A warm end to September

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The summer we never had seems to have arrived in full force this past week. It was 27°C yesterday and 29°C today. I'm not complaining. It makes cycling to work a rather pleasant experience when the skies are blue, the sun is shining and the air is warm and balmy. (Although the pollution in the evening is a little grim and plays havoc with my lungs.)

This morning was particularly beautiful as the sunshine filtered down through the autumnal trees in Hyde Park (pictured above), burnishing everything with a soft golden glow.

I've been rather lax in keeping this diary, but I cycled to work four days last week, did a 15-mile cycle to Richmond Park on Sunday morning, and cycled in three days this week, hence the stats below.

Total distance: 101.21miles (162.84km) | Ride time: 9hr, 1min and 21sec | Average speed: 11.3mph | Top speed: 22.7mph

Update: I have now added last week's commute to the figures above, making the total 101.21 miles, not the 64 miles as originally stated. I had deleted these figures from my bike computer but had written them down in my note book — I had forgotten all about them until now.

A Sunday trundle — with snaps

SundayCycle20110918 What is fast becoming a weekend habit, the Other Half and I went on a Sunday morning trundle.

We left the house at around 10.30am and cycled a big loop, beginning and ending in Hammersmith, via Barnes, Richmond Park, Ham and Richmond.

To begin with, the weather was cool but dry. The overcast skies would occasionally break into moments of bright sunshine. But on the whole the conditions were pleasant for cycling — not too cold, not too warm, no wind and no rain.

The only tricky conditions were the mud and puddles along the tow path near Ham — thanks to what looks like a high tide that had washed up lots of flotsam and jetsam.

But we rewarded ourselves with a cuppa and a small snack at Tide Tables Cafe, by the river at Richmond, so all was well with the world.

Rather than bore you with the detail, here's some random snaps that I took on my camera phone along the way:

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Inquisitive ducks — they were rooting around the leaf cover for creepy crawlies to eat

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The pond near Ham Gate in Richmond Park

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Ham House, a National Trust property built in 1610

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Sail boats on the river

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Herbal tea and a strong coffee to revive us

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Bust of Bernardo O'Higgins, Chilean independence leader

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A riot of autumnal colour

Total distance: 19.35miles (31.13km) | Ride time: 1hr, 54min and 55sec | Average speed: 10.1mph | Top speed: 21.7mph

Farewell to my Specialized Sports Sirrus

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Yesterday I sold my first hybrid bike — a Specialized Sports Sirrus — which I purchased in February 2007.

I rode her fairly solidly throughout 2007 but only intermittently in 2008, mainly because of ongoing shoulder and flank pain. But in December of that year I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in my hands and for the next two years I barely rode the bike.

When I took workplace redundancy last year, one of my goals — aside from taking some time out and doing some travelling — was to get my health back and regain my fitness. In Australia last December I bought an entry-level Trek hybrid to see me through a couple of months of leisure cycling — and a new love affair was born.

Riding that new bike put things into perspective for me: the Specialized, back in London, was too small and the ride position too uncomfortable.

That was confirmed when I returned to the UK in February. I was 9kg lighter and the fittest I'd been in years. Despite the winter weather I was keen to get out and about on the bike. But no sooner had I got back on the Specialized than my shoulder stiffness returned and I could feel the pain in my left flank that had plagued me throughout 2008.

I promptly went out and bought another bike — the exact same one I'd bought in Australia (and left behind for my mother) — and there's been no looking back.

But my poor Specialized, which I so loved when I first bought her, was taking up space in our storage room and I knew I'd have to sell her on at some point. I ummed and ahhed about it, though. It would be like saying goodbye to an old friend — even if the friendship had soured a little towards the end.

I placed an advert on the intranet at the publishing company where I'm currently freelancing last week half hoping no one would see it. But within a day of it going up I had a potential buyer.

I cleaned her up over the weekend and took her for a quick spin to make sure all was in order. Then I cycled her in yesterday, parked her up and at lunch-time made the sale.

It felt weird saying goodbye to her, but when it comes down to it, we just weren't made for each other. Sometimes you've got to be honest with yourself and get rid of the things that cause you pain…

A Saturday morning cycle through Richmond Park

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I'm not quite sure what possessed me to go on an early morning cycle today. By rights I should have been nursing a hangover — I consumed three-quarters of a bottle of sauvignon blanc last night — but no, I wake up at 5.18am, can't get back to sleep and by 7am I'm thinking maybe I should go for a bike ride?

So, at 7.30am, I mention to my Other Half, who was lying in bed listening to his iPod, that I might just sneak out for a trundle. And then he offers to join me. So, a little after 8am, we've got our bike kit on and our bikes at the ready, and then we're scooting down the back streets of Hammersmith and Barnes, enroute to Richmond Park.

I had expected the park to be lovely and quiet, but it was heaving with dog walkers, mountain bikers, joggers and walkers, and the roads were thrumming with the sounds of road cyclists whizzing by in tightly packed pelotons. But it was great to be out and about, breathing in the heady scent of dew-covered bracken fern and seeing all the lush greenery of the park in whatever direction you cared to look.

The trees are just starting to turn, so I imagine in a few weeks time the park is going to be filled with a riot of burnished browns and golds and orange. It seems such a long time ago that I was cycling here under bare-armed branches in the depths of winter!

All up we did about 15 miles, only stopping once for a quick drink from our water bottles. My stats below include four days' worth of commuting (which I was too lazy to write about):

Total distance: 64.18miles (103.26km) | Ride time: 5hr, 49min and 27sec | Average speed: 11mph | Top speed: 22.1mph

A week’s worth of cycling: a new seat cover, a stoning, a near miss, lots of soldiers and much more!

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For the first time since going back to work in late June I managed to commute by bicycle five days in a row. My Monday journey set me up for a good week, as did the fine, unusually summery, weather that lasted right through the next four days. And come Friday, despite the aching legs, I felt like I'd achieved something, a personal milestone of sorts.

At 5.45pm on Friday, I was also rather chuffed to collect my bicycle from where I'd locked it up for the day to find I'd scored a free BRIGHT PINK seat cover — as did the dozens of other bikes parked up nearby. Okay, so it was a marketing ploy, but a rather clever and inspired one, given it was advertising secure bike parking facilities!

But I was less chuffed when I was stoned by a 10-year-old kid as I cycled past Bernie Spain Gardens about 10 minutes later! The missile hit me in my ribs and I was so surprised by it — I yelled "ouch" in what must have sounded like a hugely comical voice — that I didn't really process what had happened until I was about half a mile down the road. Then I started to join the dots… the group of kids hanging out by the gardens… the giggling and carrying on…and me flying past for target practise. The thing is, I don't know if I was deliberately targeted or whether they were fooling around and throwing things at each other and I just got in the way. I'm only grateful that they didn't aim it at my eye.

Some other things that happened during the week:

★ I saw a guy riding like the clappers down Constitution Hill on possibly the world's rustiest bike. His back wheel was either seriously buckled or very loose, because it had a very dangerous wobble. I don't know how he didn't know something was wrong. I planned to tell him when I caught him at the next set of traffic lights, but when he flew through the red light, scattering pedestrians in his wake, I decided that if his wheel fell off then he probably deserved it.

★ I came within inches of hitting a pedestrian near the Royal Albert Hall. She was standing on the kerb and about to walk out into my path. But then she spotted me coming and stopped. We made eye contact and I smiled to thank her. But just as I was level with her she decided to step out anyway. I couldn't believe it. I had to swerve so drastically that I almost fell off. I honestly don't know what she was playing at, but you should have heard the curses coming out of my mouth! No, I wasn't very happy.

★ By contrast, another pedestrian smiled and thanked me … when I stopped at a red light. I smiled back. But it did make me wander why he was so appreciative. Maybe he's just never seen a cyclist stop at a red light before?

★ I spotted one cyclist, a guy in his late 20s, on Friday evening cycling very tentatively near the curb. At the traffic lights he had a nervous disposition. He just generally looked uncomfortable with the whole cycling in traffic thing. I wondered if it was his first time out. I wanted to tell him that he'll only kick the nerves by practise. You never lose the adrenalin rush, but the nervousness goes — eventually.

★ Two mornings in a row I saw the King's Troop all dressed up in their uniforms and spiffy gold hats trotting their black horses around the riding arena near the South Carriage.

★ One morning I saw the guards at Wellington Barracks, on Bird Cage Walk, practising their drills. They were wearing green uniforms and bearskin hats. And the tourists were gawking at them through the fence, cameras at the ready. I do love cycling in London!

Total distance: 49.07miles (78.95km) | Ride time: 4hr, 12min and 18sec | Average speed: 11.6mph | Top speed: 22.3mph