Sight of the day # 2

A man playing golf. In Kensington Palace Gardens.

He had a dog, an iron and a real-life golf ball. And he wasn’t practising his chipping either. He was doing the full-on swing and hitting it big.

I was half expecting to see a cyclist inexplicably falling off their bike having been hit on the noggin by a rogue golf ball.

Where do these nuts come from?

Sight of the day # 1

The gates of Kensington Palace adorned with flowers, the ground in front of them covered in bouquets and wreaths.

A little further along, on the hill near the Round Pond, there were film trailers and catering vans.

Guess that means we can expect (yet another) re-creation of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, hitting our screens sometime soon…

My slothful, unhealthy ways

September is almost over and I have only ridden my bike the sum total of four days. Pathetic.

I don’t really have any excuses, aside from the fact I had a serious eye infection at the very start of the month which meant I couldn’t read, much less ride a bike, for five days.  There’s also the fact that the Other Half has a new job and we still haven’t worked out a bathroom routine that works for both of us, and so I use that as an opportunity to sleep for an extra 30 minutes instead of cycling. I know. Terrible.

Coupled with several days out of the office — to Kent and Birmingham — and is it any wonder my riding habit has been a little slip shod?

As a result I’ve felt especially lack-lustre and lethargic. To boost my energy levels I’ve been drinking more coffee, which gives me an immediate ‘hit’ but then fades away, making me feel even worse. This, in turn, has made me more prone to mood swings and general grumpiness.

I’ve also been drinking more alcohol than usual, on Friday nights and weekends, which is fun at the time but has repercussions on my overall fitness.

And I won’t mention the additional weight I have felt creeping back on, a combination of the lack of regular exercise and the extra booze. Over the past year I have cycled a ‘spare tyre’ away, only to have it slowly re-inflating and for this I feel especially crapped off with myself.

So today I hit the road again and I feel better already! I especially enjoyed this morning’s ride:  everything came together perfectly — green lights all the way — and the cyclists I shared the route with were a friendly, considerate bunch. I love it when there’s a whole sea of high-viz yellow around me and we’re all whizzing down the road together, each person knowing their place, no-one cutting others up and everyone allowing sufficient ‘wobble space’ to avoid any bike-on-bike collisions.

Sometimes I can look up the stretch of Kensington High Street and see nothing but cyclists in the left-hand lane. I like that. It feels important in a kind of we-can-change-the-world way. It’s even better when the four-wheeled traffic is at a standstill and we’re zipping on past at 12mph!

Can’t wait to get back on the bike tomorrow! After a pretty woeful September so far, I’m determined to make the rest of the month count, in cycle commuting terms at least.

Some tips on sharing the road with buses

Urban commuter, who also cycles in London, has a great post about buses and bus drivers that is worth reading. This made me think about my own experiences with London’s red buses.

When I first started cycling I was terrified of them. I found their size intimidating. And because I wasn’t very fit, I was too scared to go past them, knowing they had more speed than me.

For the first few weeks I’d see a bus in front of me and my heart would start hammering in panic. And if you’ve seen the number of buses that travel along Hammersmith Road and Kensington High Street during peak hour, you’d realise my heart hammered for the first two miles of my commute!

However, before long, I realised that buses were nothing to worry about — as long as you treated them with respect.

Over the course of the past year I cannot recall one incident in which a bus driver put my life in danger. If anything, I find them remarkably patient and courteous on the road.

It helps if you are observant, and put yourself in the driver’s shoes. I always consider the fact that bus drivers have a lot to concentrate on when driving — and that they don’t need the added grief of having cyclists do stupid things, such as:

  • travelling too closely behind the bus. If you can’t see the bus driver’s rear vision mirrors, he/she can’t see you either. So it pays to drop back a bit to increase the driver’s awareness of you. It also saves you breathing in those horrible black fumes that come out of the exhaust! If you are crossing an intersection, it’s even more important to hang back, as it allows other vehicles, particularly those travelling head-on, to see you. If you are right up against the bus’s bum your visibility is practically zero.
  • squeezing up alongside a bus so that you have nowhere to go if the bus driver hasn’t seen you and wants to get closer to the curb. This is particularly dangerous if there are two or more buses in a row, because your chances of getting out of a (literal) tight squeeze are even rarer. It is also illegal to squeeze up on the inside of a bus if it has stopped at a bus stop, because passengers getting on and off have right of way.
  • overtaking a bus, that has stopped to pick up passengers, when it may be dangerous to do so. I find that it helps to check the number of passengers in the queue as I approach any bus that has stopped. If the queue is relatively long then it’s likely I will have plenty of time to get past the bus before the driver puts his
    indicator light on. If the queue is short or non-existant, I slow down and sit a safe distance behind the bus, because I know the driver is going to pull out into the freeflow of traffic within seconds. Remember, buses have right of way when they pull out from the curb, so as soon as that indicator light comes on, you need to let them into the lane. Considering their size and weight it’s not worth quibbling with them! Hanging back to let them by might be annoying, but it’s not going to hold your journey up for more than a few seconds.

Along with the above tips, there will be local traffic situations you will need to take into account. It is only through experience that you get to learn these. I know that there is one intersection I must pedal like hell to get through, in order not to be trapped behind a steady stream of buses pulling into a busy bus stop. If I get a clear head start I can leave them, and the ensuing madness, far behind without putting myself (or the bus) in danger.

I have also learnt that it’s not safe to hug the curb too closely when cycling south over Westminster Bridge, even while riding in the dedicated cycle lane. This is because the buses flying past generally leave little room and the subsequent noise and ‘vacuum’ they create is as scary as hell. (The first time one whizzed past me, I thought I was going to get sucked into the actual bus, bicycle and all, without the bus doors opening for me!) Although it feels ‘wrong’ I now tend to cycle a few metres from the curb, on the outer-border of the cycle lane. This means the bus has to move into the next lane, which gives both of us plenty of space and stops me from being sucked under its wheels!

As with all urban cycling it pays to keep your wits about you, but you should never let buses put you off. The above tips, which I’ve garnered through experience, should help!

Where have all the cyclists gone?

Yesterday morning dawned lovely and sunny, perfect weather for cycling.

I generally try and get on the road before 8am; if I leave after 8am the traffic — of both the four-wheeled and two-wheeled kind — is noticeably heavier. But yesterday I was running late and did not hit the road until about five-past. I needn’t have worried. The traffic was heavy but I was practically the only cyclist on the road.

Do you know how wonderful it is when you are the only cyclist on the road? It’s akin to a chocoholic discovering a mountain of free chocolate: very easy to make a pig of yourself!

I know this isn’t particularly charitable of me, because I do firmly
believe that the more people who cycle the more chance we have of gaining
our rightful place on the road, but I sometimes hate sharing the road with fellow cyclists. Especially the ones who cut me up or don’t use hand signals or run red lights or cycle two abreast at ultra-slow pace!

When I don’t have to worry about other cyclists, I can concentrate on the motorised vehicles that might cause me grief. Not to mention the rogue pedestrians that step out into the road or the car doors that swing open unexpectedly or the ducks (yes, the ducks) that cross my path in Hyde Park.

With one less hazard on the road, it is much less stressful and I enjoy my commute all that much more. Yesterday was no exception. I had a great, quick ride in and an equally great and quick ride home.

I suspect this lack of cyclists means the summer riders have put their bikes away for the colder weather and it’ll be just the diehards left to tackle London’s roads this winter. In a peverse kind of way, I’m looking forward to it already.

Tonight’s drama

At Hyde Park Corner this evening the traffic was brought to a standstill by an onslaught of sirens: police, ambulance, fire. The high-pitched screeching and the flashing blue lights had everyone, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike, all straining to work out what was going on. It seemed like the whole of London’s emergency services had congregated in front of the Lanesborough. (I later found out, via T, that someone had thrown themselves in front of the tube on the Picadilly Line, which seriously disrupted services during peak hour, which might explain all the sirens.)

Once over that little dramatic sight, I was forced to confront another. As I cycled along the South Carriage I counted a dozen police minibuses parked up. There were police everywhere, and part of the cycle lane I trundle along, at the rear of the French Embassy, had been cordoned off. There were important looking men in important looking suits holding important looking notebooks milling around. I assumed they were police detectives. I even spied some of the specialist operations officers wearing their funny blue jumpsuits and little peaked caps.

I don’t know what was going on, but it looked like some form of raid. There’s been nothing on the TV news and I can’t find anything online. The journalist in me views this as a kind of torture: knowing that something happened but not being able to discover what it was! I’m kicking myself that I didn’t stop and ask!