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.
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.
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.
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.