Sunday, 30 October 2011

Final Destination: The horror of London streets

HALLOWEEN DISCLAIMER: Before you read this post, I want to remind you that the positives of cycling always outweigh the negatives, so don’t let my Halloween post put you off cycling!!
I’m scared of a few things in life (SPIDERS), but when it comes to the roads I have a few terrors. And on this Halloween,  I thought I’d share with you my top 3 cycle horror scenarios I fear most when cycling in London everyday; you may call it my very own cycling nightmare...
1.       The Car Door
It starts off with the car door. In the summer, I learnt of the sad news of Sam Harding who sadly died after a collision with a car door on Holloway Road. Hearing this news has made me wary and fearful when cycling down streets lined with parked cars. Only on Friday my partner narrowly escaped being knocked off his bike by someone carelessly opening a car door in his pathway. It also doesn’t help that I stumbled across this website [BE WARNED, it might make you want to stop cycling!]. I am now completely paranoid of car doors and try my best to cycle more central in the road. Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable when cycle lanes are placed right alongside stretches of parked cars like on Percival Street in central London.  Let's put in bike lanes away from parked cars Boris!
2.       Heavy Goods Vehicles
Source: Cyclists in the City Blog (minus the red horns)
HGV’s, the ultimate beasts of the road! The thunderous sound of the engine and the heavy load pounding the pavement behind you is enough to make you want to crawl into the gutter and hide. Well this is not advised!! My fear is accidentally falling off my bike in the path of an HGV revving up behind me, or being trapped on the inside of an HGV making a left turn, or being in the advanced stop line and the HGV driver not noticing I am there and running me over.....just a few things which pop into my head on a daily basis. These beasts are a continual haunt!
3.       Potholes
Lastly, this might not sound scary but when it’s dark and if you are cycling in Islington/Camden then you are in for a frightful ride. Visibility is low at night-time which means I am often unexpectantly flung to-and-fro on my bike from cycling over potholes. I cling onto the handlebars hoping my grip will remain and won’t be knocked off by the lumps and bumps of our roads. Watch out for Hornsey Lane, it’s like a scary rollercoaster.
So there we have it, my top 3 terror list of the roads! Let’s get an exorcist and remove all these frights from our rides forever. Happy Halloween cycling!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Autumn cycle ride around Hampstead Heath

With last weeks crisp, cold weather, I have been thinking hard about my autumn/winter cycling wardrobe trying to take into account style and warmth for my cycle to work. Last week I made the transition from light jacket and no gloves to winter jacket and thick gloves. This ‘look’ didn’t last long because once again our warm autumn sun returned for a brief farewell on Sunday for my cycle ride around Hampstead Heath.
I know, my eyes are closed!
I was planning on putting my winter coat get up on, but sensibly decided to wear a summer T-shirt, corduroy trousers (I know it’s not 1999 but they are coming back I tell you!) and a thrifted duck scarf for a touch of granny chic to complete the look, after all I was going to Hampstead Heath!
I found the cycle route of Hampstead on the London Cyclist Blog. It was a lovely ride on roads full of large houses I wish I owned, village-esque sights and a fair few hills!! The ride takes you around and through the Heath passing one of the bathing ponds where I got to see two brave men taking a dip in the swampy water. The best part of journey was stopping off for a walk around the Hampstead Pergola, along Inverforth Close. It was like a hidden secret garden in Italy rather than London!

I’m not all up to speed with GPS and bike computers so instead I used my TFL cycle map and inked the route in red pen. This worked well, but as you can see from the picture below it turned out that I am not skilled in folding a map in gusty winds.

Red pen to mark out route
Overall, it was a beautiful and relaxing autumn ride which I highly recommend. The London Cyclist e-book has plenty of other rides around London and you can buy it here. It’s going on my Christmas list!
On a final note, I just want to say that autumn is my favourite month to cycle in, but I really do find it hard to dress appropriately, I’m either far too hot under my winter jacket, or far to chilly without. The same goes with my hands -gloves can make them hot and sweaty but without they are throbbing with numbness.
Have you been on any autumn cycle rides and what did you wear? How to you dress for the changeable weather?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Cyclists are a passionate bunch

If you are on Twitter (Follow me!), you might have seen the tweet ‘I hate Cyclists!!!!! #getacar.’ by the English rugby player, Danny Care a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think he realised the storm which was about to ensue. Of course it didn’t do him any favours that Mark Cavendish retweeted the offending message to thousands of avid cyclists who responded by barraging Care with defensive tweets about cycling, and rightly so! Armstrong's retaliation suitably put Care in his place ‘All cyclists? That's a bit of an ignorant comment, no? #ihavegotmanycarsthankstoridingmybike’. Profusely apologising, Care deleted the tweet and said that he didn’t realise cyclists were so passionate. Passionate???! Who would have thought! I don’t know about you but this is not news to my ears, sometimes two wheels ain’t as easy as A to B on these streets, passion is what drives us!
So to my satisfaction the other day at work I was once again witness to the passion we cyclists have for our delightful mode transport. I turned on my computer to find a string of e-mails in reply to the following message sent from our environmental officer:

‘Cyclists leaving their locks on the stands inside the cycle shed in an attempt to ‘reserve’ their parking space. This is totally unacceptable and not fair on other cyclists…Please remember to remove your locks whenever you remove your bikes….Security will be posting signage in the shed to remind everyone of this, and hopefully we won’t resort to more stringent enforcement measures.’
I don’t know about you but I think it is commonplace that cyclists do this to save them from lugging their heavy locks to and from work everyday,  certainly not to reserve a bike space. This e-mail was another ill-informed attack on cyclists, where assumption overtakes reason. But don’t worry my friend! My e-mail inbox grew thick and fast with reply e-mails from fellow cyclists justifying the real reasons why cycle locks are left in bike parks. What started as another negative cycling statement turned into an interesting, logical debate and reminded me that my work has a healthy cycling community. 
So rest assured! As with all good debates, a solution was suggested and accepted. Bolts will be installed in the shed for cyclists to store their locks on and signage will be put up to inform people that it’s ok to lock their bikes to stands with locks on. A much nicer message on signs than what was initially planned I think you would agree! And also a lesson learned for the environmental officer to not make uninformed judgements.
My conclusion is don’t underestimate the voice of the cycling community, we are a passionate bunch!

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Blackfriars Flashride

It was Wednesday evening, mid-week blues time, the weather was turning grey,  there was a chill in the air and the tiredness of work was setting in......but that didn't stop the masses from attending the Blackfriars flash ride! And if you read my last post, I made sure I was one of them.

If you are not up to speed with what the Blackfriars flash ride was about, then let me explain. It was a protest to show the Mayor of London that the redesign of Blackfriars bridge will not be safe enough for the many cyclists and pedestrians that cross it daily. On top of that, the protest was to highlight that cyclists will no longer be ignored and shunned to the curb. We are a collective voice asking for more provision to make cycling in London and the UK safe and welcoming for everyone. So with my activist hat on (aka cycle helmet), I made my way to the bridge under the grey evening sky to show Boris how it's done.

Making myself heard..

As I was waiting to meet my friend at the foot of the bridge, the crowds around me were growing by the minute. Cyclists from all walks of life were creeping out from their high-vis jackets. There were children, cycle chic scenesters, MAMIL's, suited office workers, cyclist enthusiasts, Boris bikers, pedestrians and many more.

And so the ride began! We cycled at walking pace across the bridge ringing our bells to the back drop of London illuminated with the distant sounds of cars and buses. Now I mentioned in my last post that my ride to work is resembling more and more like a traffic nightclub (not a good thing), well I'm pleased to say that the flash ride was the ultimate CYCLE nightclub (a good thing) made true by the hundreds of flashing red and white bike lights and fluorescent jackets, an amazing feast for the eyes of the cycle-istas out there! I'm pleased to have rocked my new Knog bike lights and shifted a few moves on my 80's Sorento Falcon bicycle or you can call it post- acid house motion machine.

Bike lights and flashing high-vis jackets everywhere!
My bike sign
It was truly wonderful to see so many people come together on two wheels to show their support for the efforts of the LCC and make a stand against atrocious transport planning. We can't be ignored anymore, Wednesday night proved that there are just too many of us!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Why I'm going to the Blackfriars Bridge Flashride (Traffic Nightclub)

I have noticed that since the summer ended, the roads are filled with more cars, more lorries, more buses and more vans (and more cyclists!). This means that cycling down Hornsey Rise is frequently becoming more of a squeeze as cars, Lorries, vans and buses all battle it out to get to their destination the quickest. All the while there is traffic chaos on this road, displaying itself in the form of lots of large lumps of metal, rubber and glass sitting at traffic lights, sitting at pedestrian crossing, trying to turn left, right, wherever. And then there is myself and other cyclists dangerously dancing close to lorries and vans as they attempt to overtake by squeezing around us like we are at a traffic nightclub or something. Not clever Trevor!!
So this morning it finally happened, what I have been silently expecting to happen some time or another. A white van man who seemed to drive by the ethos of #CyclistsShouldBeRunOver came storming past me, cramming me to the gutter. Once stationery, I reluctantly passed the van and then went on my way. And that was the end of that. Until I realised the familiar squeak of my boyfriends bike was no longer chirping behind me. I stopped and pulled up on the pavement and waited a bit to find him coming towards me shaking his head. The white van had failed to signal to turn left and subsequently proceeded to cut my boyfriend up, leaving him to quickly leap off his bike onto the pavement with seconds to spare before his legs would have been caught under the tyres. Luckily the only thing which got run over was the back of his bike which now has a very wonky back wheel in need of replacing.
Thankfully my boyfriend had his super wits about him and survived his ordeal unhurt. He mentioned that if it had happened to me, I would have been under the van wheels (me? surely not with my amazing agility?!). Its frustrating that as a cyclist you are powerless, the van just drove away and will never be seen again. I know that these close scrapes occur everyday across London and the UK and that thousands of roads look just the same as Hornsey Rise on a gloomy Monday morning. I’m not much of an activist but it made me realise that something needs to be done BIGTIME.
So this is why I’m going to the Blackfriars flash ride on Wednesday 12th October 5.45pm. I’m not going to argue about what TFL are doing wrong and how we can improve the city, I’ll leave that up to the expert bloggers and activists like ibikelondon and Cyclists in the City and the LCC. I just want to go to show my support for the campaigners and wish for a safer cycling future in London. One where cyclists and drivers alike are vigilant and respectful and more provision is available to reduce the traffic nightclub scenario I just love to experience in the mornings. You should come too!

Black Friars Flash Ride: Meet at at 5.45pm, outside Doggetts pub, on Wednesday 12 October 2011.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Cycle and Sniff - The Bad

Trolly Tracks
It is hard to ignore that for every pleasant smell you encounter when cycling a city (See this post) there is a disgusting pong you have to endure. But hey!  At least it’s better than smelling car aircon or magic tree freshener for your whole journey! .... Or the sweaty person sitting next to you on the bus ....Or the person eating McDonalds on the train (I’ll stop now, as I can go on...).

So here is a list of the worst pongs I encounter on my commute-
  1. Rubbish lorry – Getting stuck behind one of these bad boys is not to be desired, especially first thing in the morning when your breakfast hasn’t quite settled. Watch out for Thursday mornings in Islington, it's their bin day!
  2. Cigarette Smoke – I experienced this the other week. A car passenger hanging a fag out of the window right in my face as I waited for the traffic lights. What a joy it was! Be sure to mind where they flick the cigarette butt!
  3. Car fumes – you didn’t think I would forget this smell did you? No need to explain this.
  4. Sewers – When a nice heat wave overcomes the city, there's nothing like the whiff of warm sewer smell to breeze past you on your bike ride. Try Bunhill row or any road in the square mile on a hot day.
My top tip to overcome these stenches is to breathe through your mouth and not your nose, and don't forget to pedal as fast as you can to overtake the smelly pong. A pleasent smell is always waiting around every corner.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Cycle and Sniff - The Good

One of my favourite pleasures of my daily cycle commute is often overlooked and undocumented by others. It is the capacity to pass through so many different scents whilst pedalling around a city. You wouldn’t think that cycling in such an overcrowded, polluted place that you could breathe in pleasant smells, but you can and when you do they are like little nuggets of delight.
So here are some of the smells I enjoy when I'm on my bike-
1.      Scent of flowers – This is the ultimate aroma and I'm lucky that I pass a stretch of road everyday which smells of floral heaven. I haven’t been able to track down the specific plant but this fragrance has been going strong for 3 months now – let’s hope it survives winter!

2.      Laundry – If you ever get to pass a launderette make sure to take in the sumptuous whiff of washing detergent. It’s nice I tell you. Passing a launderette + potholes + rain = replicating being in a washing machine! You can’t beat it. Try passing Eskimo Laundry on Mackenzie Road, N7 for a sniff.

3.      Wood smoke- Ok, so I didn’t expect that living in London there would be the countryside wood smoke smell that I am so fond of but it does and I can’t get enough of it, especially during Autumn.

4.      Dinner – Yes please! There is nothing like cycling through a street when every house in the entire road is cooking what smells like a Michelin star dinner...So it’s probably just Garlic, onions and spices but it’s lovely. Make sure to cruise down Ashley Road, N19 for the best dinner aromas.
Do you have any smells to add to the list?
Don't miss my next post Cycle and Sniff – The Bad. You wouldn’t think I would forget the pongs of cycling in the city did you?..