I have never been into cycling, even as a kid, and I have always been so scared to even think of riding on London roads on a skinny little frame with no metal casing around me, no music, no airbags… (Do you like my priorities there?!). I’ve always loathed cyclists as a pedestrian or a driver in London. Most of my near-misses have involved cyclists not abiding by the rules of the road. I find it insane that they can risk their lives and be above the law just because they’re not polluting the earth with fumes or adding to the claustrophobia of travelling on public transport. I remember one of my ex-colleagues got caught by the police riding through a red light once and I was secretly really chuffed that it happened! Weaving in and out of traffic, undertaking buses, busting through red lights and risking other people’s lives just to be that much further ahead? Is it really worth it? (I have to preface this by saying that I know not ALL cyclists ride like this in London, and I do appreciate the really good ones.)
I never wanted to be ‘one of those people’. But now I am, up to a point!
I signed up for an e-bike contract through work earlier this year on a total whim after taking part in a demo from our supplier. I have been looking for a way to get fit that I actually enjoy, and I thought cycling ticked all of the boxes. All-over workout, practical, money-saving, a nice way to see the city, easy, traffic-dodging and I would have an e-bike, which has power and will be easier to ride as I gained confidence and strength to start pedalling properly and really doing it as a workout rather than a cheap and fun way to commute to the office.
My first ride after receiving my e-bike (now named Rodney) was along a short stretch of the Grand Union Canal, from my office to Ladbroke Grove and back again. I really enjoyed the feeling of the wind in my face and the speed I was travelling at but hated the close proximity to unpredictable pedestrians and other cyclists whizzing past. When I got back, I spoke to a few seasoned cyclist colleagues who ALL said they hated riding along the canal. I thought, ‘If I can do that, then I can surely do road riding’.
So, I took Rodney home in the boot of my car with the idea that I’d cycle on the more familiar roads around my home and gain confidence slowly. That way, I would always know the way to safety if I got the wobbles! It took me a while to bring myself around to getting on it, but eventually, I rode to our local shopping mall and back, and I LOVED it. I learned more about Rodney’s abilities and what to do when I came to a hill (!). It was on a quiet Sunday afternoon, so I didn’t have a lot of traffic to contend with, but I gained confidence quickly and then wanted to do it more and more!
Cut to a sudden burst of bravery later, when I decided to ride to work one morning. I had planned to leave extra early so that I could take Rodney on an Overground train part of the way (which you can only do pre-7.30am in London), then cycle from Shepherds Bush station to the office, which is about 2.5 miles. I used my new phone holder to, well, hold my phone while I relied on Google Maps to take me through the cycling route. Again, I absolutely loved it! I saw parts of London I’d not seen before, around the Ladbroke Grove area, and was able to take it all in while taking a steady pace to the office. It took me about 15 mins to get to work and I felt so, so proud of myself. Sadly, during this ride, I pulled my back really badly when I lifted Rodders on to the train, so I was out of action for a couple of days following. After a full recovery, though, I planned to get back on the bike (which was still locked up at work) and ride home. All the way, this time.
So, the following Monday, I did it. I rode the 6 miles from my office to my flat. And it was amazing! My poor partner was probably worrying all the time I was on that journey, so I told him the moment I’d made it back safely. My highlights were Hyde Park and passing Kensington Palace, then whooshing past the traffic (carefully, of course) on Wandsworth Bridge Road, which I’d usually be stuck in if I’d been in the car. I rode on really busy roads and found that the vehicles were really kind to me. I know this won’t always be the norm, but I’m thankful for any kindness I receive! I also had a very nice cyclist behind me when I had to stop a bit abruptly at a zebra crossing. I suddenly, at this point, realised that bikes don’t have brake lights…
So, why am I like ‘them’ only up to a point? Because I’m a driver. And a pedestrian. Have been so for a while now! I know the rules. I abide by the rules. I stop at red traffic lights. I am cautious. I am aware and respectful of other road users and pedestrians. I know what it’s like to drive alongside a bike and I know what it’s like to cross a road and have to look every which way in case a speeding cyclist suddenly appears and doesn’t look like they will stop for you, despite you having right of way. I also know what it’s like to walk along pavements and no-cycling paths with small children and come across a cyclist breaking the bylaws. I know how dangerous it is to cycle like that. I don’t want to be like that. I have a family who needs me and I want to get home to them safely every day.
I’m hoping that, in a few months, my regular cycling will improve my health and my fitness levels as well as shedding a few (gazillion) pounds of flesh! I’m really excited to have found a form of exercise that I enjoy, and I hope it will be the start of a whole new lifestyle for me. For my sake and the sakes of my kids and partner, before I become an actual potato.
As always, thanks for reading,