November cycling BHAG update

This is the month when I thought I would get to the home straight. The 11th round. The weather was good – mild, sunny often – but it’s not over. Not by a long shot. I tried some city rides at the start of the month to build up the miles, cycling from home over Blackheath to the new Brockley Market. Managed to squeeze my cycle shorts under my skinny jeans, remember my hefty D-lock, and saddle up. A typical grey Autumn day, but without the metal edge of winter; Greenwich and Blackheath were softened by piles of damp leaves, and as it’s Saturday, tons of children kicking through them. After the market, I realise my back tyre has several large bald spots, where I’ve worn the rubber down to the bone of the construction.

The next day is an absolutely perfect example of Autumn. Yellow leaves and black tarmac, woodsmoke floating through the branches, shot through with gentle sunlight. I loop out from Dartford, through Darenth and Meopham and Culverston Green.

The Kent countryside feels like a forgotten world – little villages, low stone walls with rooks flying over, partridges in the fields. It’s a great route, particularly a blast down Speedgate hill.

And then work kicks in – we launched our biggest project of the year – and the day after, it’s as if something in body remembers I am exhausted. I get a heavy cold, and my chest feels like it’s been cracked with baseball bats, and I spend the best part of two weeks in bed, having early nights, dosed up on Lemsip, echinacea, paracetamol. There are no more miles and the reason I am late writing this is, frankly, I was worried what the total was going to be. And, in fairness, 136 isn’t too bad. It leaves me with less than 200 to do in December. The only problem is that the cold carries over, and then I’m going to be involved in more time sucking work stuff. I’m going to essentially have two weeks to get it done.

Still, I’ve done that kind of mileage before. I can do it again. If I have learned anything this year it is that distance is no obstacle. It’s not to be feared. It is to be worked with. The longer the journey, the more satisfying the arrival.

NOVEMBER
Total miles: 136
Commutes: 7
Total to cycle: 196 miles.

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.

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Red lights and rushing

The people who can’t stop at red lights aren’t happy – they don’t have the psychological resources to be themselves, so they’re infected with this anxiety, this, “I’ve got to get going.”

– Patrick Field, in Bella Bathurst’s The Bicycle Book

September cycling BHAG update

No riding for the first two weeks as the Canadienne is visiting, and there are too many other plans. She is surprised it’s Autumn here, but at the start of the month, it really is. Coolness nips at the edges of the days and a sort of regal mustiness is settling over Greenwich park as the change in season really comes on. The weather is mostly good when she’s here though; at the top of the London Eye, the city is covered in blue sky, and it’s the same when we drive to York.

Autumn in Greenwich park

When she’s gone, there are a series of beautiful mornings, the trees in Greenwich park surrounded by dropped leaves, orange and ochre shadows at every angle. When she’s gone, it’s a case of doing lots of commutes, getting through the miles and coping with the distance. The route is getting dull though, particularly the part after the park, a straight charge down the unlovely Jamaica Road, through Deptford and Bermondsey. It’s made worse by noisy roadworks, and now that the schools are back, backed up traffic, churning away slowly. I buy myself some new lights and hi-viz bands to put on my bag; the back light is particularly good, a nobbly grenade of a thing which spits out bright red light to the sides as well as backwards.

As the month draws to a close, the temperatures rise again and we’re back in summer. This is deeply confusing to the people I see when I’m waiting at red lights. They’ve already mentally adjusted so they wear wooly coats and scarves despite the bright sunshine. I have a wonderful ride on a Boris bike from Charing Cross up to Bayswater, skimming the edge of Hyde Park, under the huge trees and past the Serpentine.

168 miles is a respectable total for the month; it leaves me just over 500 to do in the remaining three months, so I’m almost exactly on target – which would be fine, but November and December have the capacity to be both busy and full of awful weather. The BHAG is in reach though.

SEPTEMBER
Total miles: 168
Commutes: 13
Boris bike: 12 miles
Total to cycle: 527 miles

August cycling BHAG update

August has been a funny month; the weather seemed unsure of itself, sunny in patches, damp often and generally grey and cool. There’s a golden edge coming to the leaves already, and the people on the streets seem unsure of things: a man in a t-shirt, a girl in a mac, someone else walking past in a jumper and a heavy grey wool coat. Everyone is waiting for this tentative summer to end and Autumn to begin.

Still, while the low, grey summer is a disappointment, I got the BHAG right back on track in August. Rather than relying on big rides to Westerham to bulk up my mileage, I decided to just put my head down and work.

Commute.

Commute.

And commute often.

I cycled the commute route 19 times over the whole month – 12 miles each time – taking 228 miles out of the 2,011 total I need to cycle over the whole year. I even tried cycling in every day, home to work and back again, for a week. I realise this kind of regular riding needs a different kind of fitness to one long ride like London-to-Brighton. And it is a type of fitness I don’t have. By the Friday I am crushed, my legs aching as I walk up the stairs, knee clicking ominously.

The bike is having problems too: the left crank keeps coming loose, and since it’s over a year since I bought it, I take it for a service. There’s a new bike shop round the corner from work – Fitzrovia Bicycles – and they do a great job. Riding home afterwards the bike feels great.

In addition to the endless commuting, I manage 11 miles just beetling around the city on the Boris bikes – even though the system that seemed so charming in Montreal is, in London, somehow more frustrating and graceless. I cheered myself up by visiting the Rapha sample sale; it’s great stuff (and yes, the branding and design and all that is part of it), and even better when reduced to sensible prices.

On the Bank Holiday, I finally cycle the Regents Canal as well. It’s an excellent discovery, and makes for a nice mid-range ride, shorter and more manageable than a trip out into Kent. I cycle through Charlton, then down from the top of Greenwich park to the foot tunnel, and round the Isle of Dogs towards Canary Wharf, picking up the canal near Westferry. Then it was a very pleasant cycle up through Hackney, past the moored boats at Victoria park and I stop for tea and cake at the Hackney Canal User Group pop-up cafe. I turn for home just before Islington, speeding down towards Barbican, over the river and back to waiting. Roll on September.

AUGUST
Total miles: 261
Commutes: 19
Boris bike: 11 miles
Total to cycle: 695 miles

July Cycling BHAG Update

July is supposed to be midsummer, but here in England it’s not so sure; the weather is sketchy, blowy and cool, the sun fleeting. Sasha has fixed the troubles with his road bike – fitting hand built wheels with strong spokes in place of the good-looking but fragile stock ones – so we tend to cycle back from work together. Frequent stops at The Greenwich Union break up the ride home. It’s very cycle friendly as well as having great beer.

In the middle of the month, I’m in Montreal for a week. Here, summer is sure of itself, the sun high and hot in a boundless blue sky. Parts of the city feel overgrown; the houses pull back behind porches and balconies, or retreat beneath trailing ivy and flowers. The sunlight falls gently through leaves and at night you see fireworks, or kids still in shorts and dresses, or Hassidic jews, dressed devoutly in black and deep in conversation. It is hard to believe this place spends so long under ice.

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London to Brighton charity cycle ride, this weekend

 Speaking of cycling – yes, I realise it’s pretty much all I do on here now – this weekend I will be pedalling 55 miles from London town down to the seaside in aid of the British Heart Foundation. I’ve got a heart, you’ve got a heart, and some cash would make both of our hearts feel better.

You can donate here – I’m only a few quid short of the target after all…

Today was the first day of Autumn

The Time It Passed So Easily

Two weeks ago: This is last week of the holidays (passing two schools on my way to work, I’m still attuned to the calendar). The kids will be getting their new uniform, the nylon stiff and the shirt folds still sharp. I am getting my old jumpers out; I feel the cold first in my finger tips as if the season is withdrawing into my body, as if heat comes from the heart. Reminds me of my favourite Greek myth: Persephone and the underworld.

Earlier this week: Cycling home, and as the sun drifts away, St. Paul’s is pink, like the last moons of Tatooine, inside, an orchestra playing, Luke Skywalker’s yearning. On the bike, time feels more present. You ride between the cracks in the hours, down the gap between late afternoon and evening, like a fold in a sheet of paper, a gunnel in which the dusk collects like dust. Feel the heat in the air, or a cold draft coming off the common.

Today, it felt like the first day of Autumn today; grey and blowy.

And the photo? The Swedish coast, a million months ago, well before summer even thought of ending.

Six things I have learned from cycling home

The clunk of the crank and the spin of the wheels with sun in their spokes; the way your legs move like you’re running but your feet never touch the ground. Stopped traffic, the smooth swoop of a fast corner and with it the freedom of the city.

I cycled quite a lot when I was a teenager, but stopped when I came to London – my big, heavy mountain bike was a pain to haul around and it sat mouldering at the top of the stairs before I gave it away. Ten years since my cycling heyday and I decided to get back into it, buying myself a bike through the excellent Ride 2 Work scheme.

Here are some things I’ve learned from cycling to and from work. Obviously, YMMV.

1. Don’t bother with a hybrid. The problem with hybrids is that they seem so logical – particularly if you’ve been away from cycling for a few years. If you had a bike as a teenager, it was probably a big heavy lunk of a thing made by Raleigh, and designed to be knocked around. It probably looked like a mountain bike. Problem is, if you look at mountain bikes now, well, they’re pretty much like motorbikes without the engines. Disk brakes, chunky tyres, suspension front and back, strange shaped frames – exciting stuff, but not really what you want for riding through London.

So the natural next step is a hybrid; they look like the mountain bikes of old, only on a diet. They still have the flat handle bars and a little bulk, but they’re sensible. You can ride them on and off road. It’s the best of both worlds… right?

The problem I found when researching is hybrids are invariably compromised. Some come fitted with slick tyres – so you’re not going to be able to ride off road without changing those. Then there’s the fact they’re not really that light, and don’t always come fitted with larger wheel sizes. Light bikes with big wheels go further and faster with less work from the rider.

And really, are you ever going to ride off road? I wanted a light, fast bike that I was mostly going to spend riding to and from work, or around South East London. So I bought myself a real road bike. It’s brilliant; fast, nimble and something I really look forward to riding.

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