A return to Richmond Park

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After a slack week in which I only cycled to work twice — I had too many social engagements in the evenings, so took the tube on those days — I decided to make up for it today.

The weather was gorgeous and sunny, so I headed to Richmond Park for a quick pootle around the Tasmin Trail early this afternoon.

Of course, it was fairly hectic in the park, and at one stage, near the White Lodge, the traffic was gridlocked getting into and out of the car park. But once I sailed past the jam and headed to the Wimbledon side of the park it was much quieter — and hence quicker.

I stopped once, to take the photograph above — and admire the planes drawing big white pictures in the sky — before heading back home.

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En route I spied a cricket match being held in a secluded corner of Barnes Common — how lovely and quintessentially English!

Total distance: 15.43miles (24.8km) | Ride time: 1hr, 21min and 36sec | Average speed: 11.3mph | Top speed: 21.3mph

A diversion through St James’s Park

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This morning was one of those mornings when everything seemed to go perfectly — seamless merging into the traffic, green lights all the way and no rain despite the threatening clouds up above — and then it all came grinding to a halt.

I got to Horse Guards Parade only to find it was closed to traffic — and will remain so until the end of August. Why? There's an Olympic test event for the beach volleyball scheduled for 9-14 August and they are busy setting it all up. Why it has to be closed two weeks before and two weeks after is a puzzle, because surely all they're doing is building bleachers, which only take them a day or two when the Queen holds her Trooping the Colour activities — but what would I know?

Anyway, I ended up having to backtrack and cut across the middle of St James's Park instead. Cycling is banned in the park, so I had to wheel the bike along the central path. But it was such a pleasant way to start the day.

I haven't walked through St James's Park — the oldest park in London — in YEARS. It's so lovely and peaceful there, and the lake in the middle affords beautiful views that frame Buckingham Palace at one end, and Horse Guards Parade and the London Eye at the other.

I stopped on the bridge over the lake and fired off the snap above, while listening to the tourists chattering around me. ("Y'all, here's something I got on the plane for you to eat," as a man with the strongest American accent I've ever heard handed out mini Mars bars to a gaggle of young kids.)

The enforced detour, while annoying at the time, actually made my day. Sometimes you really do need to stop, slow down and smell the roses, as it were.

Total distance: 12.84miles (20.65km) | Ride time: 1hr, 10min and 25sec | Average speed: 10.9mph | Top speed: 20.7mph

Night rider

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After putting in a 12-hour rather intense shift at work the last thing I really wanted to do was cycle home in the dark — and the rain.

But hitting the road at 9pm on a chilly Monday night wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was a lot of fun. There was hardly any traffic around — of either the bicycle or motorised variety — which made for a rather quick ride.

And cycling is the best way of putting physical — and mental — distance between work and home. By the time I got in the door, I felt like I'd left the worries of the day behind me.

Sadly, I haven't much had the energy to update this blog every time I've commuted into work over the past couple of weeks. But my bike computer has clocked up the following statistics representing 6 days' worth of cycling:

Total distance: 76.19miles (122.59km) | Ride time: 6hr, 48min and 51sec | Average speed: 11.1mph | Top speed: 20.8mph

Commuting to the office by bike: a weekly recap

It's been an interesting return to cycle commuting. After seven months of lovely time-off, travelling the world, doing lots of leisure cycling and enjoying some freedom from the 9 to 5 routine, I've returned to the working life. It's only on a temporary basis (I'm doing a freelance contract on a magazine, running a busy production desk), but it's good to get out of the house and ease myself back into the office environment. So far I'm enjoying it, but the best part of my day is, without a doubt, the cycling in and the cycling home.

After years of having to get into the office by 9am, I now have the pleasure of a 10am start — and 6pm finish. I've spent the past week experimenting with the best time to leave the house so as to avoid the worst of the rush-hour traffic.

I initially started setting off at 8.45am, but that has meant getting caught up in horrendous traffic along Kensington High Street. I've since discovered that leaving a little after 9am is best. By that stage the traffic has eased a little, and by the time I get to Buckingham Palace there's barely a car on the road. I suspect it's something to do with the congestion charge combined with the fact that most people have already arrived at work.

The only hot-spot, as it were, is Parliament Square, not helped by roadworks on Westminster Bridge this past week. But the motorised traffic is mostly respectful of cyclists, and I've not had a problem "taking" a lane or switching lanes. Either that, or I've simply become a more confident cyclist. (Once upon a time I would NEVER cycle through Parliament Square; I'd get off and walk my bike on the footpath.)

Returning home is slightly busier, probably because the congestion charge finishes at 6pm, but it certainly feels less chaotic than it did when I used to leave the office at 5pm.

The highlight of my cycling week — apart from the unusual sights I've been seeing every morning, including the mysterious horse-drawn carriage — was my cycle home on Monday night. I didn't leave the office until 10.15pm (it was press day), so I was slightly worried about the lateness of the hour. I've never cycled at that time before and had no idea what the traffic conditions would be like.

I'm glad that I had packed an emergency wind-up front light in my bag just in case, because I certainly needed it. Sadly, I haven't gotten around to switching my light fittings from my old bike to my new bike, so I had to prop this light up in an unconventional way: I wrapped the string handle around the handlebars and sat the light on the gear and brake cables at the front of my bike. It was surprisingly stable, and the light was very strong. Not bad for a spur-of-the-moment £7 purchase made two or three years ago. (I always have a rear tail-light on my bike bag.)

As to the amount of traffic on the road, it was certainly busy south of the river, near the office, mainly taxis ferrying people to and fro, and it was similarly busy near the Royal Albert Hall, where an event had just finished. But on the whole the road was incredibly quiet.

I had all of Parliament Square and Bird Cage Walk to myself. I zipped across Buckingham Palace without fear of running over any tourists. I crossed Hyde Park Corner without having to fight for road space with pedestrians and dozens of other cyclists. And racing down Ken High Street was a delight! If only it was always like this!

Of course, it's all swings and roundabouts, because come Thursday the amount of traffic on the road was probably the worst I've ever seen. I should have known in the morning, when I spied all the police mini-buses heading into town, that something was up. And of course, when it came to cycling home I found out the hard way.

IMG01400-20110630-1824 There had been a huge public sector protest march in town, and streets, which had been cordoned off for the day, were just re-opening. But this meant it was bumper to bumper traffic — what you would probably call "gridlock" — wherever I went. I actually counted 15 double-decker London buses on Westminster Bridge, heading into Parliament Square. I prefer not to inch up the inside when there's more than two in a row, so this left me in a difficult dilemma.

The photograph (left) is a bit dark — all those buses were blocking out the light from the sun — but it gives you some idea of how little road space a cyclist has. I actually hate this stretch of road, because of the concrete wall to the left (which, I suppose, is there to stop terrorists driving their bomb-laden vehicles into the Houses of Parliament). It would be too easy to be knocked into it by an over-zealous car, so I tend to "take" the lane here. On Thursday evening that proved impossible.

But I was very careful and managed to follow the two motorbikes ahead of me, which were small enough to sneak up the inside of the buses, but then large enough to take the lane when the lights changed. Fortunately, once onto Parliament Square proper it was all for the taking, because only one lane was opened and no one was using it except dozens of cyclists.

The rest of the journey was okay, because while the vehicles weren't moving, there was plenty of room for cyclists to just get on with the job. It always amazes me that people are happy sitting in little tin cans going nowhere, when they could be out on a bike getting to their destination in half the time!

Here are my stats for the week:

Monday June 27:

Total distance: 12.56miles (20.20km) | Ride time: 1hr, 8min and 6sec | Average speed: 11mph | Top speed: 21.4mph

Tuesday June 28:

See this post

Wednesday June 29:

Didn't cycle in, because I had a social event in the evening.

Thursday June 30:

Total distance: 13miles (20.91km) | Ride time: 1hr, 10min and 6sec | Average speed: 10.9mph | Top speed: 21.6mph

Friday July 1:

Total distance: 12.66miles (20.36km) | Ride time: 1hr, 8min and 5sec | Average speed: 11.1mph | Top speed: 20.4mph

Sneek peek of July’s cycle blog rankings

Once again, the kind people at Wikio have supplied me with this month's UK cycling blog rankings, which go 'public' in a few days' time. Here they are:

1 London Cyclist Blog
2 i b i k e l o n d o n
3 London Cycling Diary
4 Ride UK BMX
5 wiggle blog
6 Quickrelease.tv
7 Blike – Cycling – Mirror.co.uk
8 Moving Target
9 Gordon Valentine's blog
10 London Cycle Chic
11 Tredz Blog
12 Fixed Gear London's Weblog
13 Southsea Fixed Gear Fight Club
14 Biking Brits
15 Just Williams
16 apsykes.com
17 Dunks Blog!
18 Ride Earth – Tom's World Bicycle Travel Blog
19 Travels with my Mule
20 live-cycle

Ranking made by Wikio