I’ve lived here for over 20 years but it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally cycled on the streets of London. And what a time to start. Cycling in London is very much in the news at the moment after a bad week with 5 cyclist deaths in 9 days. As I planned to go out for the first time I read and listened to the news, hearing about vigils, campaigns and views from all parties about dangerous drivers, busses and lorries, bad road designs, reckless cyclists and so on. Whatever the reasons, with the huge growth in cycling in London lets hope some solutions and actions are found and acted upon soon.
So maybe not the best week for me as a novice (or returning) cyclist to be pushing my shiny new bike out the door. Or maybe it’s a good week because the more ordinary Londoners who take to two wheels the better for increasing understanding and communication between pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers (many of whom are users of all). More cyclists to create the demand for an increase in safe cycling routes and help to break down barriers between different road users as we learn to adapt to our congested changing city and make it better and safer for us all.
I have to add that I will be cycling in London in the mildest sense. I will be mostly cycling off-peak on quiet roads and cycle paths through the park. I’m lucky I have that option and won’t have to cycle anywhere in a hurry at busy times because I don’t have to commute nor take my exercise at peak times or after dark. I am happy to be the one you will see dismounting and using the pavement across a busy road junction before I go on my way. For now anyway while I build confidence and experience. Who knows where my cycling journey will take me.
Why has it taken me all these years to get on my bike? Fear (lack of confidence) and not having a reason to cycle until now when suddenly I find I have many reasons to get on two wheels.
Fear? Yes, London’s roads are daunting for many new comers, even in a car. I remember being petrified when driving for the first time in London as a student and it took me several years to get confident enough to drive where and when I wanted. Since then I have assumed that as an inexperienced cyclist (beast of a mountain bike in rural parts only) London cycling was not for me,
However these days, as a runner I notice that sooner or later many runners take to a bike. It follows that outdoor types will find that cycling makes sense as a form of cheap efficient transport. Cycling is one of the best forms of cross training for runners and the solace for many injured runners seeking a cardio fix. And road cycling has to be better than spinning class, hasn’t it? (Yes I hate treadmills too)
So when my OH told me he was buying another bike for training for a 3 day cycle ride next spring I decided that maybe it was time we had a joint activity (I’ll never make a runner of him) in preparation for our teenage sons flying the nest (wishful thinking) and he should buy me a bike too. I am one of the few people still driving to BMF classes and paying a fortune in parking charges when it’s only a few miles, much of which possible on cycle paths. Somewhere to start.
So how has it been? Fantastic! I love it. As a friend said today there’s nothing like getting the wind in your hair to take you back to your youth. Straight out I felt good (yay for a bike that’s light and nippy). I have found the quiet roads far less frightening than I imagined and I have calmly coped with being passed by traffic of all sizes. I have used busier roads than I thought I would and have dismounted and walked less. I think my experience driving a very small car in London for the past year has helped me learn to be cautious of large vehicles and to adopt an assertive road position to indicate my intentions as well as learning all the back street routes.
I have new-found respect for cyclists. I’m reasonably fit and have even zoomed past Boris Bikes but have found many new muscles that other exercises haven’t touched. Today I discovered what triathletes refer to as a Brick Session. Trying to run at the start of my BMF class straight after cycling there, definitely a new wobbly legged experience! Next time I’ll leave earlier so I have a bigger rest between the two activities.
I start my marathon training proper next month. I don’t plan to use cycling as formal cross training but hope that commuting to BMF classes and running my local errands by bike will all add to my general fitness. All this extra fresh air is helping me sleep well too, which is essential for marathon training.