October cycling BHAG update

It’s starting to get dark earlier; 7:30, 7, 6:30 so that now it’s dark when I leave work, not just when I arrive. Sometimes I find cycling at night dull; there’s a flatness to the city, a literal lack of light and shade. But there are some good rides in the dark, when it’s not just the light which has receded, but life too. There are fewer cars and busses, more deserted corners and buildings empty despite having their lights blazing. Sometimes these moments of emptiness come in the strangest places: the Bloomsbury roads around the British Museum, or right outside Canon Street station in the city. If you come to these places late enough, you feel like you’ve come after humanity entirely.

From a cycling point of view, quietness means speed, and I log some fast rides home after working late, tearing home with the tyres lifting leaves in the air. One or two rides stand out in particular, when the traffic lights all line up and the smoothness of the tyres is matched by redone tarmac and the traffic is non existent, so I can really build up the momentum.

I’ve learned the word “souplesse” from Bella Bathurst’s excellent Bicycle Book, and these late rides often embody its values: smoothness, fluidity, flow, the bike a thin slice of white metal cleaving the dark city in two. One evening in the middle of the month, I notice it’s cold for the first time, too. The chill of the air feels thrilling and new; it’s still like silk as I ride through it, and on the A2 the traffic is backed up, so there are huge stretches of quietness: empty spaces, free of obstacles, regrets, sadness, into which I flow, the tyres buzzing. This is progress.

One place that was quiet for the first part of the month was the front of St Paul’s: then the OccupyLSX protestors arrive. On the first day, there’s a huge police presence blocking off the actual London Stock Exchange’s offices, but the protestors are pretty mild mannered. As I walk past, one offers me a hug. The camp seems busy each time I cycle past, right up to the end of the month. It will be interesting to see how they cope as the weather gets colder.

I get a taste of winter with a week in Montreal at the end of the month (you can see it in the pictures). It’s a beautiful city in the Fall, popping with bright colours and I take endless photos of the leaves, much to the Canadienne’s amusement. There’s a definite difference between North American Fall and England’s Autumn. The former is all bold colours, bright sharp and cold. The latter soft, musty and faded; red and yellow versus umber and ochre.

We cycle around Montreal on the Bixi bikes (the original Boris bikes); particularly good fun on Halloween, when I cycle out dressed as Sherlock Holmes, complete with tweed cape, deerstalker and pipe. I attracted far fewer stranger looks than I expected. And I also learned tweed is extremely warm on a bike. The Bixis help contribute to a monthly total of 195 miles this month. Now, the end is sight: 332 miles away. It sounds like a big distance, when you think about November and December being cold and dreary, but break it down, think about it day-by-day and it’s perfectly achievable. Even the longest journey is just a million moments. Every life a billion heartbeats.

Total miles: 195
Commutes: 13
Boris bikes: 17 miles
Total to cycle: 332 miles

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