For about two years I have been figuring that I should ride a bike. This was emphasised when I tried to get car insurance, discovering that it would set me back £2500, ouch. As a 20-something middle-class white male, I have never really felt the effect of discrimination, but, in the words of the Miami bass group 'Tag Team': 'Whoomp there it is'. Anyway, I certainly wouldn't want to drive through central London ever, it's stressful, dull, expensive and takes ages. However, urban cycling has always had an element of danger, which I've never been comfortable with. Sure I've wrestled with as many existential crises as the next man, but I'd like to continue to wrestle where possible, something which would be difficult If my comparitavely small head was hit by a relatively robust van.
Anyway one day I was cutting some Ivy off my parents house when a small kid comes up to me with a leaflet for his missing cat; asking me to check in the shed. His leaflet did not have a hipstagram photo of his cat, unlike my North London friend with a similar feline issue recently, but I decided to look anyway.
There was no cat, and apologies dear reader, but I don't know its fate. However, in the old shed, with its rotting caved in ceiling, I did find my dad's old racing bike. He bought it second hand at some point in the early 80s, so it's probably from the 1970s. It certainly looked it.
As my dad has not ridden this bike in at least 15 years, I figured I would be allowed to have it, even though it was in a bit of a state. He relented, pleased that it would see some use. My mum gave me the sort of look that said 'that rusty old deathtrap will be the end of you' but in her ever-tolerant way just said 'be careful!'.
I pushed the bike up the hill and headed from leafy zone 9 back to my house in the less leafy zone 2.
I looked up independent bike shops on the internet and found some interesting places. One venue was booked for repairs for 2 months! Keen to push on I kept looking and found another shop in Chalk Farm called Simpson's Cycles. I booked my bike in and dropped it round the next morning. He said it was a nice bike and I could easily spend several hundred pounds on getting it done up. I said I quite liked the rust-covered 1920's history-teacher beige look that the bike had developed, and just wanted it to be roadworthy. He ended up fixing up the gears, replacing the cables, giving it a full service which in the end cost me around £90. It was great, fixed in one afternoon, and I rode the bike home.
It's up there with the best £90 I've spent. I figure I save about £40-50 a week by cycling rather than getting trains. I've cancelled my gym membership. I'm no maths guy but that stuff just adds right up. I'm the fittest I've ever been and find it easier to get up in the morning. Aside from these benefits, it's just fun! Kids love riding bicycles around, and I can see why, it's like you get to have a play whilst going to work. I was a bit worried because I am not a morning person, I'm barely an afternoon person, and so I was a bit anxious about facing off with traffic first thing in the morning. It's really not that bad, Motorists are really quite aware of cyclists, and there have been big improvements in bus lanes and cycle routes. It's not perfect, I've had people open car doors on me, and a couple of near misses, but if you keep your wits about you, and wear the right clothes and take your time, it's pretty easy*.
I reckon cycling counts as culture, hence making it into the blog, and the government is currently targeting a 400% increase in London cycling from 2001 levels, by 2026. There are lots of good focussed cycling blogs, to help you get started. Here are a couple:
There is some level of risk to cycling, but there is also a different risk to a sedentary lifestyle that is also indisputable. The Boris Bike, Barclay's Cycle Hire Scheme is a great way to go and have a go. Even if you are not registered you can pitch up to any of the cycle hire points, pay a solitary pound, and ride unlimited bikes for 24 hours. Before I got my bike, I rode one home, kept it in the hallway, then rode it to work the next morning. That's probably unorthodox but it's within the rules! It's amazing, try it out and cycling your route might seem a more viable, less scary, option.
*If I do die please don't drag this up in any irony-filled tabloid stories about my demise, and preferably use a nice photo, one of the ones I've used as a profile picture on Facebook, not just one I've been tagged in, because, probably it's going to make me look bad. Definitely don't use my driving license.