Westminster sunset

Westminster-sunset

And this is why I love cycling home after a long day at work. Just look at that sunset!

After two months of cycling home in the dark, it lifts the heart and the spirit when I leave the office at around 5.45pm and it’s still light outside.

This evening the sky was awash in a perfect blush pink, which deepened into peach and gold, as the sun moved closer to the horizon. My route home is west-bound, so it was like cycling into a beautiful watercolour painting.

When I got to Westminster Bridge I decided to park the bike up for five minutes so I could take this quick photograph on my iPhone. It’s not particularly sharp or well framed, and it doesn’t even begin to capture the vivid richness of the colour, but it gives you some idea of this evening’s magical sunset… It’ll probably snow tomorrow.

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Lock your bike… to a heart

Hearts-of-london

A heart-shaped bike rack spotted in Soho

I spotted this metal heart on a lamp post in Soho on Saturday. It’s a rather simple but elegant place to lock your bike. I snapped it, posted it on Instagram and thought no more about it.

But today I discovered that it’s part of an art installation to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation. There are 14 of these rather sweet and eye-catching “bike racks” dotted around London.

You can find out more — and make a donation — via this JustGiving page.

Good morning, Albert

Albert memorial

Yesterday morning I succumbed to temptation, stayed in bed longer than I should have and ended up catching the tube to work. It was horrendous. By the time I got to work — 15 minutes late because of delays to my journey — I had my grumpy head on. It certainly did not set me up in the right frame of mind for the day ahead.

Today I was determined to cycle in. Forget the warmth of the duvet, just get on the bike and and DO IT.

And I did.

In the icy wind.

But the sun was out and the sky was blue — and it felt good to be out and about, making my way to work on my own terms under my own steam.

The traffic was quiet, as it usually is on a Friday, so my cycle in was pleasant and quick. I even had time to stop by the Albert Memorial for a quick snap (see above). I missed saying hello to my old friend, Albert, yesterday — and I’ll look forward to waving at him again on my way home tonight…

The joys of cycling in Richmond Park: open space, deer and variable weather

March is a funny month for me. I'm working from home doing a big edit job for a think tank, which means I miss out on my normal commute. I have to force myself to get out and do exercise, otherwise it would be quite possible to not leave the house for days at a time. In fact, when I did this job last March I only seemed to leave the house when I required food or needed to post a letter!

And of course, when you have to make time to cycle it is all too easy to look out the window at this time of year and find excuses not to go outside. It's too cold. It's too wet. It's too windy. It's snowing. I don't like the look of those clouds. The traffic will be too busy. If I leave now I'll hit the school run. If I leave now I'll get caught in the lunch time rush. You get the idea.

As a consequence I have only cycled three times this month, which is pathetic, but they were three longish cycles to Richmond Park, so you can't say I'm not putting some hours in the saddle. And while I might be missing out on my regular commutes to the office in south London (an easy way to clock up 40 or 50 miles per week), when I work from home I love that I can take two hours out of my day to go on a cycle and just make up the time afterwards.

Open-space

And of course nothing beats the joy of cycling through Richmond Park — once I've survived the occasionally stressful five mile journey to get there. It's all the rugged fields and trees and beautiful vistas and the whole feeling that so much space evokes — you could be in the middle of nowhere, not in one of the world's biggest and busiest cities.

Cycle-path-and-deer

At the moment the park is filled with gorgeous deer. And while I'd love to stop and take photographs of them all, I have to be selective about it — sometimes I don't want to ruin my momentum on the bike or stop in an awkward place where other people can't get by. But on Tuesday, when I took the above photograph, I didn't have much choice. The deer — mostly females with their young — crossed the path ahead of me. By the time I'd fumbled around, taken off my gloves, extracted my iPhone from my pocket, unlocked it and turned on the camera, they were safely on the other side.

Deer

I saw those same deer today, almost in the same place. A little further down the road I came across a herd of giant stag and tentatively cycled by them, hoping they wouldn't suddenly stampede across the road or starting clashing their antlers together in a display of power. These animals are so huge they scare me. There are signs all over the park warning visitors that they are wild animals and shouldn't be approached. Fortunately, the stags today ignored me — they just continued grazing by the roadside while I pedalled by.

Cloud

The weather has been kind of weird, though. When I cycled last week it was shirt-sleeves weather. It was roughly 15C and the sun was out and the sky was blue — absolutely perfect for cycling.

But when I went cycling on Tuesday it was damn cold. I wore two pairs of ultra-thick woollen socks and my feet were still numb by journey's end. It was also incredibly windy, which meant I cycled very slowly — and my attempt to go up Sawyer's Hill, the notoriously steep ascent I normally avoid by cycling round the outside of the park on the Tamsin trail, was snail like. I practically crawled up it in the lowest gear, while MAMILS on expensive road bikes whizzed past.

Today, by contrast, was somewhere in between: there was no wind and the sun was out — but only for a bit, as the photograph above shows. I'd stopped at this pond for a little breather after doing a circuit of the park and the next thing I know the sky went very dark, a chill descended and I was convinced that was a snow cloud coming in. I hurried the six miles home, hoping to avoid the expectant downpour, but not a single drop of precipitation fell.

Here's some stats of my cycles:

Tuesday March 5, total distance: 15.98miles (25.72km) | Moving time: 1hr 28min 11sec | Average moving speed: 10.9mph | Calories: 671C [Tamsin Trail, warm and sunny]

Tuesday March 12, total distance: 14.69miles (23.65km) | Moving time: 1hr 18min 13sec | Average moving speed: 11.2mph | Calories: 622C [Sawyer's Hill, cold and windy]

Thursday March 14, total distance: 16.21miles (26.09km) | Moving time: 1hr 10min 54sec | Average moving speed: 10.3mph | Calories: 721C [Sawyer's Hill, extra 'loop', mild and sunny]

A beautiful morning for a cycle

HydeParkMist

It was a bright, beautiful, sunny morning when I headed out on the road at about 8.15am.

The road seemed quieter than normal (it’s half-term) and despite a chill in the air it didn’t feel quite as cold as it has felt over the past week or so. Either that, or perhaps my toasty warm layers (and socks) are doing their job properly.

At Hyde Park I was rather captivated by the low-lying misting hovering over the playing fields by the South Carriage — especially when coupled with the powder-blue sky and the lovely languid shapes of the bare-branched trees. I just had to stop to take some quick snaps (above and below).

HydePark

It’s wonderful mornings like this, when it’s bright and cold, and the sun’s rays filter down through the trees that I’m so grateful I made the effort to cycle rather than catch the tube.

Total distance: 6.51miles (10.47km) | Moving time: 37.03min | Average moving speed: 10.5mph | Calories: 306C

Hello sunshine! Hello rain! My first (long overdue) commute of the year

I couldn't have picked a more eclectic day, weather-wise, to make my return to regular commuter cycling.

In the morning, the air was crisp and cold but there was gorgeous sunshine and an eternally blue sky.

In the evening, it was ice-cold, the wind was howling a gale, the rain was pelting down and, in some places, the cycle lanes resembled free-flowing rivers. And did I mention it was dark?

VictoriaMemorial

But there were lots of good things about my commute.

  • That feeling of freedom (and elation) at being back on the bike!
  • Very little motorised traffic on the route in, so that the roads were relatively quiet.
  • The feeling of arriving at work all energised and motivated for the day ahead.
  • The gorgeous (wintry) London scenery and landmarks I never see when I commute by tube. Even the Victoria Memorial (pictured above) looked beautiful in the pissing-down rain this evening. (I only stopped to take a photograph because I needed to check my new bike computer was working.)

The best part about today's cycle, however, was being able to use my new Garmin wireless speed and cadence sensor, together with a new heart-rate monitor, all Christmas gifts from my Other Half, to replace the wireless bike computer that died a mysterious death last November. Together with my iPhone5, that means I can now record all kinds of stats about my commute, map my journey and find out how well I am doing fitness wise.

For instance, I can tell you that on this morning's commute I cycled 6.08 miles, it took 38.29 minutes in total (32.52 minutes moving time), my average speed was 9.5mph and I burned 299 calories.

This evening's commute — the same route but in much worse conditions — I cycled 6.31 miles, it took 51.44 minutes (40.45 minutes moving time), my average speed was 7.4mph and I burned 247 calories. (I then wasted god knows how much energy having the world's hottest shower to regain feeling in my numb-with-cold hands, feet, legs, arms…)

Garneau-saphir-helmet
And, finally, I even got to wear a new Garneau saphir bike helmet on the cycle home, having purchased a much-needed new one at lunch time! (After seven years of continuous use, the padding on the inside of my poor old Specialized helmet had rotted away and the straps were slightly worse for wear — it didn't owe me much.)

London architecture tour by bike

IMG02070-20120901-1120

One Saturday last month I went on a four-hour cycling tour of London's Baroque buildings. It was hosted by Open City, a charity which champions good architecture and design in the capital — the same people who run Open House London weekend.

The impossibly titled "Architecture on your bike — Baroque 'n' Roll revivals" was lead by expert architectural guide David
Garrard of English Heritage.

David was friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, as he lead us around the Square Mile, stopping to point out buildings that were built in, or inspired by, the Baroque style — theatrical, ornate and dramatic.

The frieze brings together everything accountancy would bring together, such as education, agriculture, mining and crafts.

Some of these buildings included Sir Christoper Wren's St Paul's
Cathedral (our 10am starting point), Hawksmoor's St Mary Woolnoth Church, the Lloyd's Building and the Chartered Accountants Hall at One Moorgate (see ornate frieze above).

After about two hours exploring the city in relatively leisurely fashion, we then crossed the river at Blackfriars Bridge.

Lambeth Towers, built in 1965.

After our first stop to admire Lambeth Towers (above), built in 1965, we then got to do some "proper" cycling as we headed south-east to Greenwich, via Camberwell School of Art, on some busy main roads.

IMG02074-20120901-1423

By the time we reached our final destination, Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Naval College (above), I was in need of something to eat and drink. We'd been on the road since 9am (the tour started at 10am but T and I cycled 6 miles to the start point) and it was now 2pm.

Most of us reconvened at the Trafalgar Tavern for a beer (interestingly, many of the dozen or so participants worked in professions associated with the built environment, such as town planning, engineering and architecture) and then it was up to us to figure our way back home. (T and I cycled via Canary Wharf, which wasn't exactly straightforward, and by the time we got in the door it was after 5pm and we'd cycled the grand total of 59.1km.)

The tour was a fantastic way to combine two of my loves — cycling and architecture — but next time I'd pack some snacks and maybe a sandwich to eat along the way.

Also note that this particular tour wasn't suitable for a new or nervous cyclist — for most of the trip the guide cycled up front and and everyone was expected to follow, and at least half of the journey was made on busy A roads. Loose, comfortable clothing is a must (I wore my normal commuter wear of baggy shorts and fluoro jacket) — and don't forget your camera!

To see photographs of the tour, please visit my gallery.

The next Open City architecture tour by bike is on Saturday November 3. It starts in Kensington High Street and focuses on Art Deco buildings. You can find out more here.

Thank you to Open City for providing me with a complimentary ticket to experience the Baroque tour.