Thursday, 23 September 2010

London adventure!

I've bought a lovely Brompton bike in February 2010 (delivered in April 2010) but so far the poor bike has not seen London. So last week Thursday, I've decided to stop being afraid of London cycling and take the Brompton to London. After all, cycling is now supposed to be one of the preferred methods of travel in London. After the July bombings 5 years ago, cycling picked up - not only because of the Tube being out of action for repairs but also as people decided that it would be safer on a bike than on the Tube. When the Boris Bikes (Barclays London Cycle Hire Scheme) got launched, even more people took to the streets on two wheels! You would think there will be now more safety (in numbers) on the streets than three years ago. Hence why I decided that I should use the Brompton.

I had a meeting in Smith Square, so my travels had to take me from Euston station down to Smith Square. Planning a route was more difficult , so I used the Cyclestreets website which basically give you 3 options: a green route which is supposed to be the quietest, a yellow route which is the balanced route and the red route which is the fastest (but obviously also the busiest!)

Getting the Brompton on the train was fine. Someone was sitting in my reserved seat so after pointing that out (to him), he pointed to my Brompton and said that I might want to take it to the end of the carriage as there is space there. I politely pointed out that as the seats were back to back, there is enough space for it to fit between the seats. Silly man! Maybe he just had a go at me and my bike!

I got off at Euston and went to the side entrance where the folded bike took shape. Hooked the Brompton S-bag onto the frame, set up the Garmin with the loaded route, put on my yellow Viz jacket and pedalled off.

I'm an experienced road cyclist, or so I think, but let me tell you this: you haven't cycled until you've cycled in a big city like London! Whoa! The traffic was horrendous. Not exactly knowing the streets were also a disadvantage as early on in my route I found myself on a cycle path (hoorah!) but on the right hand side of the road and at the next traffic lights I had to turn left. Dilemma as the cycle path is a segregated path with a curb stone between it and the road so no moving over to the left side. So my route got adapted.

I pedalled hard and fast but you need to continue to look over your shoulder ALL the time and be aware of everything and everyone that is happening/moving around you. Quite exhausting really. At one point during the ride I found myself next to Trafalgar Square, stopped at a traffic light. Another cyclist stopped next to me and I said 'It is my first time cycling in London', when he replied: 'I just got knocked off my bike!' and showed me his bloodied knee and as he cycled away I could see some damage to his tracksuit. Mmm. NOT really the thing that I wanted to hear - being on my first ride in London!

Cycling back from the meeting was much better. I'm not sure why, maybe less traffic, maybe because the 'ice has been broken' but it was slightly better. Still quite daunting especially at a specific roundabout at the bottom of Trafalgar Square trying to get to the other side.

It was great seeing London from a different view. When you use the Tube, you see London where you enter the Tube and obviously where you exit it again, but you miss the middle bit. It was great to experience the sights of London. Cycling alongside Trafalgar Square was a surreal moment!

Retrospectively I should have taken the green route, although it was the quietest but slowest. It would've been better for my first time, but hey! I cycled in London and I will do it again from now on.