… and it was worse than yesterday — in more ways than one.
The roads were definitely busier this morning, despite the fact I left the house 20 minutes earlier than yesterday. The number of bikes at Hyde Park Corner was staggering and it was pretty congested through Trafalgar Square and onwards through The Strand.
This evening I was hoping to miss the worst of the traffic by leaving the office promptly at 5pm. Unfortunately, my journey ended up taking more than two hours! Why? Because half-way across Westminster Bridge the chain on my bike snapped in half! F**k!
I didn't hear it break, but knew something was wrong when the pedals suddenly felt funny. I looked down and the chain was gone! I checked the road behind me and there it was about 200m away lying on the bitumen like a skinny dead snake.
I got off the bike, humped it onto the footpath, and a passing pedestrian, seeing my obviously pissed off face, cheekily said, "Not a great day for cycling, hey?"
"Umm, no," I replied. "Especially when your chain breaks."
He looked at me blankly.
"That's it lying on the road," I said, pointing at my wrecked chain.
"Ooooh no," he replied, sounding genuinely shocked. Not that he stopped and helped, but swanned off on his merry way and left me to it.
Lots of options ran through my head: walk the bike the remaining 5.5 miles home; take the bike back to the office, lock it up and then battle it out with everyone to catch a bus home; or visit Evans on The Cut at Waterloo and hope they'd be able to put a new one on for me.
I opted for the latter.
It was a fairly long walk to The Cut, especially given it was now 5.30pm and the footpaths were heaving with pedestrians all headed for Waterloo Rail Station. Once I'd battled my way past them, I was met with a similar crowd of cyclists queued up inside Evans waiting for service.
When it eventually came to serving me, the best they could do was sell me a chain; I'd have to put it on myself. No amount of cajoling could convince them to put it on for me — too busy. Could they keep it overnight and do it tomorrow? No. Saturday? No. Apparently, they're so busy that the soonest anyone could even look at it would be Saturday week.
He muttered something about not having the right tools, about how they only had three mechanics when they should have five, how they were cancelling people's pre-booked service slots because they were so short-staffed… blah, blah, blah.
So in the end I paid for the chain and walked 300m around the corner to the little independent bike repair shop in the hope they might be able to help me out. They were just about to close when I knocked on the door, chain in one hand, bike in the other.
The mechanic took one look at me, saw the chain and immediately guessed what had happened. "Don't tell me they sold you that and left you to it," he said, shaking his head.
"Umm, yes, and with all the bloody money I've spent with them over the years, I'm not too impressed with their customer service," I replied.
"Come in here and I'll put it on for you," he said.
Two minutes later and it was done. He refused any offer of payment. "I'm sure you'll be back to buy something off us in future," he said cheekily.
Then, before I set off, he checked the chain was working fine only to discover it made a bit of a horrid clanking noise. Turns out my gears are a bit fecked. He thinks they're not aligned properly and I may need a new chain cog. In other words, the bike needs a bit of work. Admittedly, I told him the gears had been giving me a bit of grief these past couple of days and hadn't really felt right; they kept snagging and my pedals would stop turning momentarily.
He offered to fix it for me there and then, but I already felt bad that he'd kept the shop open for me and told him I didn't want to hold him up any longer. I could see him weighing up the options in his mind and in the end he simply suggested I return tomorrow.
He fiddled around with the gears until he found one that seemed OK and told me to take things easy on the road. I tell you what, have you ever cycled six miles in a low gear? God, it was hard work. My legs are going to kill me tomorrow; it felt like I was cycling through wet cement.
There were a few wobbly moments when the tension in the chain felt wrong, and I was terrified it would break again. But I got home in one piece, albeit covered in thick black grease: it was all over my hands, all over my bike bag and smeared all over my face!
Tomorrow, I'll trundle back into work slowly and drop my bike off at the repair shop. I think I might take the man a gift, too, I was soooooooo thankful for his assistance tonight. Independent bike stores rock!
So here's my shout-out to the London Bicycle Repair Shop, Shop 2-3 Benson House, Hatfields, London SE1 8DQ — I think I'll be giving them a lot of business from now on.