Over Christmas I read Messengers by Julian Sayarer, a book full of stories – sometimes scathing – of the capital from life as a courier. The whole book perfectly encapsulated the elation of zipping around the city on two wheels, making me want to hop on my own trusty bike. I cycled everywhere when I was a student in Manchester (on a rusty maroon Raleigh that seemed to suffer a puncture every week) and when I moved to London I was adamant I would do the same regardless of the higher risk and even denser traffic. Buying a bike would definitely be my number one piece of advice for anyone moving to the city, or for anyone finding the capital a bit overwhelming. Here’s why:
1. Exercise – never mind fitting the gym into your busy week or rushing after work to a fitness class, the beauty of cycling is that you’re simply getting from A to B and it happens to be exercise. I cycle at least an hour a day as my commute is around 5 miles. Admittedly, the gradients aren’t much of a struggle and there’s too much traffic and people to gain real speed, but it certainly beats sitting on the tube. Before 9am everyday I’ve already had 20-30 minutes of exercise in the fresh air, blood pumping and limbs moving, preparing my body for a day of sitting down.
2. Morning meditation – ‘mindfulness’ is the biggest trend to hit London and although I’m a yoga obsessive, I find it too hard to commit to a Headspace meditation every morning (no matter how soothing Andy Puddicombe’s voice). After thinking about this, I realised cycling is my meditation. I’m silent, completely locked into my own thoughts and avoiding collision keeps my mind alert first thing in the morning. Working in communications, I’ve realised this peaceful part of my day is vital to keeping me sane.
3. Freedom – I often spend entire weekends exploring London on my bike. I’ll zip from yoga class to lunch with a friend, west to a gallery, east to the pub or back up north to the cinema. Tube issues or slow buses don’t affect me and I’m not restricted by TFL timetables.
4. Speed – cycling really is the quickest way to get around. A couple of my friends have taken to podcast fuelled walks, but I don’t have the patience for that. A bike has the speed of the road but the flexibility of the pavement (if necessary) so niftily weaving through traffic means I am always on time.
5. Money – it would cost me £6.20 to commute to work and back each day, not to mention evening plans. Although bikes do come at an expense (brakes, punctures, kit, new tyres and the bike itself) I know I have saved hundreds over the years. I’ve also learnt basic skills in how to fix my loyal mechanical contraption (with the help of many YouTube tutorials).
Of course there are negatives…
1. Clothes – as a woman travelling by bike certain items of clothing should be avoided: heels, short skirts/dresses, tight jeans, smart shirts (or anything white for that matter). This means I am less creative with how I dress, but it’s a small price to pay. I’d rather feel good inside than just look good. My usual attire is waterproof coat, boots, rucksack and anything I don’t mind getting dirty. I pack my outfit for work every morning, changing at the office, meaning sometimes the full ensemble of these haphazard selections can be… interesting.
2. Forever sweaty – gone are the days I would arrive at social events with immaculate make up and perfectly put together outfit, now I’m in a perpetual state of sweat. However, these dewy beads remind me of my improved level of fitness and now my friends would expect no less than a panting, damp guest.
3. Spontaneity – there have been times during my years in London where I’ve had to turn down a night out or head home early because I’m burdened with my bike and cannot risk a drunk cycle home. But, again, health over hangover is not a bad trade.
4. Excuses excuses – I scowl at colleagues who blame “tube issues” on their tardiness. I do not have this luxury. I also have no excuse to work from home in the case of a tube strike.
5. Weather – I can plan ahead, but living in Britain means it’s inevitable I will get stuck in a downpour every so often. I mean, desperately trying to escape the rain and the cold as quickly as possible just makes me pedal faster.
However, these are small sacrifices to make for the childish joy I get from flying down my steep road every morning, until I remember I have to puff and pant back up it 10 hours later…
(I’ve now upgraded to a beautiful Bobbin!)