Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Star Crossed Lovers

Trusty and I are like Romeo and Juliet this week, kept apart by forces beyond our control. No snow this time, but trips out of the capital, loads too large for panniers and, I confess, more than a usual number of alcohol suffused social engagements. I cycled to work last Friday and haven't cycled home since. The final straw came yesterday when, at the end of a long, brain aching day I skipped out of the office, all ready for a reinvigorating cycle home and realised I'd forgotten my lights. I stood, gazing at Trusty's shiny flanks, weighing up whether riding home lightless was only mildly foolhardy, or, in fact, suicidal. Reluctantly I decided on the latter. I hung my head and walked away to join the muttering, shoving throng at the entrance to the tube, leaving him alone in the bike park once again.

Tonight is our night though. Nothing will stop us. I've got lights, I've got batteries, I've not get that much to carry and not a drop of booze will touch my lips, despite a Christmas lunch. I am as excited as for a first date. Hold on Trusty, I'm coming.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Pedal Power-ful

I'm back on Trusty this week, and I've realised another reason why I love cycling. You thought you'd heard them all eh? How about self-sufficiency? I couldn't work out why I found returning to it after public transport so very satisfying, until I realised it sort of reminds me of the difference between pocket money and your first pay cheque. I love that I get from A to B all under my own steam. That my body is working well, the finely honed machine it was designed to be. I don't mean finely honed like an athlete, far from it. You wouldn't want to see me in skin tight Lycra. I mean finely honed in that, you know, it works. My legs get me where I need to go. Cycling reminds me how amazing we are, every cell and sinew.

I have this feeling in the same way with walking and running (still, toddler like, thinking 'look at me go!') but much much more so with a bike. I'm so fast! Bikes are a magical invention that take my paltry effort and mysteriously convert it into glorious, thrilling speed. It's like the feeding of the 5,000. I know it isn't a complicated technology, and someone cleverer than me could tell me how it works. My guess would be the equation goes:

Power in (P) + rotariness/spinnyness (R) (possibly not the correct name for the force)=(A) amazing.

There must be some variables. Time and distance or something.

I should so be a scientist.

In any case, even though I don't understand it, it doesn't feel like cheating, in the way that the bus or the tube does. Whoever invented the bicycle (apparently Ernest Michaux in 1860, though it's disputed), I salute you, you big brilliant boffin you. You blessed my life.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Cycle Lifestyle Magazine

So proper posts coming soon, I promise, but in the mean time I think you should check out this new magazine about cycling in London. I write for it, so am clearly biased, but it is not techy and macho like all the other bike mags. Just pretty and inspiring. And there is an advert for a bike holiday in scotland where they tell you stories. Sounds like the best thing ever. You can pick it up for free in your local bike shop, or download it here.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snowbound and Stir-crazy

I miss cycling. It has been three days now. Every morning I get up and look at the whitened streets around my house and have a vivid flashback to a horrible fall two winters ago. I rounded a corner on what turned out to invisible black ice, my bike (Stally the Stallion, Trusty's precursor) went one way and I went the other. Hard, and fast. The bruise on my thigh took about a month to fade. And I can't face it happening again.
However, I am getting to the point where I think it might be worth it. I can feel Trusty's waves of resentment at being cooped up all the way from his garage to my fourth floor flat. I have taken the tube three days in a row, and like it no better with practice. It feels like swimming, and not in a good way- taking a death breath and diving below, feeling your lungs burn until you can burst through the surface and out into the air. The underground is the underside of London, no light, no beauty, just angry faces and stale smells. Yes, it is fast, and warm, which I appreciate on these bitter days, but still. Perhaps risking purple thighs and frozen fingers is better. 

Having written this-of course it is. What on earth have I been thinking? Be gone, black-ice related fear. I'm getting back on the road.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Dear Mr Angry Taxi Driver

Dear Mr Angry Taxi Driver,

Following out little contre-temps on Goodge Street this evening I just wanted to clarify a few things. I am sorry that you think that, as I am not sporting a tax disc upon my bicycle, I don't deserve to be on the road. However, I wonder if perhaps you might have more luck bringing this up directly with the government?From my limited experience, shouting at individuals with a vehemence that leads to them receiving a face full of spit doesn't tend to engender swift policy change in a democracy.

Also, I deduce from the fact that you threatened to deliberately run me over after I (politely, smilingly) asked you not to park in the cyclists' green advance stop zone, that you might be a little stressed? Death threats are not usual on my perfectly legal ride to work, but I'm sure you had your reasons. Perhaps a little light exercise might bring down your blood pressure? A weekend jolly on a bicycle perhaps? The fresh air and endorphins would do you no end of good, and potentially make the world a better place for the people who share the road with you.

I hope you have a better journey tomorrow, and no hard feelings.

Yours Sincerely,

Girl and Steed

p.s. I had some trouble calming down Trusty (the steed in question) who was especially irate at your bad language (he has a sensitive temperament) but I explained that it is a very hard life shut in a metal box thinking about the problems with immigrants. He is a free-range bicycle you see, so he didn't understand. 

Friday, 26 November 2010

Knight Rider

Today I cycled in behind a guy dressed all in black. He could have wandered out of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic disaster movie. His bike was black, his gloves were black, shoes, hat, jacket, the lot. He was even wearing black wrap-around shades. It was not just the colour scheme that made him stand out amongst his neon yellow, visibility-obsessed road fellows, but the fact that he was wearing armour. OK, not real armour, but road armour- padded, reinforced  shorts and a jacket that looked like it might have belonged to a quarterback. I've only ever seen that kit on hard core mountain bikers getting ready to do some serious down- hilling. It is designed to protect you from breaking your spine on a rock. And possibly, from the look of it, from bears and exploding trees.

This guy might have been the politest biker in the world, but he looked mean. He looked like he might intentionally sideslam the door or jump through the windscreen of anyone that cut him up. The semiotic message of his outfit was: It's war out there. 

This perturbed me. It made me want to buy a bunch of out of season daffodils and fill my basket with them. To smile at every driver and let people out in front of me. Treating the commute like an everyday battle might fulfill some kind of repressed caveman instinct, but it stresses everyone else out. Cycling is one of life's sweet pleasures and I want to do it peacefully- not as if I've wandered into a game of World of Warcraft. Probably that guy mountain bikes and only has one set of gear, but it made me all the more determined to prove to other road users that cyclists are human, well-mannered and not in such a rush to get places that they forget to be kind. Even if the guy in the white van who clipped me on Hornsey Road thinks there is a war on, I refuse to join in.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The best cycling streets in London: Part 5

I've been hesitating about adding Pentonville Road to my list of best cycling streets, mainly because it is butt-ugly. Pleasing aesthetics are really a key criteria for this list- one of main reasons for not being underground  or peering out of a steamy bus window is so you can take in London's glorious architecture and natural beauty. However, there are other criteria, for example a lack of traffic, and a long, steepish incline to freewheel down, both of which this road has in spades. All except the top third is closed to general traffic, and despite it looking like a major route, very few buses and taxis seem to run down it. Almost every time I ride it the wide, long hill is all mine, and I love every minute of it. The other day I came out of Penton Street and turned right onto it on a bright, frosty morning, peeling off from the mass of neon bikers heading straight-on into the city. The sensation of sun and wind on my face as Trusty and I picked up speed reminded me strongly of skiing. I don't think I'll get to the slopes this year, so joyfully bombing through the cold air, making the most of the speed before hitting the snarling junctions around King's Cross,will have to do for now. Just goes to show, looks aren't everything.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Modest Proposal: Road Users Round Table.

I had a really interesting conversation with a car-driving friend of mine yesterday. He had had a bit of a contretemps with a cyclist and was confused by it. Driving up to a roundabout, he had been aware of a cyclist on his outside, so had clocked his position, indicated and pulled out leaving, he thought, plenty of space for the bike. The cyclist didn't agree, and followed him up the road, shouting and banging on the roof. 

My friend said something really interesting- "It was frustrating, because we couldn't sit down and work out what had happened. He could only see it from his point of view, but I was fairly sure I had been careful and not really got anywhere near him. I wanted to talk to him, to ask what had upset him particularly so I could bear it in mind in the future, but I just got yelled at".

I think he's right. We two tribes rage against the behaviour of the other but never really make rational contact. It would certainly be glib to compare the friction between motorists and cyclists on London's roads as in any way comparable to the tensions of the Middle East, but we are sometimes almost as bad at listening to each other.

And I was very moved to hear about the orchestra made up of Israelis and Palestinians that is making a stand for co-existence in the midst of a seemingly intractable conflict.

So I propose an equivalent- not an actual orchestra, unless anyone knows a good conductor, or indeed a biker who is handy on the double bass and a taxi driver who plays the triangle. A simpler version which could possibly have the same unifying effect would be a 'road users council', with representatives from the cycling community, heavy goods vehicles companies, taxi firms and car drivers. Probably we should involve the poor pedestrians too, but not sure there is a body for that. If we could all get in a room and have a glass of wine and share a bowl of dry roasted peanuts I'm sure we could thrash out a way to help us all co-exist more peacefully. Probably most drivers have no idea that some of their behaviour scares the life out of (occasionally literally) us cyclists, and we are blissfully unaware of the genuinely annoying things we get up to too.

I might be a bit naive but I think it is worth a go. If you get agreement at the organisational level it could filter down, and we could hold each other to account. I'm happy to host, I'll make a big pot of chili and someone else can take notes.  Who's in?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Men in Tights

To be fair, this might be why.
The weather has got a nip in it, and the number of men wearing shorts over running tights (or leggings) goes up in inverse proportion to the drop in the temperature. This look never fails to make me smile- what is wrong with trousers to keep your calves warm? Have you never heard of cycle clips- or my varient, tucking your trousers in your socks? Or if you really like the aerodynamicity of tights, why bother putting baggy shorts over them? Could it possibly be about not wanting to have the outline of your package on display for all to see? Especially on a chilly morning?

I can't help but think that european men would not adopt this look. They would either, like the grand stallions of the ballet world, wear their clingy garments with a proud swagger, or just stick to chinos. I love the British male, nothing if not half-arsed.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Love your Legs

I have come away for a few days to visit the friend who was run over by a lorry while cycling six weeks ago (there is a post from that day here). You'll be glad to hear she's healing up nicely- and slightly miraculously. Despite both legs (with the bike between them) having gone under the wheels one of them escaped with bruises and grazes and the other is in a toe-to-ankle cast but is expected to be completely fine again in another few months.
I have broken both my legs badly (not cycling, skiing) in the past, and helping her as she hops around on crutches I am reminded just how joyous it is to have the use of all my limbs. We have had long chats about the things she is looking forward to; walking, running, dancing...and hopefully, and some point, cycling. I remember that longing for motion so well, that gut-itching frustration to be free and independent, not chained to your crutches or pushed in a wheelchair. I thought I'd never take it for granted again, but I have. I do. 
So today, in an entirely sincere way, I am loving my legs, with all their length and strength and despite their cyclist's calves. I hope you love yours too.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Art Beneath your Wheels

If you look down as you cycle today you will most likely see some wonderful examples of accidental street art. It seems the green surfacing they use for cycle lanes is more sticky than normal tarmac, because the brightly coloured fallen leaves are imprinting themselves to it but not to the rest of the road. In many places it looks like a carefully stencilled patchwork. It is most pleasing. 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Big Stories and Bicycles

Today I passed a guy on another non-motorised form of transport- roller skates. He was quite a sight, sporting long black dreads, a red and green beanie, huge silver headphones and clutching a can of beer in his fist. His behaviour was even more striking; he was not skating on the pavement or even in the cycle lane but weaving wildly in and out of the traffic, holding onto lorries and buses for a tow and generally causing everyone else on the road to fear for his life.

As I pedalled far more sedately a little behind him I couldn't choose between the instinct to yell at him or cheer him on. The look of intense concentration and exhilaration on his face was really attractive, especially amongst the dead eyes of the pedestrians and blank faces of the passengers in the steamy bus window. It was him against the road, and he was going to win. He reminded me of nothing more than those ancient celtic kings who would strip off and run with the deer pack, risking being trampled to win a blessing for his people. Incidentally, my friend James still does this, but he does read a bit too much Nietzsche.

This guy reminded me of our innate need for drama, our desire to feel like our lives mean something. As various theologians and narrative theorists have pointed out, we all want jeopardy, we want to be risking everything for something bigger than ourselves. Ultimately, we want purpose.

This city can be so numbing, the shuttling back and forth of the transport, the rhythm of work and play, the choosing what's for dinner. I often have the sense that the only big stories we are all a part of happen on some banker's blinking balance sheet, or in a far off war. We escalate our individual dramas to fill this gap, imbuing the minor ups and down of our love lives or our career with mystical significance, or fixate on the famous faces on the front of Heat. We may all be suspicious of the grand-naratives of the past, the stock-in-trade of religions and politics, but we can't seem to let go of the desire to make our lives mean something more than just the throbbing of our cells and synapses.

I've realised as I write this blog that things like cycling can easily become a minor meta-narrative for us. On the cycling blogs and twitter feeds, the underlying story is of a battle between good and evil, the triumph of the underdog, the small band of travellers digging deep and pushing on. I love the way we humans make everything into a story, fill even modes of transport with meaning. 

I love my bike. I love being a part of this wee story, of attempting to change a city for the better by putting it on two wheels. It is enough for now. But I'd prefer to stake my life on a bigger story than that.......

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sociable Cycling

I have a dream...that one day the roads will be almost free of motorised traffic and we will all get around by pedal power. There are lots of reasons why this is a good idea, but my current favourite is that it would enable us to cycle sociably. Last night I biked home quite late in the dark with a very precious friend of mine. The roads were empty so we were able to ride side by side, having a lovely catchup. None of that shouting into the wind or accidentally swerving as you turn your head to look at the person behind. Can you imagine if we always had the whole road at our disposal? It would be like a less well-dressed Tweed Run every day. I really, really love riding in groups, it never fails to make me feel like a member of the Famous Five, or those kids out of E.T., off on an adventure with no parents allowed. Even if I don't have tongue sandwiches, boiled eggs and ginger beer (or indeed, an alien) in my basket.  Let's hear it for sociable cycling.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Speed vs Style

Ah, the eternal dilemma of every cyclist, especially the female ones. Or just the vain ones. The roads are full of examples of bikers who have decisively chosen one or the other and nailed their (literal) colours to the mast. The head -to- toe neon-clad Lycra Lads, for example, are prepared to brave the aesthetic wasteland of their chosen attire for the sake of those extra mphs. They even take the ridicule of walking around in clippy cloppy shoes because they know how much swifter they are than trainers. On the extreme other end of the spectrum the Pashley Princesses choose elegant, heavy bicycles and pedal sedate as the Queen, never breaking into a sweat or allowing a carefully tousled hair out of place. They will arrive when they arrive,because the party doesn't start until they get there.

Both of these positions have their merits. I just can't decide which one to choose, and I sort of hope I don't have too. At the moment i
I sit uncomfortably between the two, torn by their equal and opposite priorities.

I really do enjoy the aesthetics of things. I don't give a fig about fashion, but I deeply appreciate colours and textures and shapes. There is something so jarring, so unsensual about man-made materials in highlighter colours. Surely, surely, there are ways of making bike kit look lovelier. We cyclists are the moving installations of this city, we have become visual punctuation and it would be nice to be adding something to the glorious landscape rather than blighting it with fluorescent chartreuse and badly fitting leggings.

The trouble is that I also really enjoy speed- there are few things as quick to make you feel like a giddily joyful five year old than that sensation of flying. With my basket, mac, huge scarf and flowing skirt all causing drag, not to mention my flexy-bottomed shoes apparently wasting half my effort, I'm unlikely to get up to those kind of speeds very often without the help of a big hill. 
It is not just the sensation either- the quicker I am the more time I have in bed. This factors in a troubling number of my major life decisions- I really, really hate mornings. An extra round of the snooze alarm looks like a good reason to sacrifice style, most days.
And obviously I'd rather not get killed on the road and therefore need to be visible. I'm no Oscar Wilde, I do understand there are many more important things than beauty.

So what to do? Most mornings I look at my basket, contemplate swapping my lovely handbag for a rucksack in order to increase my aerodynamicity (is that a word?) but decide I don't want to look like a snail. Or get a clammy back.

Places like Bobbin Bicycles and the London Cycle Chic shop are probably the way forward- so I'll just have to ask for vouchers for Christmas, and keep treading my uneasy middle (cycle) path between speed and style.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Sellers and the The Sold

I went on the tube recently. As we have discussed before, this is almost always a mistake, but the forecast was for heavy rain and I had a long way to go and a lot of wine to drink before heading home. I have managed to get my usage down to about once a week through steadily increasing bike mileage, but there are occasions when it is just convenient. Usually I go prepared with a good novel, but today was a split second decision so I had nothing to distract me on the long ride home. Except the adverts.

I feel like the city is being turned into one giant billboard. Out and about on Trusty I am not immune- road side hoardings are hard to avoid, and almost every bus I follow has some sales pitch on the back in my exact eyeline. However, other forms of transport, as I was recently reminded, are so much worse. The tube is completely plastered in them, these pernicious messages which attach themselves parasitically to our deepest wants and needs. Their incessant visual chanting offering to both pinpoint a problem and provide the solution irritates me most days, but by careful avoidance of commercial TV, radio and magazines I can usually tune them out. But underground, with no way of avoiding them I felt veritably oppressed by advertising. The worst are the mesmerising gauntlets of electronic posters down the sides of the escalators. What tipped me over the edge was that on my walk from the station an advert for Kellogg's cereal glowed eerily at me from the screen of the cash machine.
I feel like we're seconds from living in Minority Report, and tonight I want to run away to a cottage in the woods with no entertainment except big old novels.

I want my own brain back. I don't want to be bombarded with images of unrealistically attractive, rich, slim, cool people all living what claim to be better lives than mine. I want to enjoy my life, to revel in it, to love people for their wit and warmth and integrity not what they own or look like. I want to turn this culture's stupid, poisonously pervasive narrative on it's head. I'm tempted to stick up posters saying 'You look pretty alright as you are' or 'I don't care what your job title is, are you lovely?' or 'Isn't it a wonderful day for a bike ride?'

I know that there are many benefits of living in a successful, capitalist, society and one of the trade offs is being the target of constant attempts to make us buy, but today it doesn't feel like such a good deal.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Sounds for my Wheels

Today I passed a young guy on what can only be described as the two wheeled equivalent of a souped up vauxhall nova. It was a sort of BMX, with neon wheels, wing mirrors (2!), a blue light under the saddle and best of all, a soundsytem strapped to the handlebars. From what I could see I think it was an adapted ipod docking station, and it looked like it was a pretty permenant feature. Goodness knows what he does when it rains. The concious hip-hop booming from it was much appreciated on my sleepy cycle ride. It struck me as a potentially brilliant idea- having headphones in is a bit dangerous so this would be would be an alternative way to carry your tunes. Us cyclists could gather like teenagers in gangs in car parks late at night and have impormptu parties. The industry would start producing sub-woofers you could hang from the cross bar. Obviously only people with good taste in music would be able to buy one as everyone else has to listen to it. And it wouldn't work at rush hour when two many genres would be competing. Short comings aside, thought, I think Trusty and I might have to invest...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bike Brain

It's a very specific mental space, isn't it, cycling? I can't really think of another time when I do just one thing. When I am walking or on the bus I fill the time speaking to people on the phone or reading a book, and every other physical task is accompanied by Radio 4 or music. Some people like to listen to music riding, but I am clumsy and distracted enough not to want any of my senses impaired. And so I just think. The motion is quite meditative, and my mind is completely free to freewheel where it will (apart from the part that is concentrating intensely on the movements of the traffic of course). I find that it is a different type of thinking, that half distracted kind- it is as if my brain takes the opportunity to reboot, to refile things, to work out frustrations and worries. I often make long to-do lists that I have forgotten by the time I arrive, or rehearse important things I need to say to the important people in my life- most of of which never gets said. I'm not a very neurotic person- seemingly because I work it all through with Trusty. I also find cycling to be quite a creative time, and sometimes have to pull over to write down a brainwave, breakthrough or fragment of prose.

Today though, my 'bike brain' took the form of having an obscure song stuck in my head. This often happens, prompted by visual or verbal stimuli- and today I found my self singing a half-forgotten song from school; "Autumn Days". In the middle of it is a line which I must have sung hundreds of time but never recognised the incongruity of:

"Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled"


Does this happen? Ever? I've never seen it. That sounds like something that only happens in space. Or Hollywood movies involving attempts on the life of the President. And why would it only happen in Autumn? Is it something to do with the air being cool? But not full of ice?

Having pondered this all the way from Finsbury Park to Barnsbury, I cracked it. I think that the person who wrote this song was so desperate for a line to rhyme with "Autumn days when the grass is jewelled" that they were content to deceive a generation of school children about the nature of the aviation industry.

And that was my breakthrough today. Useful, eh?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Girl Racers- are there more women cycling?

This morning I was cheered by the numbers of female cyclists I spotted on the road . At one junction eight out of ten of us were lacking a Y chromosome (as far as I could tell). I feel this has been a change- when I began big-city cycling (as opposed to university town cycling, where there is no real gender division) I was often the only female about. Only a few years ago three times as many men as women were cycling in the capital.

There has been one main reason for this. When trying to persuade my female friends that cycling was the way forward their reluctance was always about safety. It is true that some research indicates women are more likely to have a fatal accident involving a van or lorry, possibly because of a lack of assertiveness. I've never really known what to make of that, or the way that it has been reported. Surely cyclists of all genders need to be really careful around larger vehicles? it upsets me that women might be put off riding because of these stories when road sense is easily taught. It is not as if female pheromones are physically attracting four wheeled metal monsters to them. These stats are not inevitable.

As well as safety, (understandable) vanity plays a part. Although there is no need to dress head to toe in neon lycra, women are distinctly less willing to do so than men, who I think have residual super-hero fantasies to play out. Yes, male hair copes with helmets better, and normal male shoes are perhaps easier to cycle in than heels. But, all these things are minor compared with the joy and convenience cycling brings.

I hope I am right about there being more women on the road, because apart from wanting my female friends to experience it, I think it would be beneficial all round. The competitive overtaking and reckless light-hopping might be somewhat tempered- it is a gender generalisation but one with some basis in fact I think. With more women customers bike and kit manufacturers might up their game and begin to prioritise style as well as practicality. The mothers mafia who can bring David Cameron to his knees are exactly the kind of noisy, bossy campaigning force we need to get our roads made more cycle friendly. And ultimately, London women drive fashion in this country- where they go the nation will follow. We may end up as a country of cyclists yet.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Riding with the Cool Kids

Very often, when I am cycling at rush hour in a big neon pack, I feel like I've finally found my gang. I wasn't in one at school you see- I was the swotty kid on the edges of lots of different groups. I am appalling at team sports. On the road however, I am a member of a freer, cooler tribe, the underground souls who hate the actual underground.  I've mockingly described some of the tribes I've spotted amongst this diverse, two-wheeled group, but it is always with affection. Weird and wonderful as many of them are, these are my people.

I can't pretend there is any particularly cohesive gang here. It is a different group every day. These rush hour packs don't know each other, we very rarely speak but we share a  purpose, and are united against our common threat. Sometimes there is competition, but it is always friendly. Often, I'll cycle with the same few people all the way home, losing sight of their distinctive jackets or helmets in the traffic but reconvening at every set of lights. We gather, having weaved determinedly to get in front of the cars and buses, staking our claim to the green Advance Stop Zone. When I happen to get in a group that respects the red light you can feel us straining as one, ready for the first flicker of green. Often, I can hear the sound of mental  engines revving and 'The Boys are Back in Town' playing over the scene. 

At other times Trusty is my noble equine companion and we are a contented twosome. At rush hour, however, his persona is  a big dirty Harley, leader of a biker gang. I reckon he loves it even more than me. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The worst cycling streets in London (Part 1)

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while will know I'm a pretty upbeat person. "Gratingly chirpy", even, if you're a somewhat misanthropic current affairs journalist. Most of the time I spend with Trusty is truly pleasant, discovering the array of wonderful routes in this great city. Many of the best cycling streets, especially if they involve a hill, leave me beaming and wanting to high five pedestrians. However, there are some days, and some streets, which instead leave me crying, shaking and wanting to punch someone. Probably the miscyclopist who designed the road.

Regent's Street is possibly the worst example. Near by Oxford Street is bad, filled with ugly shop-fronts and clogged with dozy shoppers and taxis, but it is at least single lane. Regent's Street should be much better. It is beautiful, a long, wide curve lined with stunning white terraces, a giant version of Bath's Royal Crescent. It should be an absolute pleasure, up there on the 'best cycling streets' list, but instead it is a death trap.

Every bus route in central London seems to run down Regent's Street. There are two, and sometimes three lanes of the huge red predators, weaving and swaying in a complicated dance between stops. They are my very own Red Scare. I always feel like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, darting between falling axes and flamethrowers as they pull out and pull in with equanimity. There is no cycle lane in which to take even fleeting sanctuary. Part of the trouble is that there isn't really any other traffic to slow the buses down, so they actually pick up quite a lot of speed. Perhaps the drivers sense the slow crawl of Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square approaching and just want to let the throttle out while they can. I really wish they wouldn't. I really wish they'd use their mirrors. I really wish I wasn't too stubborn to get off and walk rather than risking my life. And I really wish someone would sort it out. Because the genteel shops and charming architecture are going to be no consolation for the tourists who witness one of us splattered like strawberry jam across all three of those lethal lanes.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The best cycling streets in London (Part 4)

I'm really talking about two streets here- The Mall and Horse Guards Road. To be honest, there isn't much reason for you to ride them in succession- if you are coming from Buckingham Palace and heading for Victoria there are far quicker routes. None compare, however, in grandeur. Beginning at the Palace roundabout you can easily turn your back to the building's squat, beige form and face down the Mall. I'm sure it is very impressive, but something about the architectural style has echoes of the Third Reich for me- too heavy, too...bossy. It might be some latent republicanism, but I can't help thinking that no-one needs that many rooms. 

The road that leads away from it is another matter. The proportions are perfect.  In the distance you can see the glorious swoop of Admirality Arch and a tiny glimpse of Trafalgar Square beyond, getting clearer as you pedal. The wide, wide road is lined with flag poles, often colourfully swagged to honour some visiting dignatory or national celebration. It always feels festive. Most pleasingly The Mall cuts right down the edge of elegant St James Park. In spring and summer the colours of the flowers are exuberant and in autumn the same can be said for the turning leaves. Even in winter the skeletal silhouettes of the trees in the frosty river are more bittersweet than bleak.

Once you've enjoyed zooming along the straight, usually empty street, hang a right before you get to the Arch into Horse Guard's Road. This is where the changing of the guard happens once a day. There's a curvalicious bend for you, more grand buildings, some ungainly pelicans in a pond on your right, and if you're lucky a phalanx of men in red uniforms and big furry hats. All in all, a ride that always reminds even un-patriotic me just how odd, but also brilliant, it is to be British.

Image by Trevor Harris