24

To span the gap between office and train requires a carefully sequenced plan optimised by critical path analysis. Sounds fancy, huh? Hardly, it merely ensures the task “don appropriate trouserage? precedes one of “ride bike in a public space?

The plan has been finely honed through seventy iterations and the occasional cock up. Only once do you arrive ready to ride at your bike, only to pick this exact time to remember your lock keys are ten minutes and eight floors away – safely secreted in your desk drawer.

On a fast day quickened by light traffic and compliant lights, it takes approximately 32 minutes. In time that could probably have been better spent, I’ve calculated scenarios in which entire minutes could be saved by ditching lengthy tasks. Since these include “Lock bike at station? and “Remove and hang Suit?, they lack a certain implementable practicality. Yet by collecting multiple savings of a few seconds each, I could do a little better. It’d rely on a ruthless streamlining of process and possibly abandoned underwear but it’s probably realistic to chop it down to 29 minutes

Tonight, I have 24.

To have any chance of achieving this almost fantasy, I’m going to have to modify the rules a little. The longest segment of the journey is the actual ride so the Highway Code is being supplanted by the little known “Urban Assault? variant. There’s maybe three minutes in the flagrant disregard of traffic regulations but that still leaves me two more to find. It’ll go to the wire, but I’m confident it’s doable.

Right-o, challenge accepted, Gentlemen start your egos.

A last glance of the watch shows 5:24 – a mere 25 minutes before the train leaves at 5:49 sharp. The next Time will be displayed on the information board at the station 4.1 miles away. Time to get busy.

Laptop lid slammed shut and shoved in its cupboard before you can say “illegal hibernation command executed?. Coat and Helmet roughly extricated from visitors chair. Breathless apology to visitor occupying said chair. Barge into closing lift doors; offer brief smile to other occupants before offering views of non corporate body parts while releasing shirt buttons. Restrain urge to remove trousers. Just.

Charge changing room doors and fling courier bag into a corner. Remove remainder of clothes like a man offered three minutes with Britney Spears. Starting now. Stagger around attempting to shed trousers while blinded by half removed shirt. Re-colocate shit and stuff discarded clothing in the bag except for security pass and tickets.

Run into corridor adopting the manner of Jack Nicholson “Here’s Johnny? in The Shining. Accidentally concuss member of the central filing team while struggling to simultaneously shoulder bag and fasten helmet. Slap pass to gain car park access and release bike with a practised flick of the U-Lock key. And we’re away.

Time saved: 1 minute.

Five seconds is all it takes to breach the highway code as I run a pedestrian crossing much to the chagrin of the pedestrian who’s just stepped onto it. No matter I miss here by more than she’s ever going to miss me. Next up, it’s a sprint down the Strand running the “Big Red Hedge? of parallel double deckers. There’s a two foot gap between these steaming leviathans and since the widest part of me are a set of 22 inch bars, we’re running it at silly speeds. Cranking hard out of the saddle, it’s a hell of a rush but one mistake or an unseen opening door and, at this speed, I’m geography such would be the impact trauma on my speeding organs.

The junction traffic lights are all phased with me and the others are largely ignored. Once the hedge closes down leaving me with only the pavement option ironically patrolled by yellow “£30 fines for cyclists? signs. Little deterrent to a man chasing down a personal best time, I bounce back into brief legality before gambling twice on amber to beat the oh-so-slow light sets protecting Trafalgar Square. The Mall is almost free of traffic and I’m glad of gears as a couple are snicked switching muscle power from aerobic to anaerobic.

There are 21 sets of lights between on my commute and I’ve yet to stop at any of them. But now the longest two offenders are looming fast; the first protects Buckingham Palace from Ram Raiders and it’s a hard red as I approach. This gives me time to sneak in front of all the traffic and a couple of my cycling colleagues. They don’t look happy about that biking faux pas but I don’t care so I guess we’re equal. Totally focussed on red versus amber pattern recognition, I’m up and gone before they’re even clipped in. Pumping away like a budget porn star, I’ve lost only 15 seconds to the lights and my journey is almost half done.

Time saved: 2.5 minutes

Racing up constitution hill leaving the aggrieved cyclists in my testosterone wake, the crux of the challenge approaches. The Triumphal Arch – dedicated to Wellington but the scourge of cyclists – can easily add four minutes with two sets of badly phased lights. I don’t even have four seconds to waste here. Time to rewrite some more of the rules.

By the size of the tailback, the light phasing must be about to change. I sprint hard at the last 100 yards and my reward is the beautiful sight of a green light. Accelerating further to the point where my biggest gear was engaged, I straight-line the arch scattering pidgins and swerving around the mix of tourists and commuters, bound together by their total inability to look where they are fucking going. I take a bead on the second set of lights granting me access to Hyde park. This is a truly committed move as the red man is on and four lanes of traffic are gunning for release. I hold my nerve and fly across the just as the lights flipped. It had always looked possible but I’ve never had the bottle to try. Now I had.

Time saved: 5 minutes.

Body spiked with adrenalin, I left it in the big one and made fast if laboured progress up the hill through the park. Nobody came close to passing me but I came close to passing out. Adrenalin’s a great drug but it’s a charlatans fix to real fitness as demonstrated by my rasping lungs and trembling legs. Yet the worst was over, less than a mile and a half to run and only two more major road junctions. Just stay on it for five more minutes I’m imploring myself – it felt pretty quick and I started to believe that the theoretically possible was becoming the actual doable.

Time Saved: 6 minutes.

Normally failing to dismount for the Bayswater Road pedestrian crossing allegedly provides motorists a valid excuse to run you down. But dismounting costs me time I don’t have so instead I plunged into a gap judged as “possibly adequate?. From the squeal of brakes, maybe that was a tad optimistic.

Time Saved: 7 minutes

Still alive, I further surprised myself with a thirty second trackstand waiting for the lights on the Edgeware road. When they changed I charged, blocking a taxi who for some reason felt he was more entitled to the road that I was. Banking hard left onto Seymour place, I ground a pedal in my haste to pile on the speed. Normally that’d cause me to shit myself but today it hardly even registered.

Just the Marylebone Road to cross so I urge my legs into a final effort. The line between possible success and inglorious failure is defined by a single green light. It flicked to go while I was still 300 yards away and it’s a short light. Standing up once more exhorting ever more speed from tiring limbs, I straddled the white line, switching to the wrong side of a traffic island so I could pass the line of slow moving cars. I made the cut as the light turned amber and then made better use of that chopping motion to regain my traffic position.

Time saved: Maybe not enough.

The cager behind didn’t like that manoeuvre much. I responded to his aggression with a signal that both communicated a desire to change direction and my antipathy to his aggression. All with a single finger. A taxi tried to chop me in half at the entrance to the station’s concourse but this is pretty normal behaviour and anyway I was focussed on the big red digital clock above me. 17:46. GET IN. But while we were home, we certainly weren’t dry. The plan still had many unfinished tasks.

I made slow and random progress to the ticket barrier attempting to extinguish my lights, find a ticket and roll the bike. I believe this mode of travel is known as the “bloody nuisance? with innocent passengers having their work clothes spiked by my pedals and bars. Approaching the barrier, it seemed as if my maniacal grin had convinced the ticket inspector to open the gate. “Top Man? I thought as I barrelled through before realising actually he’d performed this genuine act of service for a small lady with a huge suitcase. A hundredth apology was thrown over my shoulder with no time to stop and say sorry properly. Somewhere out of left field came the thought that this challenge had turned me into a real arsehole. I considered that for a nanosecond before getting over it.

The PA urgently announced the last call as I illegally scooted up the platform. Someone complained but he clearly didn’t understand the extent of my self legislated special privileges this evening. Rules were only happening to other people. My final decision was a good one – find the big lock left attached to a stand rather than wrenching off the badly positioned one on the bike. With shaking hands and more haste than speed, the bike was finally secured as the train engine revved ominously.

I almost fell into the train bled empty by relief and fatigue. Only one spare seat remained in the centre of the carriage and it was being eyed up by a fit looking suited fella and a totally fucked mountain biker. We were like two gluttons facing the last slice of a Vienetta both hastily ensuring we didn’t look too hasty. There’s nothing so embarrassing than arriving simultaneously at the last seat; Good Lord, you wouldn’t know where to put yourself. While he savagely thumbed his Crackberry in a subtle faint, I attempted to extract myself from my minging jacket. But as we prepared for the real battle, a vision of middle aged tweed barged past him and triumphantly claimed the seat.

I’d lost the least important race of the night to an upholstered busybody but I didn’t care. I rested my weary body on the door as the train pulled out and I couldn’t help but smile.

24.

Eat your heart out, Jack Bauer.

7 thoughts on “24”

  1. Good work fella! Bet you smelt lovely all the way out to Outer-West-Bumf***!

    That arch run across HPC is very doable but you have to have cahunas and pray for no BMWs jumping reds on the change otherwise you will become a thinly spread jam across the NW corner of the roundabout!

    oh, and if you want to miss the lights at Buck Palace, as you approach her Maj’s 2up/2down, keep an eye out to your right – there are two access points to the cycle path that runs round the bottom of Green Park – if the lights are holding you up, they are often also holding up the cages coming up the Mall so you can nip across.

    Whichever way you do it, keep it safe enough to write about it Alex!
    MJ

  2. Smelt bad. Didn’t care 🙂 Good call on missing the Buck House lights. I’d forgotton about that as it was closed off with the Proms office for a chunk of last year.

  3. My pulse is still racing after reading that!
    Some nights you just have to go for it and stuff the (possible/ probable) consequenses!
    I wanno jump on my bike and go battle with the Glasgow traffic NOW!

    Superb writing.
    BigRab

  4. Splendid narrative there, and bloody impressive riding by your account! Days like that make you glad you aren’t on a singlespeed, I guess 🙂

  5. Yeah the whole singlespeed thing has finally passed me by. A singlespeeded 16in jump bike with super short stays and knobbly tyres does not make a fast commuter. It was unbreakable but it started to break me…

  6. I commute on a SS dirt jumper as well, the Commencal Absolut. It had Kenda K-Rads as stock tires which roll pretty nicely but have enough volume not to break my butt when combined with a lovely sofa of a DJ saddle 🙂

    On the other hand, my usual commute (to uni) is under 10 minutes with about two of those being uphill. It’s only when riding to work (3-4 miles uphill almost the entire way) that it gets painful.

    I like to think of it as character building… It sounds better that way rather than “displaying masochistic tendencies)

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