“We’ll book you into a hotel if you like.”
Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? It’s always fun to lounge in a bed you haven’t had to make yourself, drop towels that you won’t have to pick up onto the bathroom floor, and watch trash TV with the volume down before getting up at 6am to meet the car from the BBC.
But it’s not nearly as much fun as scorching through the city at night – well, the part of the night that doesn’t really count as morning because the sky’s still black and the birds aren’t singing yet, but is the far side of midnight. It’s worth setting the alarm for 3.45 and getting dressed in the dark for the voyeuristic thrill of riding the quiet streets, shared only with men in hi-viz and the occasional night bus.
On a normal day it takes 5 minutes to get through the lights at the corner of Grays Inn Road and Caledonian Road. Yesterday, checking the time on the Kings Cross Station clock as 5.50am, I thought there was no way I was going to be in Hammersmith in time to park up and meet the car and the man who would actually be doing the talking. Ruby & I got there in 10 minutes, and that’s without breaking the speed limit and including being caught in a diversion.
Fatigue is a strange thing. Driving tired kills more people than driving drunk, and though I’d had a reasonable amount of sleep and didn’t feel particularly impaired it was clear that I was several shades short of full competence. My balance was all wrong. I was following too close, and my reactions were half what they should have been – especially for the white stripes in the road. Yes, it’s two for two at the speed camera on the Great Cambridge Road, I got away with it last time but like the muppet I am, I’ve offered the good gentleman of the London Safety Camera Partnership a second attempt to re-educate me. It was 5 in the morning, m’Lud, if that’s any excuse…
I am sneakily becoming a full-time 2-wheel commuter, though riding an adventure-touring motorcycle with powder-coated aluminium panniers 6 miles to the office feels a little bit like pony-trekking on Red Rum.
Yesterday was stressful. Today I decided to go Easy Listening (helped by the fact that I am hoping for an early departure north for RBR camping in the High Peak, so we are sat-navved and duffled up and ready to roll once the sun hits the yardarm) and roll with the flow instead of trying to outrace the waves. Much more cheerful, much less risky, and – as could have been entirely predicted – quicker (though I think it’s an unfair comparison, most of London seems to shirk from home on Fridays.)
My beatific mood was only broken by a tale of two cyclists. I want to be able to use bus lanes, but the CTC believes that I present an “actual and perceived threat” to pedestrians and seeks to change Boris’s mind. I accept we all have bad days and don’t always ride the way we would wish ourselves to. And I have had the arguments about conserving momentum by riding through red lights if it’s safe to proceed explained to me. But I don’t think any of that makes it OK to ignore the red light at a pedestrian crossing, bomb across at full speed, and cause an 8 year-old boy and his mum to leap back out of your way – Mr Stripey Shirt, serious helmet and thousand-yard stare, I’m talking to you.
Karmic harmony was restored by a gentle “ting ting” from another cyclist catching me on my off-side (this is the point at which I decided I was proceeding a little too peacefully). He came past me, indicated left with his arm, cut in leaving lots of room, and pedalled serenely on down the Caledonian Road. No aggro, no conflict – and no lycra. Maybe it’s lack of blood flow to their manly parts that puts them in such a bad mood…
Some commutes are about elegance and grace. Sometimes getting to work and not being dead seems reward enough. This is not a healthy place to be! but it’s where my head was as I passed Kings Cross this morning – it’s what happens when the phone starts ringing at 7 am and I end up with a very very small window of opportunity to get to Central London before an immovable deadline. I hate riding to a time limit, it makes me nervous and it makes me gamble on amber and attempt to stare down London Buses’ finest as we both lay claim to the same 6 foot of tarmac. If Boris wants to start slowly on his bus lane pledge, I nominate the Euston Road as his first target – being able to slide past the gridlock from Grays Inn Road to the left turn opposite Euston station would transform my stress levels. My usual beat down through Holborn to the Aldwych, thanks to roadworks and “improvements,” has been transformed from a broad and sweepy boulevard to a nightmare. So at Tavistock Square I took a gamble, took a right, and ended up bouncing over the cobbles round Covent Garden, which made me laugh because it feels like I’m riding somewhere I shouldn’t be. (And it’s the nearest Ruby’s going to get to off-road riding this week.) The cobbles shook off the bad mood and I parked up (small miracle in its own right!) with 10 minutes to spare. Thus proving that riding a bike is good for your mental health. I think.
“Christmas ain’t Christmas till somebody cries,” according to Donkey in Shrek. After a week of travelling, over-eating, arguing about the rules of family games (it turns out I’ve been playing The London Game to a totally different set of rules to the ones in the box. No wonder I win so often!), sitting in queues on the A1, watching the chickens, breathing in sparkling country air and falling over the dog, I have said “Amen” to that and fled. I’m not a Londoner by birth – then again, who is?! – but as I walked across the top of Trafalgar Square last night on my way to meet a friend for new year drinks (Shame on you, Albannach, by the way: what kind of Scottish bar closes on a Sunday night?!), trampling the tourists, despairing at the anorexic Christmas tree, checking out the roller-dudes in front of the National Gallery, and feeling the festive stress being soothed away by the noise, the bright lights and the chaos (though three pints of Caffrey’s in Waxy’s probably helped tip the balance) I have finally admitted to myself that this filthy, fetid, glorious pile of a city is home.
(I’ve also resolved that wherever I go for Christmas next year, I’m taking the bike. I’ve been getting the DTs).
Ruby and I are struggling to find our rhythm. If this was a new relationship we’d be at the stage where, instead of locking lips you bump noses, and instead of sliding elegantly under the sheets for some well-deserved Sherlocking you accidentally knee your partner in the gnarly parts, but those few, elusive moments when it all comes together make it worth persevering.
Today has been a classic demonstration that my mood affects my motor skills. Under the blue, if baltic, skies in the morning we had a fantastic time dodging the hazards in Hackney, doing an (almost feet up) u-ey to go south instead of north on the A10 having got turned round in the Home Zone, and cruising the deserted City. In the evening, large parts of North London snarled to a halt (I think Arsenal are playing). Every gap closed as I headed into it, the gearbox refused to slip into first and we kangarooed our way away from the lights in 2nd gear to the smell of burning clutch. Particular curses and opprobium on the Arthur Daley impersonator, who, when I backed away from attempting to squeeze between his beat-up Jag and a white van to my right, opened his door and ostentatiously checked for scratches on his paintwork. Both barrels of the Touratech spots to you, mate!
Then on the last corner before home we had a lairy moment on a manhole cover. Three cheers to the off-road day: I stuck my foot out, gave it some throttle (probably exceeding my 4k run-in ceiling) and we fishtailed our way back to balance.
The indicators are still giving me grief. A warning to London GS riders – if you see someone staring intently at your right hand, they’re not mistakenly trying to work out your marital status, it’s me, trying to see how other people approach this Gordian knot.
And I had forgotten how damn hard it is to attach a Baglux tank harness – hence the undignified lash-up shown in the pic! At least the duffel is colour-co-ordinated. If anyone’s done this for a 2007 GS, please send me some tips!
As has become traditional, dawn broke on the Unity Ride to the sound of rainfall. After a bit of armtwisting and the loan of my waterproofs, my pillion agreed to be undeterred by the thought of a swift London soaking and consented to make the trip round the North Circular to the Excel car park. Unlike Kill Spills, I didn’t see many other bikes on the way and thought, maybe it will be a wash-out – but London bikers are made of sterner stuff and the East Car Park was full of slightly soggy riders, and Pudsey Bear.
The organisers had put together a great route kicking off with the Dome, past Monument, a quick lap of Parliament Square and back up the Strand to St Paul’s and Tower Bridge. This is a large part of my usual London beat but it is so much better when accompanied by a large number of the Met’s finest keeping over-assertive car drivers under control!
Lots of waving from the pavements, and lots of mobile phones being held up to capture the event – makes me wonder what the tourists will say when they get home. Maybe they will describe London as a city of bikers. Would be nice if it were true! (and maybe a few more of the potholes would get filled in.)
According to the current American Airlines ad, it was Johnny Carson who defined a New York Minute as the instant between the traffic light turning green and the guy behind you honking his horn. It’s also how you know you’re back in London. I love the space and huge horizons in Wales, but it’s also great to come back into the mayhem that is London traffic, where beautiful positioning matters less than having eyes in all sides of your head and a very, very pessimistic nature.
The last 50 miles are always the hardest – on the A41 it feels as though someone is separating every single one of my vertebrae with a rusty cleaver, and I curse to the seventh circle of hell the person who decided that lumpy yellow stripes on the run-up to roundabouts were going to be helpful.
The scores on the doors:
Miles covered: 960
RBR Points: 340
Landmarks in the bag: 17
Sheep Worried: 5
Number of times the B4090 traversed in search of Gallows Green: 2
G & T’s consumed: 2
Free Range Chickens not run over: 1
Votes cast for Lee and Craig in Any Dream Will Do: 0 (no mobile phone coverage in hotel!)
The DfT has finally published its new guidance to local authorities on allowing bikes in bus lanes. It’s not as positive as it could be, but it’s an improvement on the previous version which told local councils that bikers should not normally be allowed in bus lanes.
I particularly like the hard stare the bloke in the blue anorak on page 3 is getting from the courier – a potential lemmingPed if ever I saw one!
One of these modes of transport needs more parking space!
And no, we don’t want to pay a pound for it!