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Old 06-28-07, 05:51 PM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: North Acton, West London, UK
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london uk cycle commuter report

stop me if you've seen this before as it's a very old report - I did NOT write this report - all I did was cut and paste from the BBC website

A near miss in the London bomb attacks last year turned a commuter off the Tube and onto a bike. It was a 12-month initiation into a confrontational world of urban cycling.

On 7 July 2005, I was only a few yards from the number 30 bus in Tavistock Square when the bomb was detonated.

It would have been many times worse to be trapped underground, but every time I used the Tube after the attacks I had a tight feeling in my chest and found my eyes darting towards every backpack.

It is easier now, but only recently I let three trains go before feeling safe to board.

For seven years, the Tube had been how I travelled to work in Tavistock Square. For me, the Tube was London. There were fine places in the capital, but nothing so wonderful as that Wonka-esque network of trains that joined them up.

Most Tube travellers went back to the network straight after the attacks. Some were stoic and defiant, as the papers reported, some worked out the odds of being a victim were still small. Most, I suspect, travelled by Tube because there was no other way to get to work.

Thanks to Boris Johnson, I realised I had an alternative. On the day of the bombs we were milling around the streets when I saw the MP quietly pushing his bike through the crowds. If Boris could cycle into work every day and look no more crumpled than he usually did, so could I.

Mapping the future

At home was an old mountain bike, and I made a route by sticking together four pages of the A to Z. It appeared to be about eight miles each way and none of the streets included the word "hill". Easy compared to the Cotswolds where I had once lived.

The main difference between cycling in rural Gloucestershire and London soon struck me, or at least it would have done had I not swerved in time. You might sum up the problem as Other People. On my first day I was in a narrow street near King's Cross, following a 4x4, when suddenly the passenger door flew open and a women jumped out. I avoided her only by hitting a parked car.

At first, her lips formed into the word "sorry", but seeing my thundery expression, she changed her mind. By-passing the usual process of apology, rejection, then blazing row, she cut straight to stage three. She started to swear at me, at length and with some style, pointing out that I should have known she was about to jump from a moving car.

If a "Glasgow kiss" is actually a head-butt, then abuse in lieu of contrition perhaps ought to be called the "London apology".

To the joy of car doors swinging open, add the already tenuous cycle lanes filled with parked cars, bendy buses, school runs, late signals, no signals and the thwack of a poorly-applied England flag as a car overtakes.

Bike bad guys

OK motorists, now it's your turn. Let's hear it for the cyclists who jump lights, veer between road and pavement, overtake as you are trying to turn, make late signals, make no signals, and thwack your paintwork with their handlebars.

We don't always get on, do we? There is such a weary ritual of abuse between some cyclists and motorists that they no longer even bother to shout, just silently mouth a few words.

It does not have to be like this. In my part of east London, cyclists and drivers often give way to each other, much more so than in the centre. They may be better mannered, or the presence of really quite big people with tattoos might discourage the usual posturing.

And there are many more dangerous places to cycle than London. It's worse in those calm, sensible towns where it is assumed you will always follow the rules. In London the morning commute is slow enough to let you make mistakes and gloomy enough to expect them.

Anyway, I would rather face a car than a speed bump. Cars swerve dangerously to avoid bumps and they are my main source of punctures, because of the broken glass that gathers around them.

That is the last thing I will say on behalf of other cyclists, as I cannot claim to represent those faceless and unacknowledged opponents in the Great Race.

Secret race

A race, yes, but an unusual one in that most cyclists are not even aware it is taking place. This is ideal, for I am absurdly but secretly competitive and have an almost pathological need to be first away at the lights.

The small number of cyclists who are in the know duel with great nonchalance and no acknowledgement of their opponent. The trick is to cycle at maximum speed until the point of overtaking, and then sit back in the saddle as you pass, looking straight ahead as if the mere breeze is carrying you forward.

I even have a scoring system which gives double marks for passing anyone wearing Lycra. Overtaking a bike courier would theoretically score five, but I have never done it.

Unlike those Knights Without Brakes, I have to wear a suit for work, and this can be awkward. If only I had David Cameron's Lexus following respectfully behind.

Having to bring in clothes means shirts tend to get worn a little longer than they should, and I often forget my shoes, although the resulting combination of pin-stripe suit and geeky trainers is quite fashionable thanks to Dr Who.

And the views cycling in London are so vivid that it is like seeing in colour for the first time. You notice the seasons, which are not obvious in a city. I have picked blackberries on the way home in late summer and felt my hands cracking like plaster from January through to March.

Most of all, there is nothing as satisfying as those moments where you step out on a dark night, the wind blowing, the rain beating down, with a long journey ahead - and decide to catch the Tube instead.
shameless POWERCRANK plug
Recommended reading for all cyclists - Cyclecraft - Effective Cycling
Condor Cycles - quite possibly the best bike shop in London
Don't run red lights, wear a helmet, use hand signals, get some cycle lights(front and rear) and, FFS, don't run red lights!

Last edited by markhr; 06-29-07 at 01:29 PM.
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