How I learned to stop worrying and love the bike: an update


Some of you may recall my recent bike post, in which I talked about my traumatic bike-riding youth (traumatic might be over-egging the pudding, but it’s all relative) and how I’d learned to conquer some of my fears and get back in the saddle while we were on sabbatical.

I signed off my cycling post by saying that while I’d enjoyed dicking around on a bike in Mexico and wherever else it was that we cycled, I couldn’t imagine it becoming part of my regular London life.

And it hasn’t.

However! This week I rode a bike six times, and I enjoyed all of them.

It was the fourth day of fashion week and I had a positively luxurious 45 minutes to get between appointments, as opposed to the usual five-minute sprint. I’d been toying with the idea of getting a Boris bike between appointments in town pre-fashion week, but had never plucked up the courage.

This time, I did.

Maybe it’s because I was hopped up on caffeine and lack of sleep, maybe it’s because I was alone and knew there was no-one to lol at me, maybe it’s because the weather was quite nice and I really needed some exercise after a week-long diet of croissants and late-night, burning-the-midnight-oil pizzas… Who knows? All I know is that I strolled into Regent’s Park like it wasn’t no thing and paid £2 to ride a bike down to Covent Garden.

What was alleged to be a 15 minute cycle took me the best part of that 45 minutes, but I did it! And I did it again, and again, and a few more times too. So many times that I am really stiff and have a sore bum.

I wasn’t particularly scared at any point in my cycling adventures, even when I accidentally cycled up Kingsway and again when I found myself going through the tunnel on Upper Thames Street. In fact the reason I went through that tunnel was because I was having such a jolly old time that I completely missed my turning. I think I had a healthy amount of fear for lorries and buses, and I got off and pushed through quite a few roundabouts and major junctions but otherwise… biking in London. All good! Who knew?

Here are the bad bits:

  • Don’t put your bag in the bit at the front. My zip on one of those little pockets you see above jiggled itself open and my house keys flew out in to the road. They were run over by three buses before I could rescue them! Marc Jacobs keyring didn’t survive; 99c Elvis one did. There’s a lesson in that.
  • I spent ages trying to find docking stations, although granted this is only a problem if you’re on a TFL bike and not your own. I was feeling dead smug for having got to my station in five minutes rather than 20 on the bus, only to then spend a full 30 minutes circling London Bridge in a bid to find a docking station. I used the map on the TFL site and everything! It’s not very clear, I’ll tell you that much. The solution to this, I discovered, is the free bike app that TFL have. It’s really good and I assumed they would have one, I just couldn’t download it while I was out and about. It shows you your nearest stations, how many bikes and spaces there are available at each with live updates, and also has a good route planner which allows you to plan by easy (off main roads), fast or ~steady options. It’s really good, you just need to plan ahead and download it if you think you might use it.
  • Buses are horrible, but I think that’s a widespread issue and not just one for bike novices.
  • Route planning was kind of a problem. I know my way round central London really well thanks to living/working/studying just off Oxford Street for my first 18 months here, but it turns out that pedestrian knowledge isn’t that handy when you’re on wheels and have to obey the highway code. One-way streets and roundabouts aren’t such a problem if you’re walking, turns out they are on a bike. Even with my useful route planner on the app, I found I had to keep stopping to look at it because I couldn’t remember more than about three turns at a time.
  • If in doubt, follow other cyclists. Or get off and push your bike. That’s what I did. Ain’t nobody got time to work out the roundabout at Bank.

Other than that, I totally had a good time riding my bike and will definitely do it again. I’m still kind of cautious about every single aspect and probably cycle like an old lady on a country lane, but screw you bike couriers, at least I’m trying.

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