Thursday, 30 September 2010

On not bullying pedestrians.

Yesterday it really rained. You were probably out in it. It was so wet that I even wore waterproof trousers (the opposite of stylish and something I usually avoid at all costs) and got soaked even through those. Weather like this means that I either need to order some new contacts or find someone who sells miniature windscreen wipers and some kind of desteaming mechanism for my glasses. Ideally the latter, obviously.

Ploughing up the river-like Amwell Street, in a mood somewhere in between my usual 'I love cycling in the rain' perkiness and 'Ok I'm bored of this and want a cup of tea now' gloom, I stopped at a zebra crossing because a young girl was waiting to cross. This wouldn't be unusual at all, except for the fact that I was the only one who did.Wether they couldn't see clearly through the moisture filled air, or, more realistically, they were just too desperate to get home and dry, the relentless series of rush hour cyclists all whizzed on through. The girl must have been fourteen, and was dressed in those slightly terrifying clothes that make teenagers look like baby versions of Pixie Lott. She stood hovering on the pavement in the downpour, occasionally venturing a toe into the road and then flinching back as it was nearly taken off. The look on her face was heartbreaking. By the time I arrived she must already have been there several minutes and the situation was clearly adding to an already bad day. I feared she might cry.

Eventually I resorted to swinging the steed's back wheel round into the cycle lane and physically putting my hands out to stop the next few riders.The girl looked at me with liquid eyes, mouthed a very polite "thank you so much" and scurried on through the rain.

Come on people. Getting slightly wetter than you already are will not kill you. Pedestrians should be our natural allies. Let's be nice to them, yes? With all those endorphins pumping round your system you must be able to spare a smile for an old lady or a child.

Today, it is sunny, so I'm sure the cycle behaviour will be infinitely better mannered.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance.

Today I fixed my bike all by myself. I'd taken Trusty into the local bike shop three times in a row after a nasty derailer accident, and every time I picked him up the poor love just wasn't quite himself. It was taking quite a lot of time, although luckily not much money, because it was their fault. I had a conversation with a friend of a friend who heard the saga and whose breathtaking response was: 'Why not do it yourself? It's not rocket science'.

This was news to me. I sort of thought that rocket science was exactly what it was. I mean, both rockets and bikes are propelled. They both have...mechanisms. Don't they? Sciencey stuff that only qualified people can fiddle with?

Obviously having become concious of these assumptions I recognised their ridiculousness, and so decided to give it a go. It helped to think of my bike as just a big meccano set. If my brother age four could build a suspension bridge out of meccano surely I could make my chain stay on the cog I wanted it to be on. The problem had been reduced to an annoying slipping-on-the-gears fault, not enough to stop me riding but enough to irritate. A kind man called Ian explained that you can twiddle a knob on the back of the derailer to fix this, going a quarter turn at a time and noting the difference it makes. And so, screwing up my courage, I tried it. And knock me down with a feather, it worked.

I am not a naturally technical person (as is probably perfectly clear) but after my great triumph I am determined not to darken the door of the bike shop...well, for a while at least. I figure with some patience and enough youtube tutorials I should be able to handle the basic things. I can't think why I haven't even attempted it before- partially being intimidated by the (almost entirely) men in the shops and really just not knowing where to start.

I think this free bike maintenance workshop in Hackney might help me work it out. So, Trusty and I will be growing even closer as I get to know his inner workings- I just hope he trusts me.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The best cycling streets in London (Part 3)

Next on my list of amazing London cycling streets is Spring Hill, in Hackney. Granted, it's a bit out of the way for a lot of you as you have to go to Stoke Newington and beyond, but I think it is worth it. You pass through the rather lovely streets of Stokey and keep heading north east, coming to the edges of Stamford Hill. Spring Hill is a long sloping gateway to greenery, lying on the edge of Walthamstow Marshes. At the top the world around you is pretty urban, although the many Orthodox Jewish families who populate the area do add a certain 'Little House on the Prairie' edge. Once you've dodged the pedestrians in their black hats and ringlets to reach the brow of the hill it stretches away from you all the way down to a canal at the bottom. And it is steep, the steepest road for miles around (though it has nothing on Crouch or Muswell Hill over my way). All the way along the right hand edge runs Springfield Park, adding to the anticipation of open space. The freewheel down is a giggle-inducing joy, made all the better, for me at least,  by the inducement of a very lovely friend who lives on a very lovely boat on the water at the bottom. There is a little colony of houseboats, and the peace of the place hits you immediately as you screech to a stop. Rowers, canoeists and swans all pass and a fresh green breeze from the marshes changes the flavour of the air. Spring Hill, for me, acts as a kind of air lock between city and (almost) country, providing an entry point to the green spaces I need to keep me sane. And even if you don't know anyone to feed you vegan feasts  in a tiny, swaying, galley kitchen, take a picnic and explore. Goodness lies here.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Respecting the Red Light

I have a very wise friend who always waits at red lights. Even on foot, he'll stand patiently until he sees the green man flash, whether there is a gap in the traffic or not. When I am walking with him I hop foot to foot in impatience, used to darting out at the smallest opportunity, seizing my chances without waiting for authorisation. I asked him about it today, waiting sulkily like a small child for the light, and he said "I like choosing to be calm", and pointed to the stressed faces of those dodging the cars to get across. And I realised that waiting until the light is quite a powerful thing to do.

I have no great ideological objection to cyclists running red lights. I know this divides people, but my policy has always been that if there is nothing coming and (importantly) you are not going to scare or squash a pedestrian, go for it. I have run many, many red lights in my time. I hold my hands up. If you've been an infuriated motorist watching Trusty's back disappear and seething at our lack of respect for the road rules, well, I'm sorry. But only a bit.

However. My friend's words really resonated with some things I've been thinking about. Like many people, one of my favourite psalms is Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. It speaks of having a relationship with God which is unhurried, led in rhythm "beside still waters", with time for rest "in green pastures". Perhaps waiting at a red light is about claiming back some rhythm at a micro level, taking just a few seconds to breathe, to look at the people we share the road with and this great sideshow of a city. After all, I'm not sure if the time I save breaking the rules adds up to anything significant . Aren't I just buying into a ridiculous culture of false rushedness, letting myself be a slave to the tyranny of the clock, living like I'm driven because that is what we do in London?

I also think that waiting at the light is probably a good guard against becoming a obnoxious road user. Although we all like to retreat into tribalism, deep down we know that these come on both two wheels and four. And these fellow road users (yes, on bikes as well in BMWs and buses) all have one thing in common; they think they are King of the Road. They refuse to wait their turn, to share nicely, to allow for the rhythm of the city. Whether it is running down pedestrians at their crossings or cutting up cyclists, t**ty road behaviour comes down to an innate selfishness. And I know there are days when I am so caught up in my destination, my deadline, myself, that I probably come close to behaving like that. And for that, I am sorry.

So tomorrow (at least) I'm going to try and respect the red. I can't promise to be perfect, but I'm going to give it a go. Because I have a hunch that it is the small stuff that makes a difference.

Image by TAB2003

Friday, 24 September 2010

London Cycle Map

The good people over at Cycle Lifestyle Magazine have launched a campaign to create a single cycle map for London. I think it is a damn good idea, as I spend a lot of time using a combination of the TFL cycle journey planner (sometimes brilliant, sometimes bizarre), my battered old A-Z and a lot of instinct. Really, it was only experience and the collective wisdom of an online bike forum that led me to a reasonably direct route from Oxford Streed to Waterloo Bridge that missed out the frankly lethal Regent's Street. A straightforward, colourful bike version of the tube map would be invaluable.

You can sign a petition here and have a look at the prototype map here. I hear that an easier to read, more stylised version is in production so do show your support for the concept, not the finished product

Why cycling in the rain is NOT amazing

Ugh. I am writing this while still wet, cold and gumpy, so brace yourselves folks, for my first non-pollyanna-esque post.

I need to add some qualifications to 'Why cycling in the rain is amazing'. I have decided it is only amazing if you have the right kit. This morning I left the house under blue skies, wearing a t-shirt and jogging bottoms with my handbag in my basket and my pretty, not-very waterproof pannier on the back. Ten minutes from home the heavens opened. I had packed my waterproof, I'm experienced enough for that, but it was needed to cover up my handbag. When I know it is going to rain I pack everything in the pannier in plastic bags (style and practicality, you see), but today my change of clothes and my laptop were horribly vulnerable. The rain was the kind Forrest Gump calls (adopt slow southern accent) 'itty bitty rain', but which I would like to rename 'spiteful, scouring rain' and before long I was exfoliated, soaked and freezing. My joggers absorb water better than bounty kitchen roll, and my t-shirt? Well. I wouldn't have wanted to run into my boss.

Perhaps the worst thing about cycling in the rain unprepared is that, and here I throw all vanity aside, it gives you Spam Arms. Some female readers will identify- in extremes of temperature the flesh at the tops of my arms turns an unpleasant, mottled deep pink colour, resembing nothing better than processed sandwich meat.
And no-one wants to start their day with Spam Arms.

In order to remain friends with the rain it is time to smarten up. I'm off to buy the yearly long leather gloves which are the perfect combination of warm, dry and just a little bit Cruella De Ville. I will not be fooled again.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Eddie on a Skateboard

I see the most brilliant things on my bike.
I cycled through the quiet back streets of Hackney the other evening, along the cycle route from Angel to Stoke Newington. Incidentally that route is a bobby dazzler, quiet, well signed, lovely. If only they were all like that.

The sun was shining, I was listening to Beirut (with one earphone out, safety people) and generally bombing along happily when I encountered a character who added exponentially to my joy. He must have been at least forty, was wearing a smart navy suit and looked EXACTLY like Eddie Izzard before he lost all that weight running two million marathons. Slightly egg shaped head, goatee, the lot. No stilettos, sadly, but that was made up for by his mode of transport. He was skateboarding. Earnestly and energetically propelling himself up the slight incline, sweating like a swede in a sauna, completely focused on his goal. Whatever that may have been. Home, presumably, because he was going to be in no state for a social occasion by the time he arrived. I was slightly concerned he might pop one of the veins in his big red forehead, but mainly I just wanted to follow him up the hill in order to watch his face change at the crest as he began to freewheel. I imagined it changing from stressed-out executive to eleven year old boy instantly. I'm still a bit excited for him, though he and I are both long gone.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Frames and Figures (or why women look like their bikes)

See? She's so got edge.
I have developed a theory. Like dogs and their owners, I think we all look a little bit like our bikes- or at least female cyclists do.

Bear with me. I had this epiphany whilst following a whippet thin girl on a lean silver racer. She had cropped platinum hair and neon clothing clearly chosen for the 80s clubbing reference rather than visibility. I started mentally formulating a blog post about this common bike tribe, a branch of the family tree related to east end boys on fixies, but had a blinding realisation. I've never seen a woman with proper boobs on a fixie. Or a single speed. Or even a racer.  

I have a very precious friend. She is much cooler than me, and very slim, with short red hair. She used to live in New York and throws amazing margherita fuelled parties to celebrate mexican festivals I've never heard of. Can you guess what kind of bike she rides? A sleek red racer called Rudy.

I, on the other hand, ride a hybrid named Trusty becuase I need the speed with the distances I cover, but I have stuck a basket on the front and a pretty panier on the back because in my head I ride a Pashley. I have long hair and curves and like to cook and go for country walks and have my friends over for dinner. I enjoy my friend's Margherita fuelled parties but tend to drink gin and tonic, and I'd like to visit New York but probably not live there. I am, in Mad Men's memorable dichotomy, a Marilyn not a Jackie- or in a 21st century UK context; Nigella not Kate. I don't have a lot of edge. As well as just not suiting a racer personality wise, my figure means that from the front I'd look like a toffee apple. It's just not flattering. I need a frame with a bit of substance. My sleek figured friends look good on sleek sets of wheels, and just a bit overwhelmed by big bikes.

Wether it's women's natural instinct for accessorisation or truly destiny that guides us to steeds that suit us, I defy you to find many examples of opposite pairings. 

Image by richardmasoner

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The best cycling streets in London (Part 2)

My next street isn't technically a street (I don't think)- it's a bridge. Waterloo Bridge. I'm sure most of you have walked across it and marvelled at the view. It feels like the central point of the city, clustered with landmarks as far as the eye can see, in all their diverse shapes and colours. To the east, St Paul's pale dome sits calmly in front of that glossy thrusting upstart of the City, the Gherkin. Looking west you've got the mismatched pair of the white swooping  London Eye across from the dark gothic squareness of Parliament and Big Ben. And on the edges of the bridge itself, grand old Somerset House and The Savoy's Deco lines shame the car-park-carbuncle of the National Theatre on the other bank. Even that building adds beauty to the scene, though, when dusk falls and it's illuminated in pink and teal and cyan. The wide Thames connects them all, changing colour with the sky and catching their falling lights at night. I never bore of it.

The reason that I think it counts as a great cycling street is that, unlike many of London's bridges, it is actually pleasant to cycle across. It has a little slope, for one thing, down to the IMAX on the south side. Traffic is generally light and the lanes wide, which means that at off-peak times of day (which wonderfully often co-incides with dusk and dawn) you can have the whole bridge to yourself. Though it's a great walk, I think it's an even better cycle- you emerge from the crowded streets of Covent Garden or the hustle of Trafalgar Square into wide open space, a brief interlude of water and sky and wind in the midst of the city.

This cycle is so joyous sometimes I make up reasons to go south just to do it.

Image by ChrisLikesCake

Monday, 20 September 2010

Committing Adultery with Boris

Yesterday I cheated on Trusty.Yes, it was with a younger model, fuelled by the elicit thrill of the new, but it didn't mean anything. It was just a fling. The trouble is, I'm not sure it will be the last time. Because I've developed what might become a beautiful friendship. With a Boris Bike.

The new TFL bicycle hire docking stations have popped up all over central london like Barclays- branded fungus. I've been pleased to see the bikes being pretty well used over the initial weeks, and I'm also yet to see any bikes in the Thames, dismembered in an alley, or sprayed with obscenities. So far so good. Though I approve of anything that gets people cycling, I had no need to try them out myself, whizzing past the blue and silver ranks on loyal old Trusty. However, like a happily married woman cruising dating sites 'just to see',  late one night last week I found myself registering for the scheme online. I was sent a memory stick shaped 'key', and attached to my keyring, it's been burning a hole in my pocket for days. It all begins with flirting, you see, playing with the possibility, allowing opportunities to create themelves.

 And so, yesterday I found myself in town, between two engagments on opposite sides of Zone 1 and without my wheels. Trusty was tucked up unaware in the garage at home, . And I was weak. The bus would take ages and I didn't have a book. I am, as you know, allergic to the tube. So I did it. I slid my fob into the slot, got the green light and pulled out my hired companion. And as the docking station clicked, so did we.

It's hard to explain why. The boris bike might be newer and shiner than Trusty, but he wasn't better looking. Did you ever go to legoland as a kid? They had a track where you could learn to drive a 'car', a squat, cartoonish thing made to look like a real automobile but resized and simplified for an eight year old. You could go around the track, stopping at traffic lights and manouvering roundabouts, and at the end were given a 'driver's licence' if you passed the test. 

The boris bikes are the cycle version of those cars; big, slow and heavy but somehow very pleasing. Nothing is too complicated for chubby, amateur hands. They are literally fool-proof, and that might be the genius of the scheme. They feel safe and solid, like riding a trike, even when you're in the middle of four lanes of traffic at Old Street roundabout with no helmet on (they're not provided). I loved the uprightness of the ride, the big sofa like saddle, and the Early Learning Centre container for your bags with boingy elastic to hold everything in.

So now I have a  bit on the side. The steed will continue to be my partner, my life-wheels, the bike of my heart. But every now and then, on those days when I just need to nip somewhere, or I'm staying out late and want a glass of wine, I'll have a brief rendezvous with a boris bike. Just don't tell Trusty.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Brompton World Championships

I don't ride a brompton (look out for an upcoming post about the tribe that do), but I often wonder about adding one to my bike stable. Trusty is wonderful but takes up far too much room on trains and in cars. If I did ride a brompton I would definitely be going along to the brompton world championships.
There is something inherently comic about the thought of lots of (mostly) men in suits tying to race bikes with wheels the size of dinner plates. The relation of effort to output is pretty poor. Good on 'em for trying.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Why cycling in the rain is amazing.

Cycling home the other night in the first really autumnal -feeling rain shower I've rarely been happier. I honestly think that wind and rain is in my top three favourite types of cycling weather (the other two being cold, crisp and bright December days and warm early spring).
I pitied the pedestrians clutching vainly at their buckling umbrellas, faces screwed up against the downpour, colliding like grumpy bumper cars. Cycling on wet days makes me feel connected with nature even on the mean streets of North London. Clearly, if I wasn't a Christian I'd be a pagan, but I believe that even those less obsessed with the outdoors than me would be better to embrace, rather than fight, the elements. You're never going to win. Everyone will end up at least a bit wet and wind-blown, even if you only have a short scurry from office to station to home. Rather than trying to protect yourself from the cold and the wet, why not get on a bike and embrace it? Bombing along at speed you somehow feel part of the storm, it becomes a friend not a foe, an exilerating energiser to speed you to your destination. You can dry off at the other end and have a nice cup of tea. Emersing yourself in the weather is good for the soul, and it leaves you with rosy cheeks and a smile. It's an antidote to a day in a temperature controlled office staring at a screen. It reminds you you're alive, dammit.

Unlike close proximity with a steaming, soggy, scowling, overcrowded tube of Londoners. Which is more likely to make you wish you were dead.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Wisdom from The Bike Nerd

Hills. I like hills. Let me explain.
When dealing with the implosion of my marriage, which was a very much self-inflicted situation, I felt pain. Every ounce of me hurt. I was scared, sad, confused and just about everything else you can imagine. When I was in the middle of this I had no idea when the pain would end. No idea when I’d be able to laugh again.
Back to the hills. They hurt like heck. Your heart feels like it’s going to explode, your legs are screaming, your lungs feel like they’re going to burst in your chest. But then I remember — all that pain stops at the top of this hill. I’ll rest for a minute and continue on my way and won’t feel a thing. I know the pain will end, the discomfort will fade and I’ll ride along like nothing happend.
That’s why I like hills; they remind me of the temporary nature of pain, discomfort, sadness and whatever other emotion we all endure. It sucks when you’re in the middle of it, and it might take awhile to get through it, but it’ll happen. I just need to keep pedaling.
This is a post from my current favourite bike blog,, and is so beautiful I just had to reproduce it in full. It also helps answer why all my favourite cycling streets are hills, even when I am going back up them. It is  not just about a sense of achievement, about having earnt the reverse direction free-wheel. It is about this:

Hills. I like hills. Let me explain.

When dealing with the implosion of my marriage, which was a very much self-inflicted situation, I felt pain. Every ounce of me hurt. I was scared, sad, confused and just about everything else you can imagine. When I was in the middle of this I had no idea when the pain would end. No idea when I’d be able to laugh again.

Back to the hills. They hurt like heck. Your heart feels like it’s going to explode, your legs are screaming, your lungs feel like they’regoing to burst in your chest. But then I remember — all that pain stops at the top of this hill. I’ll rest for a minute and continue on my way and won’t feel a thing. I know the pain will end, the discomfort will fade and I’ll ride along like nothing happend.

That’s why I like hills; they remind me of the temporary nature of pain, discomfort, sadness and whatever other emotion we all endure. It sucks when you’re in the middle of it, and it might take awhile to get through it, but it’ll happen. I just need to keep pedaling.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The best cycling streets in London (Part 1)

My life is a complex, enjoyable jigsaw of part-time, freelance jobs and post-graduate study. One of the side effects of this is that I often work from home, and thus miss out on the joys of the daily commute. During these periods invites to social occasions on the other side of town are seized on with joy in order to get my daily Trusty time.
It also means that when I am working away from home I get to explore lots of different parts of the smoke. One particular job which I started back at today takes me on my very favourite route- Great Percy Street. If you don't know it, it's a short residential road lined with grand Georgian houses not far from King's Cross. What raises it far above the average is the fact that it is a) on a hill of the perfect incline for freewheeling and b) includes a wonderful, treelined roundabout half way down said hill, which, importantly, never has any traffic on it. This divine combination means that I can pull off Amwell Street (a rather nice long sloping hill itself), pick up some speed on the first stretch of Great Percy Street so that by the time I hit the roundabout the momentum takes me round in one big, long, fast glorious swoop. If the sun is out very often I can't help making racing car noises out loud, and I'm not even ashamed. That is how good this hill is, and in any case if you can't let out your inner child on the back of a bike bombing down a hill then when can you?

If you could bottle those endorphins this whole city would look more cheerful.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Silver Cyclist

Trusty is back on the road once more, and the folks at Two Wheels Good, to give them their due, sorted out the rerailer fault for free, and threw in a repair of something else that needed replacing. I still have faith in my local.

And so reunited once more, this morning the steed and I passed another one of the amazing cycling characters that populate this city.  Sporting a helmet of set white curls, she must have been in her seventies and was riding a fairly standard old sit-up-and-beg bike. However, it had been 'pimped' with neon spoke cards and a squeezy-ended brass horn. I would have wondered if she'd stolen it, or got on it in an episode of dementia, except that her outfit was equally eccentric: a bright red Columbo style mac over leopard print leggings, finished off with vintage nike high-tops. The whole effect was so amazing that I had to restrain to urge to shout "Will you be my Granny?" and high- five her as I overtook.

N.B. Seeing as my amazingly technosavvy actual Grandma is one of the stalwart readers of this blog, I need to make clear that the desire was for an extra, not a replacement, female grandparent. Though I'm happy to buy you some high-tops, Grandma, if you like. You could totally work them.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Bike security advice...from a crackhead.

This blogpost from the usually great Guardian Bike Blog is spectacularly unilluminating. It's essential message is: don't leave your bike outside. Ever. Which is obviously good advice but also completely impractical.
The reformed bicycle thief in question, who stole bikes to fund his crack habit, repeats the age-old advice about getting two good locks, though admits that even that is far from full proof. Perhaps the only useful new tip is not to leave your bike if you return to a puncture, because it has probably been done on purpose. I can't imagine why you would, unless all the bike shops were closed and/or you didn't have a spare inner tube/puncture repair kit on you- at which point you would surely put the bike in a taxi (see previous post). This post reeks of a juicy headline (we found a real life bike thief! and spoke to him! It's an inside scoop from the enemy!) with very little to show for it.

I can't really blame the Guardian, because I have yet to find any advice for retaining a bicylce that goes beyond the bleeding obvious (don't forget to lock it) or the it-sounds-silly-but-its-worth-a-try (put a basket on it because bike thieves are concerned about their street cred). Yes, get some good locks, and no, don't spend £800 pounds in the first place. And don't get too attached. Because, somewhere, sometime, if you are cycling regularly over several years, your wheels are probably going to walk. Best just to live with it.

Much as I know that to be true, it gives me chills. Maybe Trusty needs a third lock.....

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Not so Trusty

It feels pretty ironic that the week I decide to finally start writing the bike blog I've had buzzing round my head for months is the same week I barely get to cycle at all. The sad news is, the steed is back in the shop. Riding home from a very lovely party in Bloomsbury last night, halfway up the very long and steep Pentonville Road, the derailer..... derailed. Again. Cue crunching, sparks and some very puzzled poking.

Luckily, this time the wheels still spun so I was able to push the steed up the rest of the hill and pop in on some friends having birthday drinks in Angel while I worked out what to do. Turns out, buses won't let you take bikes on, and neither will most black cabs. I asked very politely and got curt shakes of the head and a facefull of exhaust. It was 1 o'clock and it is a looong walk home and so I threw my feminist principles out of the window and pulled the 'damsel in distress' routine. Wobbly voice, fake tears, big eyes and hints at fears for my personal safety. It worked an absolute treat. I tell myself I did it for the steed- the alternative to the walk was leaving him locked up in Islington overnight on a Saturday. No bike of mine.

FYI, the steed is pretty big so I think most would fit in the back of a standard black cab, if you're ever stranded. I did have to sit on the floor in an unlady- like position with a pedal in my back, but still. It got me and steed home safety.
So tonight a thousand thanks to my taxi-driver in shining armour, from my (currently pretty untrusty) wheels and me.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Cycling: The Only Way to Travel

If you're reading a bike blog you probably already agree with me, but I thought I'd marshall my arguments for my thesis:

You'd be an idiot not to ride a bike in London.

I'm a bit of a cycling evangelist and really, I'd love you to be too. So here's an easy guide you can use to persuade the most hardened tube weasel onto two wheels.

It's Cheaper
A monthly oyster travel card for zones 1-2 is roughly £100. If you live further out, or you use pay as you go you'll be spending way more. Over a year the absolute minimum is about £1000.
In contrast, a reasonable entry level bike will cost you about £300, plus two services a year costing about £40 each.Bung in a few inner tubes and maybe a pump and you're looking at £400 a year- and that is if the bike only lasts you that long (it shouldn't). 

Personally I can think of better places to put £600 than Boris Johnson's budget sheet.

It's Faster
According to TFL, over an average journey of 4 miles in central London, cycling is always the fastest mode of transport. See this brilliant post on London Cyclist for a real life test. My personal experience bears this out, especially if you need to go east to west in North London.

It's Less Stressful
If you have even a little of  typical urban control freak tendancies, you will know that there is nothing more frustrating than being at the mercy of the whims of the London transport system. Granted, some days everything works amazingly, but isn't it always the day you have a vital meeting/date/interview to get to that the whole network goes into spasm and spits you out? With a bike you'll never have to wait for a bus or a train again, change three times to travel two miles or get stuck in a tunnel. Self-determination is priceless- the only thing controlling the length of your commute is the strength of your own two legs.

It's Greener
Feeling a little bit smug about your carbon emissions can't hurt, can it?

And most importantly.....

It's much, much, much more Pleasant
I, like most people make most decisions on a pain vs pleasure basis. And honestly, cycling is ALWAYS more pleasurable. On the days when it is raining hard and I think 'I don't really want to get wet' and opt for the tube I always regret it. You get wet on the way too and from the station anyway and the train will be rammed with damp people poking you with their umbrellas, steaming and scowling. On the roads, wet faced but smiling, the cyclists stay a pleasant temperature and arrive home feeling revitalised.
In terms of gear, a decent breathable waterproof jacket will do you. Lots of people swear by waterproof trousers but I find them squeaky, clammy and a bridge too far in the style stakes. Instead, I wear shorts, or short skirts and tights that dry fast.

And if you think that on hot summer days it might be less  sweaty not to cycle.... you've clearly never been on a London tube (or bus) in August. If you're going to sweat anyway, you might as well earn it.

Finally, and you may not all find this, but whenever I'm on a bike I feel I'm a member of the Famous Five off on a mini-adventure. And we all need a bit more of that in our day.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Two Wheels...Very Good

The Steed is healed! Thanks to the lovely chaps down at Two Wheels Good bike shop in Crouch End, I have my own two wheels back. I'd managed to get a wodge of fabric (the technical term) caught in my derailer, and through stubbornly trying to keep pedalling, managed to snap that off, bend the thing that holds the gear cogs (I'm sure I'll learn the proper word for that too) and also buckle the back wheel. So not a small amount of damage. I'd been bracing myself for a hefty bill, but the man with the handlebar moustache charged me to modest sum of £35. Less than a normal service.

Hurrah for having a good local bike shop- I've been ripped off and ignored by Evans too many times.

And hurrah for being back on the road- I'd missed the sensation of the wind in my hair. Steed and me restrained the urge to ring our bell with glee, because pedestrians think you're yelling at them (and sometimes I am, the dozy fools). So I just had to sing a bit whilst free wheeling down Crouch Hill instead.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Cycle Tribes: Lycra Lads

As you may have guessed from the picture, this isn't going to be a particularly technical bike blog. I've only just found out the name of the part that the steed needed transplanting- a derailer. It doesn't sound like a particularly useful thing to have on a vehicle to be honest, but if it gets him back on the road I'm happy.

Clearly, for someone who spends quite so much time on two wheels (about an hour and half most days, and often much more at weekends) I know very little about the workings of my bicycle. And to be honest, this is motivated by more than just apathy and flagrant gender stereotyping. I associate a detailed knowledge of different brands of tyre with one of the tribes I share the road with- the Lycra Lads.

There are several variations on this theme, but lets begin with the basics. They're easy to spot, and in any rush hour  line up will make up about half of the riders. Predominately male, members of this tribe ride drop-handle racers or fixies, and clothe themselves in skin-tight, high tech clothing. They'll ofen have gadgets attached to the handlebars, measuring goodness knows what stats to be carefully collated on a spreadsheet in the evening.

What never fails to amuse me is the sense that the road is their battlefield. Clearly, 200 years ago these men would have marched in the infantry, hunted, gathered and fulfilled their masculine duty in all manner of outdoorsy ways. Now (I assume) locked in offices pushing pixels around, all that competitive energy only finds outlet on the daily commute. The sideways, narrow-eyed glances at traffic lights say it all. In a second the other riders are appraised for speed, agility and price of kit. Waiting behind, irrelevant due to the handbag sitting prettily in my basket and complete lack of lycra, I can almost hear mental engines revving . The lights change and they're off in an invisible cloud of exhaust, straining to surge to the front and win alpha dog status.

Until the next set of lights. At which point all the rest of us (beskirted with baskets, or on Bromptons wearing suits) catch them up.And smile, less sweatily, and a little bit smugly.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Bicycle down!

I'm beginning this blog on a sad day- the Trusty Steed had a little accident and is currently residing in the bike hospital in the safe hands of a moustachioed mechanic. In my head he wears a white coat and carries his tools in a white box painted with a red cross. God bless him. Apparently the steed will need a few more days work as the part in question is not in stock. I wish there was an organ doner register for bikes.

While I've been waiting for the steed to recover I've realised how much I miss him, and how less rich my commute is when  crammed into a tube or bus. Every day on a bike is an adventure- London reveals it's secrets to you when on two wheels. Fragments of stories and tantalising glimpses flash past, but never so fast that you can't choose to pursue. I've started this blog to chronicle the most exciting, inspiring and interesting things I see while out and about by pedal power.