Tag Archives: London

Bestie & The Bike

This is the first of what will be a series of posts about cycling in London from Sabrina - recent cycling convert, lover of high heels, and my long-suffering best friend. 

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I would like to start with a little confession: I am somewhat of a control freak.

I have always suffered badly from anxiety and will frequently avoid situations where the outcome is not (seemingly) within my control. Of course this means it makes perfect sense for me to choose to live in our bustling capital city, working a corporate job, rather than a peaceful existence in the Sussex countryside like most other normal folk I know. This poses a multitude of problems, but my current predicament is this: how do I get to work without feeling like I am going to have a panic attack. Public transportation is anathema to feeling calm and I will avoid it like the plague if I can. Having recently returned to the world of work after a break, I quickly discovered any tolerance I had built to the tube over the years had mysteriously evaporated; routine is key to managing my worries. The thought of getting back in the tunnels filled me with dread.

Those who know me well will tell you of my love affair with my car. I actually drive the most boring car ever manufactured, but I take it everywhere with me like a steel security blanket. Knowing the car is near makes me feel safe in the knowledge I can escape if necessary. London, however, does not love my car as much as I do, and attempts to bankrupt me every time I leave my own borough. With the Congestion Charge standing at £10 a day and the average central car park at an eye watering £30 for 8 hours I would be better off staying unemployed.

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Steel security blanket..

The solution was obvious of course; my rather lovely red bicycle Lizzie. Those who may have read my last post on this blog over a year ago will recall that the only bike I had ever previously owned was a 2 tonne hybrid that the salesman is probably still sniggering at the thought of me attempting to move. I never rode her, and my increased exposure to the world of cycling through Lois and some wonderful new friends made me feel a little like a groupie who could only play the tambourine. So in June, I decided it was time to rectify this problem with a visit to my friendly neighbourhood bike shop Bittacy Cycles in North West London, where I was united with a wonderful Raleigh road bike whom I soon christened Lizzie – after England’s first steely red head.

On a ride with Lois (who apparently likes eating iPhone cases)

On a ride with Lois (who apparently likes eating iPhone cases)

Despite having taken Lizzie for many a spin in the Hertfordshire countryside, up until recently, I had yet to use her as a means of commuting anywhere very much. Examining the map from my house to my office in Soho I decided that the 12 mile route each way was perhaps a little much to try right off the bat. My anxiety has taught me to do things in stages; don’t do nothing but always do something. So I decided to take the car half way and cycle the rest. This was roughly 6 miles each way and would use a mixture of A roads and designated cycle highways.

For those who have never cycled in London, or any major city for that matter, it is a pretty scary venture. Everyone is in that much more of a hurry and the highway code is pretty much thrown in the bin. One way systems are my particular foible and I did accidentally head the wrong way on several occasions (although a friendly taxi driver will notify you of your mistake pretty swiftly if you do the same). On a positive note, the strength of cyclist camaraderie between those on the commute is palpable. We are small fish in a very big pond but growing in numbers everyday – 2% increase on last year’s official figures for those of you who enjoy statistics. I could get into a long discussion about infrastructure in cities and provisions for commuters but I won’t bore you with that here (and Lois wouldn’t let me). Needless to say though, as cities get more crowded, getting on your bike is making more and more sense and the provisions are gradually being put in place to get us riding.

As for my own commute, I plan to ride a little further every week and hopefully will be able to do the journey in one fell swoop. In the mean time however I feel calm when I get to work and am excited to get back on my bike as soon as the day is done – which, if you ignore the actual work in-between, makes for a pretty good day indeed.

“I don’t ride bikes”

In a turn of events that surprised us both in equal amounts, I convinced my friend Sabrina to join me for a bike ride through Sussex yesterday. Big thank you to George from Future Cycles in Lewes for lending Sabrina a bicycle for the day.

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I don’t ride bikes. Best put that out there as a starting point. I live and work in london but I have never used a Boris bike, I don’t take advantage of the cycle highways and I refuse to put flat shoes on to walk to the tube. I am the worst kind of city girl.

Lois and I in more usual circumstances (eg: not in Lycra)

My only real memory of cycling as a kid involved me falling into a car (the car was parked and I was stationary). My brother constantly enjoys reminding me of this incident 12 years later. I do actually own a bike, but it appears I buy bikes in the same way I buy my shoes; pretty, but completely unfit for purpose. The thing weighs an absolute ton and so has been used approximately 3 times as a result.

So, why yesterday did I find myself riding (nearly) 20 miles on a road bike through the Sussex countryside? Well, one Miss Lois May-Miller is my best friend and she promised me cake. I was putty in her hands.

Seeing Lois on a bike was something I never thought that I would see. When she first mentioned she would be taking part in 30 days of biking I had my reservations (perhaps don’t tell her that). The only things I had seen Lois stick to for more than 30 days was her love of gin, her distaste for poor grammar and her hatred of Nigella Lawson. However, as we all know, Lois has found a true passion in cycling and it has changed my friend for the better in more ways than I can recount here.

Coffee in Steyning. I can get on board with this cycling tradition.

The route we decided to take was along the Brighton seafront from Lois’s flat, through to Shoreham and up into Steyning (where the aforementioned cake would be found, at Steyning Tea Rooms). The flat seafront was much appreciated as I found my balance on a new bike with some rather fancy breaks and gears. I drive an automatic car: gears are a foreign language to me. Soon though, there were hills…many hills. I swore and cursed Lois’s existence several times but I am a stubborn woman and refused to give up. Slow and steady wins the race and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could actually do it. The sense of achievement is absouloutly huge when you reach the crest of a hill and realise that neither did you stop but you did’t fall into a bush either.

Moments after cursing Lois’s existence at the top of a hill

Amazing views from the road at Coombes

After the going up, comes the going down. The sense of liberation you get speeding down a hill is something I have never experienced before. Bugs in the mouth aside, it was brilliant fun and made me feel like a kid again, the kind that doesn’t fall into parked cars.

So how do I feel about cycling the morning after? Well, some unusual parts of my anatomy are a little sore but that aside I feel bloody brilliant about it. From the personal sense of achievement to the obvious community spirit which pervades the sport (we said hello to so many other cyclists en route), I can see why I have lost my friend to a bike named Claud.

Proof that I rode a bicycle!

Day 8 – The Big Smoke

I promise I did cycle on days 6 and 7, but it mostly involved going and getting milk from Lidl, and there’s only so much I can say about that.

So…Day 8!

This morning I took Claud on the train to London Bridge, and then rode to ‘Look Mum No Hands!’ for breakfast with a friend (who also arrived by bike, of course). So, other than the walls being covered in bicycles and bike related paraphernalia, what makes a ‘cycle cafe’ a cycle cafe? A bike workshop, a bike shop, and lots of cyclists drinking coffee (very nice coffee, I should add). Apart from anything else, it was nice not to be stared at for arriving wearing a slightly sweaty cycling jersey!

Since getting more into riding my bike in the last year, I’ve quickly learnt that there is really quite a community amongst cyclists. Most of this ‘community’ I have experienced through Twitter, or through stopping and chatting to friendly folk on the roadside. Cafe’s like LMNH are, perhaps, a more tangible manifestation of this community. Next time I go I’ll say ‘hi’ to a few strangers, and see if my theory works out.

After a couple of sunny hours in the park, I rode over to Hoxton to check out the ARTCRANK exhibition that opened last night in the Plain Walls Project’s space. A combination of screen-printed poster art and bicycles sounded too good to be true. Probably just as well that I didn’t go to the launch party, because I’m not sure I could cope with the excitement of all that and beer…

Lastly, there was the ride home. I’m staying at my brother’s place in the Croydon area, so the trip involved 10 miles of Big-London-Road cycling through Kennington, Brixton and Streathem. I actually enjoyed most of the ride, apart from on a few very busy bits of road with too many double decker buses and angry taxis. I’ve concluded that my biggest dislike about cycling in London is not the traffic, or the roads, but the horrible feeling of breathing in pollution. I was constantly wanting a drink: the grime and dust dried out my mouth with every breath.  I take it for granted cycling on roads of Sussex that the air is relatively ‘clean’ and fresh. Turns out bus exhaust makes your nose hurt, and your face grubby.

London, you were fun, but the roads call me home to Sussex by the sea.