Friday 25 May 2007

London by Bicycle - Part 1

London may seem a bit of a scary place to be on two wheels, but when you get your kit on and start pedalling around, you'd be surprised how straight forward it is. At least that's how I felt when I first began commuting to and from work 6 years ago. Motorists are getting more and more used to seeing cyclists, especially at rush hour,
so they tend to be more aware. In recent times various factors such as the Congestion Charge, delays on public transport, and fear of terrorism have meant more people are taking to their bicycles.

Up until recently my commute would be roughly 10 miles - from Crystal Palace to Central London. A fairly straight forward route, up through Dulwich, Brixton, Oval, Westminster etc. In the summer it was like being on an unofficial organised bike ride, as masses of people were making that same South to North trip ! People would even get to race each other along the long straight stretches. As a girl on a bike I would suddenly find myself in a spa-ing match with some bloke who was a bit miffed I'd passed him - all you could hear was a clicking of his gears and heavy breathing as he went into power mode trying to catch me ! At the traffic lights he would sit there not making any eye contact, trying his utmost to look cool and unfatigued. But in fact he was knackered and mulling in his mind tac-tics on how to get ahead of me. All I was doing was just riding around at a steady pace trying to get to work ! All good fun.

I've now started a new job in Hampton Court. And now with a 16 mile commute I get a bit more of a work-out ! It's quite different to the Central London ride. Going East to West, through the suburbs has a more relaxed feel. Not so many people are riding that way, and they are probably not mad enough to ride that far ! I tend to see people riding in the opposite direction - especially around Wimbledon, Raynes Park and Kingston.

It took a while to find a route that I enjoyed. Some of the roads, especially around Mitcham and Colliers Wood get completely snarled up, and there are no bus lanes to use. But the Transport for London and the London Cycle Network maps take cyclists along quite a pleasant route, with most of it being on quiet roads and through parks. In fact, even though I now have further to ride I actually prefer it to the Central London commute. South West London seems to be a very cycle friendly area, with lots of direction signs for cyclists, dedicated cycle paths, and pelican crossings for bikes. And my journey always finishes on a high with the sight of the River Thames and Hampton Court Palace in all it's regal splendour ! It's very easy for me to say all this. The weather's been warm, and even sometimes sunny. The days are long, and I haven't had any punctures. Maybe I'll have a different opinion come November ! Ah well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

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