Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. I’ve got the cycling bug.
Seriously. It all started a couple of months back, when I gave a Boris bike a spin and pronounced it good. I did the Skyride, and a couple of weeks ago managed to pedal from the South Bank to Lancaster Gate, before seeing the traffic on the Bayswater Road and thinking: “Nope.”
Then I had an e-mail from a regular reader of this blog. Sven Ellis had a spare cycle in his garage. Did I fancy borrowing it for a while to see how I did? A little thought, and a big answer – YES.
Here it is – my borrowed bike. A few rubber bands for cycle clips and a quick practice outside Sven’s house, and away I went. Finding myself huffing and puffing after climbing the (very) short hill to my house, I wondered… was this going to work?
I’ve had it for a couple of weeks now, and I’m getting hooked. Strangely, it’s helped transform one of the most mundane things in my life – a traipse to the shops – into a handy bit of exercise, a side effect I wasn’t expecting. I’m now only having to pause once when I climb the hill heading towards Blackheath – although Greenwich Park’s hill remains a bit daunting.
As for the reason I was thinking of getting a bike – for longer jaunts around the area – I’m enjoying those too. Last week, during summer’s last knockings, I took the bike on the train to Slade Green and rode it home on the riverside path – a pleasure apart from a difficult gravelly stretch through Crayford Marshes. Right on my doorstep, the cycle path from the Millennium Dome to the Thames Barrier provides two and a quarter miles to revel in, whether you’re pumping away trying to get up some speed or just pootling along taking in the riverside views. I was inspired to visit Lee’s beautiful Manor House Gardens thanks to having the bike – which resulted in me taking the wonderful Waterlink Way from Ladywell Fields down to Beckenham Place Park.
I’m still not sure about cycling much beyond SE London for anything other than fun – I’ve a railway station around the corner, main roads petrify me and I happen to like catching the train. But that said, I had a jaunt into east London on Sunday and that was a reminder of the possibilities when you’re freed from the London Connections map. A jaunt up to Hackney’s a possibility for the future, a ride to Tower Bridge a certainty; in the meantime I was content to go up through the Isle of Dogs, follow the cycle superhighway beyond Canning Town, and dive down through the Royal Docks back to the Woolwich Ferry.
Despite my big girl’s blouse aversion to main roads and heavy traffic, I’ve enjoyed plotting new routes to different places – I’m becoming better acquainted with the Blackheath Cator Estate, for example. Cyclestreets.net – and its new iPhone app – has been invaluable. Cyclemeter‘s been great for tracking the routes I actually take. But a trek to Northumberland Heath, Erith, to order a fridge wasn’t much fun – it stopped, it started, and it ran into a never ending school run too many times.
Ah, yes, the drivers. Most of them have been alright – white van men, school run mums and minicabs tending to be the exceptions. Oh, and the double-parkers on Old Dover Road, Blackheath. Not good.
But most of all, it’s been a learning experience. I’ve had my eyes opened to debates which have been going on for years but have been completely off my radar. To wear a helmet or not to wear a helmet? I’m not even going to go there. (I’m not, at the moment.) And do those little foot-wide cycle lanes on main roads help or hinder? They don’t make me more confident on Charlton Road, that’s for sure.
Other thoughts that have sprung to mind…
– whoever thought it was a good idea to place cobbles in two places on the Thames Path along the Greenwich Peninsula?
– how much of an opportunity are we missing by having that gap in the Thames Path between Charlton and Woolwich – even without that river frontage, just two mean little poles at the entrance to an industrial estate are blocking what could be a really handy direct route from Thamesmead and beyond.
– An obstacle course blocks easy access to North Greenwich station from the river path.
– How much thinking about cycling seems stuck in the days when planners used to try to prevent kids on bikes (that’s when they rode them, of course) from getting about. The Sun-in-the-Sands tunnels are part of the London cycle network – but their sister subway at Siebert Road has a great big “no cycling” sign on. If you want kids to cycle to Blackheath Bluecoat school, how about removing the “no cycling” signs from the wide path close to its rear gate?
– Unpredictable signage – particularly north of the river, but even locally signs aren’t consistent. On Rochester Way, a sign pointing to “Charlton and East Greenwich” on cycle route two suddenly switches to “Greenwich and Greenwich Peninsula” on route 64 at the Sun-in-the-Sands, for example. And as for some of the “cyclists dismount” signs, particularly at the Thames Barrier – what a waste of cash. North of the river, Cycle Superhighway 3 just appears out of nowhere, winding around the top of the Blackwall Tunnel entrance.
What happens next? I’ve put myself down for cycle training so I can work out quite what the heck I’m doing on the bike – you’ll read more about that when it happens. Sooner or later I’ll have to give Sven his bike back, although a friend has offered me one of his old bikes (not sure it it’ll suit me, though). But there’s no looking back. Cycling’s part of my life now. And I’ve Boris Johnson to thank. Damn.