A year in Provence, er I mean London
That doesn’t scan quite so well but even with my factually challenged scribbings, I’m not going to get away with the notion that this last year has been spent dodging baguettes and riding an onion carrier.
Yep. 365 days since my first commune with the locking of grids and gnashing of teeth which characterises our great capital city. My riding has morphed from a country boy so far out of his depth they called him Cousteau*, to a grungy, colour blind tourettes weapon targeted on personal bests and personal slights. The occasional accident and rather more frequent altercation have cranked up my righteous angst and pitched me into a one man battle with every other road user.
Take today for example. Two seconds out of the station, I’m already faster than the first twenty vehicles I see by simple dint of adding a pavement to my riding options. Then darting quick glances left and right, I weave to the front of the lights, nod at a fellow commuter before green means go, go, go. Parked cars sees those trailing behind having to wait as this road is mine. Run one set of lights on amber, crack a cheeky right on the next set and barrel through the parks via one more pavement.
A tricky blend into the motorised chess game that is Hyde Parker corner is rewarded by a fast curve between a bus and a scooter. The hot blast of superheated diesel exhaust and an international hand signal tell me the timing of that move was spot on. Lights and Tourists wait at the Palace gates, so it’s pavement/cycleway again dodging the reds and peds.
Quick race up the mall against a slick tyred race bike and I’m winning more than I lose nowadays. Blast by with a aerobic spring and cheery gurn before lactic acid remembers it has a part to play – but sprints in London are pretty short and sometimes a red light is just what’s needed. It takes a second for roadie boy to engage his fancy clipless pedals and I can be up and gone in that second. Plus watching Nigel Mansell as a kid probably helped with the subsequent blocking tactics.
The Strand’s a mess of abandoned utility trucks, alien abducted pedestrians and bus drivers with murder on their mind. Split second calculations are what’s needed here to whip through a gap that’s gone in a heartbeat. Another race and this one’s a little closer and a lot more dangerous. Skipping left and right through moving traffic no more than a bike length apart and inches away from spiky mirrors, we swap positions a couple of times before a final out of the saddle sprint up Aldwych. Honours about even, he peels off with a wave and a grin.
I play a game of chicken with a random taxi just for the hell of it and try to remember if it was this much fun in the depth of midwinter. Probably not, but the sun is shining and the bike is the only way to enjoy London on a day like this. The gaping maw of the underground car park fails to dampen my spirits – honestly I’m still cheerful when I arrive in the office clutching a hard earned bacon sandwich and a smug grin. Sometimes it’s that good.
This is pretty unrecognisable behaviour when compared to last June, where I cravenly accepted that those with big motors and small willy’s had mastery of the road. The swearing’s remained pretty constant though.
I’ve learnt a few things and forgotten a few more. My pants being the most representative example. I’ve substituted the little remembered highway code with stirring rock music and a thousand yard stare. I can’t ride without music, can’t stand to wait at the lights, can’t be doing with the mutual respect crap parroted by prissy pricks on right on cycling forums. I care not about the ‘image of cycling’ because frankly I’m more concerned about the ‘safely of Alex’. I dream of stronger legs, bigger lungs and a highway free of folders. Especially fast ones.
And whenever I’m bored/pissed off/wet/late or just genetically grumpy, I jump on the tube and my sense of perspective hurtles off to far horizon. I don’t see the commute as a waste of time more like my time to ride the bike every day. And not that many people are lucky enough to indulge their hobby like that.
I’ve saved a little bit of the planet (1500 miles not driven), a little bit of cash (£1000 not spent) and a little space in the wardrobe (bigger trousers not required). Most of the time it’s great, sometimes it’s tedious but just occasionally rides light up joyful memories of just how damn cool it is riding in London. Some of my favourite rides in the last 365 days have been on the road. And a year ago, I couldn’t have predicted that.
* lame joke for old people.