about three times. But then I’d promptly deflect such feelings with the knowledge that riding that blasted bike had nearly killed me. It could stay in the friggin’ shed forever as far as I was concerned.

Until a month or so ago when possessed by I know not what I thought it was about time I overcame my fear of bikes, buses and London traffic…

[To be continued]