Today’s commute in pictures

It snowed overnight in London, the first time it's done so in October since 1934. However, the morning dawned bright and sunny, with nary a snowflake to be seen. It was damn cold though. I donned three layers — a long-sleeve base t-shirt, a fleece and a cycling jacket — and hoped my nose wouldn't get frostbite!

I took my camera, because I was anxious to get a photograph of the beautiful autumnal trees lining the Broad Walk in Kensington Gardens before all their leaves turn brown and fall off. This is the result.

BroadWalk

Aren't the trees gorgeous? Here's another shot.

Gold

Further into town my good mood dissipated a little when I came to George Street, which feeds into Parliament Square. The traffic was bumper to bumper and the road space I would normally use to filter my way to the top of the queue was obstructed by temporary barriers.

GeorgeSt

I had to get off my bike and walk along the footpath. Grrr.

GreenWheel

On my commute home I had to stop behind Festival Hall and take a picture of the London Eye, which is currently all lit up with green lights. The colour scheme of the lights changes from time to time. In the next couple of weeks they should turn red — to commemorate Remembrance Day on November 11.

Note that this stretch of road (above) is one of the more hazardous on my route, not necessarily because of the motorised traffic but the steady stream of pedestrians which cross the road as they head to — and from — Waterloo Station in the morning and the evening. Most of them don't even bother looking as they step out into the road, which isn't surprising given half of them are gabbing on their mobile phones. Mindless chatter always takes priority over personal safety, don't you think?

Anyway, here's my final shot of the day, a somewhat blurry picture of Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben clock-tower in the distance. I never get sick of the sight of the clock-tower and love looking up into its face to check my time — so much better than a wrist watch, right?

WestminsterBridge

Why cycling in the hail is better than travelling on the tube

Is there anything better than a nice hot shower after a commute home in the pitch dark buffered by wind, rain and hailstones?

I couldn't wait to jump under a steaming shower when I walked in the door tonight. The ride home was fraught with all kinds of weather elements, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I actually laughed when I was sat at a set of traffic lights with about six other cyclists and the hail started beating down. It just seemed so absurd to be pelted with little sharp bits of ice falling from the sky. Even more absurd when the girl in front of me, wearing shorts (!!), started yelping "ouch, ouch, ouch" and jumped around in her seat as if she could dodge the stones.

It felt good to be back in the saddle again, after two "patchy" weeks in which I wasn't feeling well enough to cycle every day (a throat infection in the first week, a middle ear infection that left me with head spins the next).

I have to say that commuting by public transport has driven me slightly mental. Last night I actually got off one stop early and walked the rest of the way home because I couldn't stand being crammed in with strangers poking my ribs and standing on my feet and basically just getting in my face — and being so damned rude in the process. "Can you make sure I get out of bed early and cycle tomorrow," I told my Other Half when I got home. "I cannot bear to travel on the tube again!"

And so this morning, after very little sleep, I braved the cold — brrrr, and was it cold — and trundled my way slowly to work. And it was gorgeous. The trees in Kensington Gardens, especially those that line the Broad Walk, were shimmering gold and auburn and honey in the early morning light. And the sky was a brilliant, heavenly blue. So much better than the view from the inside of a tube carriage!

Warm, wet and proper dark

After a week's break while I battled some weird lurgy (fever, sore throat, aches and pains and a dry cough), I got back on the bike this morning expecting it to be terribly wintry and ice-cold. I donned lots of layers and hit the road a little later than normal (8am) only to find it was rather warm out. In fact, the wind blowing into my face as I trundled through the Royal Parks felt practically tropical. I could have easily cycled in shorts and a t-shirt, and I would not have felt cold in the slightest.

Coming home was slightly different. Not cold as such but wet. Very wet. My cycling jacket has been thrown in the washing machine so often over the past three years that it seems to have lost all waterproofing ability, so I could feel the rain trickling down my back and arms as I sped through tonight's misty rain. (I'm beginning to think it's time to splurge on a new jacket: this one has served me well, at a total cost of £40 it really doesn't owe me much.)

Cateye-el610-zoom
For the first time since my "great return" I also cycled home in the dark. I left the office at around 5.50pm and there wasn't much light left in the sky. Within ten minutes it was black. Thank goodness I have a new headlight — and it's powerful too. It provided me with good illumination as I cycled along the bike path on Constitution Hill, one of the more darker sections of my commute. It's rechargable, so it will be interesting to see how many commutes I get out of it before I have to charge it again. (Just to be on the safe side, I think I will invest in a back-up light — I quite like the look of this one.)

It won't be long before both commutes — morning and evening — will be in the dark. Ahhh, winter cycling, there's nothing quite like it, is there?

A 6-week milestone

Last Friday marked my six-week anniversary of cycling "full-time" after a relatively long absence. I was pleased to achieve the goal I'd set myself: my prime motivation was to lose enough weight to fit into a suit I planned to wear at an event on October 12.  And yes, I wore that suit yesterday.

Unfortunately, I didn't cycle to work this morning owing to a lurgy I seem to have come down with. I was awake at 2am with a fever and raging sore throat. I struggled into work, muddled my way through a hectic press day, and then took myself home on a rather crowded tube train feeling a little sorry for myself.

I'm hoping this illness will simply morph into a mild head cold, rather than anything more severe, and then I'll be back on the bike as soon as I can. Stay tuned…

Morning light

This morning was one of those beautiful crisp autumnal mornings.

When I headed out at 7.45am it was semi-dark, not because the sun hadn’t risen but because there was a light mist hanging in the air through which a rose-coloured light was being filtered.

At Hyde Park the surface of the Serpentine was hidden by a thin veil of mist just sitting over the top of the water. Typically, I had no camera to capture the beauty of it all, but it was a lovely way to start the day — something I would have missed altogether had I chosen to get to work by tube.

The evening was also remarkably sunny, too warm for my fleece leggings and my winter gloves, which I have taken to wearing these past few days. Tomorrow, I may just have to dig out my shorts and fingerless gloves for one last airing before the real wintery weather sets in…

On

On being thankful that I can cycle
I caught the tube yesterday. The journey in was tolerable; the journey home unbearable. I won’t be making that mistake again.

On wide empty roads
Not sure where everyone was tonight, but I liked it. Quite a lot of bikes, but very few cars. It was especially congestion-free through Westminster and right on down to the Albert Hall. It made for a very fast ride, helped in part by catching pretty much every green light. Woo-hoo.

On racing a Porsche
Sat behind a lovely black 911 at Price of Wales Gate and for the next two miles we played chasey with each other: sometimes he’d overtake me, other times I’d overtake him. In the end, I won. Those TV ads are right: it really is quicker by bike!

On leaving the young ‘uns eating rubber
One of my pet hates is other cyclists who sneak in front of you at the lights, even if you got there first. I’m convinced people eye me up, think “I could beat that old girl” and decide to sit in front of me because they don’t want to be held up. Nine times out of ten, I am quicker than them off the lights and have to overtake them — if it’s safe — within the first 25 metres. Tonight, three young chaps — not much older than 20 — did this to me at one set of lights. When the green signal came, I simply powered past them and was sat at the next set of lights for a good two minutes before they caught up. They’d learnt their lesson though, and didn’t sneak ahead, but sat politely behind me. Think they must have clocked that the woman old enough to be their mother was fast off the blocks, so they better stay out of the way! Hee, hee.

Democracy in action

Today's highpoint was cycling around Parliament Square to the beat of what sounded like a thousand drums.

The road itself was relatively quiet, but the grassed area was heaving with people, many holding up banners, chanting a slogan that had something to do with Tamils*. 

I love cycling around Parliament Square when protests are in full swing. It doesn't happen nearly enough these days, because the Government has basically outlawed protests in the Designated Area around Westminster Palace, where Parliament sits, without official Police approval.

Tonight, it was so colourful and noisy and, yes, exciting to see these peaceful protesters exercising their democratic right to demonstrate. Cycling past them was a bit of a sensory overload experience, like something out of a film, and I was sad to leave the cacophony behind when I left the Square and headed down the much quieter Bird Cage Walk.

* I've since looked it up online — it was a protest by British Tamils "to
lobby the UK political establishment and law makers to take immediate
action to halt the indiscriminate aerial bombardment carried out by the
Forces of Government of Sri Lanka against innocent Tamil civilians in
the Vanni region". You can find out more here.

A new danger to cyclists

What no one ever tells you when you start commuting in London is to watch out for the inherent dangers posed by wildlife.

I'm talking about dogs and squirrels and ducks that refuse to budge off the cycle path in Hyde Park despite the constant ringing of your bike bell!

Yesterday I discovered a new threat to my safety: low-flying geese.

I'm not joking. First, I stopped to let them waddle across the cycle path. Then, a little further down the line, another group of fatties, beaks rooting around in the soft dirt of Rotten Row, were startled by something unseen (perhaps a dog or a hawk?) and decided that now was the time to take to the air. I'm not sure if you have ever seen a greylag goose take off, but they take a very long run up before they gain enough momentum to fly.

So here I was trundling along Hyde Park while a gaggle of geese — perhaps a dozen in total — started running at right angles towards me, wings flapping and feet slapping onto the earth, and I just knew that their line of flight was going to coincide roughly with the position of my head. What did I do? I think it was some weird combination of pedalling as quickly as my legs would allow while ducking my head and hoping for the best!

In the event, I escaped unscathed, but I swear I could feel their feathers just grazing the top of my helmet as they headed for the clouds!

The tail end of things

Tail_lightI had to buy a new tail light yesterday. On Tuesday night my other one decided to fall off my bike while I was travelling at speed, bounce onto the road and get run over by a taxi! All the while I had two pedestrians yelling at me in strine Australian accidents: "Something fell off, something fell off!" And as I turned my head to see whereabouts my light had landed, I saw it go under the wheels of a passing taxi. There was nothing left for me to do than continue cycling…

Anyway, I ended up getting a Cateye LED tail light for £12.99, but I also bought a very clever compact light that is on a length of elasticised cord — you turn it on using a magnetic switch at the end of the cord (see pic); how cool is that? I see people wearing these on the backs of their helmets or tied to their backpacks but I haven't figured out where I will attach it just yet…

Just for the record, I cycled yesterday morning but didn't cycle home — I had a social engagement after work, so I left my bike in secure storage and caught the tube home.  This meant I had to catch the tube into work this morning — erk, absolutely horrible, I have not missed tube travel at all, having to cram in with loads of smelly, grumpy, lethargic-looking people — but cycled home this evening and felt the better for it.

It will be back to regular, twice-daily cycling tomorrow. And thank goodness for that…