A Different Type of Biking
I'm sitting on a train from London to Edinburgh. So what’s that got to do with life on a bike?
Well, I'm sitting on the train with a Brompton folder behind my seat, lightly sweating after an early-morning helter-skelter Gumball rally into Kings Cross from Highgate.
The morning steadily became more frantic and out of control from the minute I woke up. I had an early start for the first train, and after a quick shower, put bike and luggage together in the hallway of a friend’s house, ready to go. I had timed it pretty much to perfection, and was fully hatted and gloved ready to set off into the darkness, with a comfortable margin for holdups. The only trouble was… I couldn't get out of the house. There was some sort of chain type of device holding the door.
In the darkness I fiddled and I furtled, and I swore and I cursed, as quietly as I could. There was nothing for it, I needed to put the light on and see what the problem was. So I went to look for the light switch. I looked in all the usual places…nothing. I looked in all the unusual places…no luck there either. I went back to the usual places…then back to the unusual places again, all to no avail. I went back to the door and that didn't work either. Stuck in a loop of behaviour that wasn't working, and now worried about time (my entire safety margin had by now been used up), I had an idea…a torch!
I thought first about my bike lights. “Damn!”, the Brommie has a dynamo system, and the hall was too small to cycle around to get it fired up. In a state of mild concern by now, I had a final thought, my phone.
With my phone, I could see a simple system that was easy to get through with the modest application of light. As I set off towards Archway Road, I looked at my watch. As long as nothing else went wrong, I would make it.
Guess what, it wasn't to be straightforward after all. It should be pretty much downhill to Kings Cross all the way, and time can usually be made up easily by pushing the big gears.
I had built up a head of steam, and was spinning along merrily. Suddenly, a bus squeezed me, and in order to avoid a squishing, I dived onto a parallel lane, which soon forked off into a completely different direction. I was going too fast to fix it, and I was forced at speed, in the dark, onto an unfamiliar road bobbing and weaving through the traffic like a football accidentally kicked into the Zambezi. I don't know London well in the daylight; in the dark, it wasn't long before I was pretty unsure of where I was. I was “euphemistically lost”, the closest to being clueless an old guy on a bike can admit to being.
The downhill had disappeared and I was now pushing big gears, legs screaming, in a direction I was sure wouldn't take me to Kings Cross. I stopped at traffic lights, next to another cyclist; a true gentleman of the road. I quickly explained, and he confirmed that if I carried on in the same direction, I could do an entire circumnavigation of the planet, and still wouldn't get any nearer to Kings Cross. He was generous enough to lead me to a turn off that would get me back on track. By now, queasy and bathed in sweat, I squeezed every Watt I could out of my aging legs.
I barrelled into the concourse at Kings Cross, with all the grace of Eddie the Eagle. With the whites of my eyes still showing, I looked at the clock. I was not only there in good time; I even had time to spare to buy a much-needed coffee. By some miracle, I had managed an unfeasible average speed, but unfortunately there was nobody there from the Guinness Book of Records to ratify the fastest ever time from Highgate to Kings Cross on a Brompton…or even the fastest recorded heartbeat of a 59 year old man on a bike; both world records I'm pretty sure.
I have had a very exciting week cycling around London on my Brommie. I had forgotten how much fun they are. But after our few months of relaxed touring, my few days in London seemed like the cycling equivalent of The Hunger Games. Some of my two-wheeled brethren appeared to be simply trying to survive, some were hell bent on two-wheeled supremacy; the domination and humiliation of other road users. Me? I was a fascinated and enthusiastic participant in this adventurous extreme sport; the “London commute.”
As I dived in with both feet, I found out that cycling can be a contact sport. I cleaned the odd bus with my elbows and became adept at the cycling limbo; ducking under wing mirrors as you insert yourself and bike through the narrowest of gaps at what can only be described as “high velocity.” I felt like my speed had transitioned from kilometres per hour, to metres per second, as I tried to catapult myself out of the scrum at traffic lights. I learned that every nanosecond counts in this sport; no advantage or gain is too marginal.
As I sit on the train, bike folded, I'm looking forward to the weekend and the sanity of country roads and village cafes. I'm looking forward to the chat, and having lots of gears to play with.
It was fun though!