Archives for category: commuting

Perhaps it’s just part of the ageing process, but I’m finding myself increasingly tempted to ride an Audax event – the long distance cycling discipline favoured by cheerfully eccentric men with beards and sandals – for not only is there a minimum speed that their rides are required to be completed in, but there’s also a maximum speed too. Racing is quite clearly frowned upon.

Living in a city like London, the pace of life can sometimes seem unrelentingly hectic. Commuting by bike should provide a chance to escape the shoulder-to-shoulder rat race of an over crowded tube, train or bus, yet instead it so often degenerates into just another race to or from work.

A common reason given by commuters why they choose the bike over more sedentary forms of transport are the health benefits – cycling helps keep you fit, it saves on gym membership, a way of squeezing a workout into a busy day. I’m not denying these things might be true, but it sort of misses the point. Commuting by bike should be about pleasure – not speed, time, fitness or training. There could be no other more infuriating environment to choose for your daily exercise than the rush hour streets of London – clogged with traffic, crammed with junctions, crossings, roadworks, u-turning taxis, snaking bendy busses – as soon as you’ve got your heart rate into that target training zone you’ll be grabbing the brakes as the lights turn to red. Read the rest of this entry »

If you’re reading this blog then the likelihood is that for you cycling is a year-round activity. However, to much of the London population, cycling is something that only happens during the summer (and tube strikes). In the same way that tennis hibernates year round and only emerges during the brief weeks of Wimbledon with every public court booked out morning ’til night, London’s roads become clogged with cyclists the moment it’s warm enough to leave the cardigan at home.

As an aloof, elitist and snooty racing cyclist, I of course endeavour to look down on these fair weather cyclists with disdain, overtaking them with my nose held high in the air. It is important for the world to see the distinction; they are merely people riding bikes, whereas I am a cyclist. Through thick and thin, through bad weather and good, I am dedicated, committed and devoted to the bicycle. And if my assured riding style, and nonchalant regard for complex road traffic systems isn’t proof enough of my cyclist status, then my lycra shorts should be.

But then something started to change, and over the past few months I’ve been getting increasingly self-conscious in my serious cyclist’s kit; I tug down slightly at my jersey when stopped at traffic lights, feel a little foolish when clomping about in my figure-hugging shorts and ungainly cycling shoes upon arrival at the office. All of this stuff, all this cycling-specific lycra, started to feel slightly unbecoming. Read the rest of this entry »

Photograph of fixed gear menace by Outlier

Riding in London you encounter all types. In images of cycling cities – Shanghai, Copenhagen, Amsterdam – the cyclists filtering through the congested roads look as if they’re all riding the same bike. Upright, practical, utilitarian, and anonymous. Over here there is no typical cyclist, each one encountered is different to the next – businessmen on Bromptons, sensible office workers on hybrids in high-viz, sporty types with dropped bars and lycra shorts. But there are some that float above the rest of us – not necessarily faster, most certainly not safer, but insufferably cooler.

I’ve played by the rules my whole life; fearful of authority, worried about parental disapproval. I wear a helmet, I stop at red lights, I avoid undertaking busses. My cycling clothes are sensible and practical, my commute treated like any other ride. I’m conscious of my lack of cool, but feel gripped by good sense and manners.

I regularly encounter on my ride to work my commuting nemesis; like the group of lads that hung around at the far end of the playground sharing cigarettes, I am lured by his disregard for rules and authority. His clothes tread carefully the line between practicality and style – dark, a slim cut jacket, jeans, black Sidis and cycling cap, messenger bag slung over his shoulder. His bike a stripped down fixie, simple, elegant. No doubt, on closer inspection, it would reveal nods to obscurity, an eye for tasteful componentry. But most of all, he glides.

Read the rest of this entry »

Secondarily the bicycle is a means of transport; a utilitarian tool for travelling from A to B. Clean, efficient, versatile. However, every cyclist knows that the primary function of the bicycle is, of course, to race.

No matter how unaerodynamic the frame, how squishy the tyres, how stuffed the panniers, or heavy the rucksack, the cyclist is poised for competition. No licence required. No expensive kit, or lycra shorts. Out there, on the rush hour roads of London, everyday is race day.

There is something about the act of swinging your leg over a saddle that ignites the competitive urge in the human psyche. My ride to work is epitomised by shoals of cyclists leapfrogging each other in vain efforts to get ahead, to make it through the next set of lights before their cycling brethren. Young ladies on sit-up-and-begs going shoulder to shoulder against middle aged city gents on Bromptons. Weekend warriors with hairs poking out of their lycra doing battle with mountain bikers in baggies. Cycling tribes combine together into a chaotic ill-tempered bun fight for road supremacy. I’d like to say I rise above it all, coasting nonchalantly along, but I don’t.

Ask the commuting cyclist what his or her pet hates are and, amongst the usual moans about taxi drivers and wayward pedestrians, comes the true target of bile: cyclists. Every other guy on a bike is our rival, competing for road space, holding us up, slowing us down, jumping lights to stay one step ahead of the pack. Even those that do stop for lights make sure they are at the front of the queue – even if that means cutting in ahead of anyone else already waiting patiently.

For many of us commuting is treated as easy rides, to stretch the legs after a weekends racing or the previous nights interval session. The plan is to spin light gears, stay nice and supple, keep the heart rate low… well, that was the plan you think to yourself, pulling up at work panting and damp with sweat.

As such, any recovery ride must be undertaken by stealth, under cover of darkness. On a shopping bike. Fitted with a basket. However that still probably won’t dampen your competitive instincts sufficiently. “Go on,” the little voice says, “you know you can overtake that G-Wiz before the next junction…”

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