Seeing the light

The days are finally getting longer on this side of the world. This morning’s ride — my first since last Thursday — was done in full daylight: dawn had broken before I’d even jumped in the saddle.

The trek home wasn’t quite as bright. I left the office at about 5.15pm. The sun had already set but the sky was washed in an orange-pink glow. It didn’t become properly dark until 5.30pm or so.

Guess that means only one thing: summer is just around the corner — and we haven’t even had a proper winter yet!

My pet hate

Caroncyclepath_1

If cyclists treated car lanes the same way that cars treat cycle lanes then…

… that would make us just as inconsiderate as those motorists we have chosen not to become.

But it still annoys me when cars obscure cycle paths as if they simply did not exist. I know motorists are allowed to park on many paths after hours, but that doesn’t make it right. In many cases, these obstructions occur in dangerous places, forcing cyclists to move into fast-moving traffic.

Hammersmith Road, near Olympia, here in West London, is a case in point. Every night at 6.30pm (and sometimes earlier) the cars start parking up along the cycle path. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you have to watch out for car doors being flung open right in front of you too!

Not exactly morning glory

Morning_1
If there was one thing I could change about myself it would be this: I would become a morning person.

Life would be so much easier if I could bound out of bed effortlessly as soon as my alarm goes off. Instead, I usually snuggle back under the duvet while trying to come up with a suitable excuse for not riding my bike to work: I’m too tired, it’s still dark, it’s too foggy/windy/wet/snowy, I’ll ride tomorrow.

This morning, however, I talked myself into getting up and just doing it! There was no snow on the ground and none likely to fall from the sky, so I rugged up — long-sleeved t-shirt, fleece, rain jacket and hi-viz waistcoat — and embraced the chill dawn air.

The ride was certainly a brisk one. I could feel the cold air penetrating my gloves and my fleece-lined leggings. My nose and cheeks were numb.

But I loved scooting along, seeing my breath, feeling my lungs working hard.

By the time I got to Horse Guards Parade it started to snow. Big, giant, fluffy white flakes falling all around me. It was beautiful, if somewhat short-lived, because by the time I’d crossed the river it had stopped. And when I told my colleagues I’d ridden in the snow, I don’t think they quite believed me.

Will I do it again tomorrow? I’m not sure. I have to get out of bed first!

Attacked by a snowball!

SnowyAs if the rain and the cold wasn’t bad enough, on this morning’s commute I got attacked by a mutt!

This Snowy-like creature bounded out of nowhere as I struggled to climb The Broad Walk in Kensington Palace Gardens. He snapped at my rear wheel, had a go at my feet and then, in a fit of excitement, decided to bite my front tyre. All the while his owner, a gentleman out of my field of vision, kept calling out "Snowball! Snowball!"

Friggin’ snowball, I muttered under my breath, at about the same moment my front wheel collided with the dog’s back. Shit, I thought, I’ve run over him!

But this mutt was made of strong stuff: no howls or squealing, just more yap-yap-yapping.  He was still trying to wrap his teeth around my right pedal when he was joined by a similar-sized dog with sturdy legs and a defiant BARK. This little critter, with a splotchy black-and-grey short-haired coat, was like Rocky Balboa: reluctant to give up and bossy too, shoving Snowball out the way as if to say, "She’s all mine! Find your own cyclist to eat!"

So, just as I lost one dog, another more feisty, more determined, more persistent one took its place! Brilliant!

As I made a right turn to cycle along the path that skirts the Round Pond, the bloody thing was still chasing me. I caught the eye of one cyclist heading my way who gave me a big smile. I guess it did look pretty funny.

I’m not sure how I got rid of him in the end. Perhaps it was the furious pedalling and a lot of loud swearing that had something to do with it!

Hyde Park

Rottenrow

Treadly and Me has a brilliant post on his bike route through Melbourne, Australia.

Adrian Fitch has a similar post showing his route through the streets of London.

I’m tempted to do something similar — as soon as I can figure out how it is possible to cycle and take photographs at the same time!

Meanwhile, here’s a photograph I took about 18 months ago that shows part of my route through London’s Hyde Park.  The broad dirt avenue on the right is Rotten Row, a bridleway established in the 17th century by William III as Britain’s first artificially lit "highway".

The cycle path is on the left and runs the full length of the park, which is a little over a mile long.

Cycling along here in the mornings is an absolute joy, especially when it’s misty and all you can see ahead of you is a blur of red bicycle tail lights and yellow high-viz jackets! You do have to watch out for the ducks though. Big groups of them have a habit of foraging for food on the path and no matter how much ringing of your bell or how much shouting of "get the fuck out of my way, you stupid ducks" they will not move for anyone!

I tend to avoid this path in the evenings though. In summer there are just too many pedestrians who do not understand that the line painted down the middle of the path is supposed to delineate where they walk and where we cycle. And in winter, it is just too damn dark and windy. And you all know how I feel about the wind!

Spot the difference

Most people have a general interest in the weather — is it going to be hot or cold or wet? Should I take an umbrella to work, or should I take a jacket?

But when you become a cyclist you develop a more specific interest in all things meteorological, because the weather can make such a difference to your journey. If you know it’s going to rain when you’re out riding you can dress appropriately. Ditto if it’s going to be hot. And, if you’re like me and are scared shitless of excessively gusty winds, you can leave your bike behind if you know that the conditions are going to be a bit cyclone-like.

The past two weeks have been rather windy in this part of the world, so I’ve been paying particular attention to the weather reports: if the predicted gusts are more than 40mph there’s no way I’m getting on my bike. So on Wednesday evening I did my ritual check-the-forecast-before-bed routine and didn’t like what I saw on Metcheck.com

Weather

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Given I usually head out on the bike at around 7.45am, I didn’t fancy trundling along while 44mph gusts were raging all around me. The return journey, at around 5.15pm, didn’t look promising either, with gusts predicted to reach 55mph. So I made a conscious decision to catch the tube to work instead.

However, if I relied on the BBC Weather Centre to determine whether I should ride my bike or not, I’m pretty sure I would have opted for the bicycle.

Weatherbbc

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According to this forecast the wind didn’t seem to be a problem. While there’s no indication of gust speeds, the wind speeds are a laughable 17mph in the morning and 18mph in the evening.

The difference between these two weather forecasts is quite astounding really. Especially given the fact that Thursday’s weather was horrendous: storms raged across the country, killing nine people in the process!

Needless to say, if you live in the UK, it’s wise to get your weather forecasts from Metcheck.com  I’ve been using this site for about six months now and have found it incredibly reliable. Its cycle-specific forecasts are very helpful, because all the information you want to know as a cyclist — how windy will it be? what will the humidity be like? is there going to be any rain? am I likely to need my sunglasses? — is all there in convenient three-hourly blocks. And the best part is that you can see how conditions are likely to change across the day, so that if you head out in the morning wearing dry-weather gear, you know to take along your waterproofs because your return journey is going to be a rainy one!

Now, if only it could predict the amount of traffic on your route…

Like a drowned rat

I turned up to work looking like a drowned rat this morning.

But it wasn’t the 6-mile commute in light, drizzly rain that did it.

It was the short 50 yard walk from my undercover bike park to the office door that did the damage. It was like someone had flicked a switch. One minute the rain was light, the next it was bucketing down. The wind picked up too, gusting and swirling and turning people’s umbrellas inside out. Quite funny actually to watch everyone scuttling for cover, while I stride by in my cycle helmet and rain-jacket getting completely drenched!

When I finally reached my desk and took off my helmet my colleagues took one look at me and laughed. I spent the next 10 minutes with my head under the hand-dryers trying to recover my dignity!

Hungry

After a self-imposed riding break due to cyclone-like winds, I got back on the bike this morning for the first time since last Tuesday and trundled into work just as dawn was breaking.The sky was a vivid orange fading into glorious pink and quite beautiful to behold. I would have missed such a glorious sight if I had have caught public transport. Yet another reason to commute by bicycle!

I’m not so sure that cycling is very good for my appetite though: it makes me ridiculously hungry. By midday I had munched my way through the following:

  • 1 x small pot of Greek yogurt with berry puree
  • 1 x banana
  • 1 x small-sized breakfast baguette (scrambled eggs and sun-blush tomatoes)
  • 1 x muesli bar
  • 1 x normal-sized cheese and pickle baguette

I had also enjoyed a brewed coffee and 750ml of juicy water plus several glasses of water from the water cooler in the office.

At lunch time, embarrassed by the amount of food I’d already eaten, I settled for another brewed coffee and sometime around 3-ish I gobbled up another banana.

I rode home like a little devil with my tyres on fire (a record-breaking 30.20 minutes), downed a glass of blueberry juice and a half-pint of water, and then set about making a mushroom and leek risotto for my din-dins!

I’ll probably still be hungry later. Just as well I’ve got a packet of biscuits handy!