I am not a morning person. Never have been. Probably never will. Getting out of bed at the best of times is difficult, but getting up when it is cold and dark outside is bordering on impossible.
This morning was a particular struggle, but when I looked out the window and saw the most amazing wash of pink and orange across the sky I couldn’t wait to get out on my bike to admire the sunrise.
Unfortunately, by the time I’d got myself organised, the vibrant colour of the heavens had been replaced by steel grey. But it was still a pleasant cycle into work.
The best part is when I get off the main road and head through Kensington Palace Gardens. It’s like entering a different world – traffic-free, pleasant and safe.
This morning it was particularly beautiful. Silent. Wisps of fog clinging to trees. Gold and lemon-coloured leaves lying on the ground like a series of Turkish carpets encircling every tree trunk. Tweed-wearing people with small, excitable dogs straining on leads. Joggers slogging it across the park. Other cyclists glowing fluoro yellow in the early morning light.
In Hyde Park the Serpentine glistened like a dark mirror.
At the bottom of Rotten Row I cycled past a woman on a big upright bike, one of those old-fashioned types with a wicker basket at the front. She was taking two fox terriers on a walk, but how she coped without the dogs’ leads getting caught in her bicycle chain or, worse still, the little four-legged creatures getting squished under her wheels, I do not know. I smiled at her. She smiled back.
At Hyde Park Corner I listened to a gentleman on the bike in front of me tell his female companion everything you could possibly want to know about commuting by bicycle. The amount of seconds between the traffic lights turning from red to green and back again (six apparently). How much distance you should put between yourself and the bike in front (at least one metre). How important it is to use hand signals for turning.
Why you should keep looking over your shoulder. Why you must have a bell.
I then proceeded to watch her cut everyone up and cause a near accident as we rode single file down Constitution Hill. Later I wondered if she wasn’t deliberately trying to escape him: perhaps they weren’t cycling companions after all.
At the traffic lights on Westminster Bridge I had to stop suddenly to avoid running over a broken bottle. I’ve had quite enough of punctures recently thank you very much. I pointed it out to another cyclist who had snuck up behind me. He nodded his thanks.
About five minutes later, I chained up my bike and removed my helmet. I bought a black coffee and a banana for my morning cereal from a nearby cafe. The staff here kind of know me, but this being London rarely say anything. This morning one of the girls acknowledged me and pre-guessed my order.
As I exited the shop, juggling my helmet, my bike bag and my coffee, a UPS man walking
towards his van BEAMED at me, nodded and said a hearty hello like he was an old friend.
I said hello back. Mentioned something about the chilly weather.
“And that’s why you’ll never find me riding a bike,” he retorted.
“Ahh, you don’t know what you’re missing,” I replied.
And, up until very recently, I didn’t know what I was missing either. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to get out of bed every morning. I’m not going to say I jump with joy at the very real prospect of freezing my bits off when I could take a much easier – and warmer – option and travel to work by public transport.
But then, after years of spending every morning squished into a tiny tube carriage, where no-one exchanges a word and everyone avoids making eye contact, it’s nice to get to work under my own steam, as it were. Just me, a bicycle and the glory of London’s parks and streets in front of me.
Who would have thought that riding a bike and wearing a strange yellow jacket would reveal a whole new world to me? And a friendly one at that…