Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cycling Nirvana

We've just got back from a weekend in Bruges and what a difference! The infrastructure and attitude are there and everyone cycles - and it's brilliant.

Of course Bruges is quite compact, and full of gnarly little cobbled streets. But there's no ban on cars. No need. They've not really discouraged cars, they've just encouraged bikes with:
  • Cycle paths galore - many dedicated to bikes and not just the edge of a road
  • Somewhere to park your bike (and nowhere to park your car)
and most importantly:
  • People drive and walk with an expectation that there might be a bike coming round any corner
It's a different world, really. Cycling is just part of life: the obvious way to get to the shops. And it's interesting to note that the vast majority of the bikes are not pseudo-sports machines - no "mountain" bikes, very few "racing" bikes. Almost all of them are what you might call "Town Bikes" like mine: a comfy saddle; raised handlebars; road tyres; often hub gears and brakes; some sort of luggage. Dutch-style, I suppose. A bike to go to work on and buy some dinner on the way home. No lycra to be seen - and very few helmets.

The benefits are enormous. Clean, quiet and less crowded. Somehow it feels more friendly and cooperative - more egalitarian. No question it's what we need in London.

And the girls have great legs.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Daddy There's A Car Beside Me

Within a minute of collecting my daughter MMVII from nursery on the bike for the first time, we were sitting at the traffic lights and a car pulled up alongside. "Daddy?" she said. "Look. There's a car beside me."

I do worry about taking her out in London traffic. But of course I think yes it is a good idea. I'm giving her a healthier Dad. I'm giving her some road sense. I'm helping bequeath her generation a slightly less polluted, fucked up environment. It's also the quickest way between home and nursery, it's better quality time together than on the tube - and she enjoys it.

Safety-wise, I think I'm doing everything that's possible - short of not cycling - to keep her safe. We both wear helmets, I've got plenty of lights, my new pannier bag is bright fluorescent yellow, and I've got a pretty good route worked out now. By myself I might be a bit more adventurous - need to be, with Covent Garden and Soho to negotiate - but for her part of the journey, between Bermondsey and Waterloo East, it's almost entirely quiet back roads. TfL's Central London cycling map was useful, and pointed out some tricks and alleys I hadn't thought of, so we're in a pretty good place right now.

And when they've QUITE finished with the whole Blackfriars Station business, it'll be even better.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Justified And Ancient

The first week I did two days commuting by bike, and took four days off.

Last week I cycled Wednesday to Friday, and was very pleased with myself for not having been on the tube for a week. But yesterday I was still pretty achy and complainy, so MCMLXX (Mrs MCMLXVII) suggested I leave it another day. Actually there's a lovely mathematical symmetry to that suggestion, in terms of building up my tolerance:

Week 1 - 2 days on, 4 off
Week 2 - 3 days on, 3 off
Week 3 - 4 days on, 2 off
Week 4 - 5 days on....?

Okay, so TOMORROW then. Yes. Just don't ask why my weeks have six days. Shh.

Yay! My Dad sent me a new saddle for my birthday. Thanks Dad! Despite what I was saying last week about sticking with the same saddle, in the end I actually went for the same brand (Selle seems to be a perfectly reasonable mid-market brand) but a slightly slimmer one than the original - and it's gender-specific, supposed to be better for one's gentleman's area. Let's see what difference that makes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The (Back) Passage Of Time

It’s funny how time takes its toll. Having nothing but time, of course, it does it very slowly: a wobble here, a creak there, an ache somewhere else.. over the years it all adds up. You don’t really notice each one, but all them pigeon pies come home to roost when you try to do something you used to do as a matter of course twenty years ago.

So by Friday last week - after a mere twenty miles over two days - my arse really knew about me being Back Pedalling. Because I’m not fit I rest my weight on my saddle much more than a regular cyclist would, putting unaccustomed pressure on soft and sensitive parts. Combined with aching thigh muscles, that’s a definite Ooh. But I had a long four day weekend with no cycling, and by the end of it all that was just a memory. It’s now Thursday daytime, so I’ve done fifteen miles this week and, do you know, I think I’m toughening up already? Not perfect - still a little tender here and there - but definite progress.

So if you go for a ride for the first time in years, and it hurts like hell, don’t give up. You will get over it.

As it happens I need a new saddle anyway, as the Selle Royal saddle that came with the bike is leaking “Royal Gel”. Yuk. So I’ve looked into it a bit and from what I’ve read on the web, it’s very much horses for courses: a saddle that suits one person might be torture for another. I’m pretty happy with the one I have so I’ll probably just swap like for like.