Home
Escape velocity

Most city cyclists I know yearn for the country, and get out here every chance they get. My affair goes in the opposite direction. Once a city boy, a decade ago my wife, my bikes and I made the big move to a sheep catchment area. While my other half has never looked back, I still long for traffic choked streets and swearing taxi drivers, heedless pedestrians and commuter challenges as both spectator and occasional participant.

The city has a buzz it's impossible to ignore; the country has buzzing bees in quiet lanes that make me snore. When I'm lucky. Actually, country roads can have more of a sting than city streets. Out where roadkill is the sleeping policeman, cyclists compete with twisty hedge-coated bends as the chief traffic calming measure. I feel that the city really is safer.

Perhaps I'm the village idiot, but once a week I get on a train with a folding bike and escape to London. As we leave bucolia, pass through the commuter belt and slide into view of the Eye and the Shard, my melancholia lifts and my spirits soar. My fingers twitch in anticipation of the filtering to come and my legs ache to churn through the critical mass. A to B doesn't interest me here, as my arrival will be my terminus. I'll be my own Circle Line.

Boris Bikes are great, but my folder is my ticket to the sights, no docking stations necessary. Mostly I flit from museum to museum, taking full advantage of the freedom of free admission. (When visiting the British Museum I used to store it in their cloakroom, until they changed their rules a few years ago.) Hanging from my arm it's both luggage and conversation piece; I've had no end of chats that started with somebody eyeing it up and telling me they might be in the market for one, how do I like it? It's heavy on the arm I tell them, but I like it fine. You just have to keep those small wheels out of big potholes.

This is also my chance to go window shopping at the great bike shops, drooling over dream machines at Condor and nifty fixies at Kinoko Cycles – convenient to Chinatown, if you're in an Eastern mood in the West End – or just take a breather in one of the Evanses which dot the urban landscape.

To some extent I feel like an imposter on these daytrips, mingling with couriers and pedicabs and zipping past Look Mum No Hands (with hands firmly on handlebars down Old Street). You reached escape velocity, they seem to be saying. What are you doing back here with that hay in your hair, getting in my way like a tourist? I'm one of you, I want to answer back in this little one act mental play. I may not be carrying package or passenger, but I've got smoke in my bloodstream, too.

News of the mayor's plans for cycling superhighways doesn't move me, probably because such dedicated infrastructure isn't built for people with my taste for streetlife. I'm here for the mix, not to be separate but equal. I'm here because I love to slip down the red bus canyons of Oxford Street, thankfully no longer bendy. I'm here because as peaceful and lovely as it is back home, for a cyclist with the city in his blood there's no there there.

As my big adventure on my peewee bike draws to a close, my batteries recharged with the electricity I've just tapped into, I'll get back on that train with a contentment most of my weary fellow passengers can't know. They've just had a tough day at the office; not to put too fine a point on it, I've been goofing off. Same time next week?

10 comments

Avatar
backflipbedlem [1201 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Nice! Feel this should be made into some kind of documentary!
The joy of cycling, in all its forms!

Avatar
Sam Walker [71 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Perhaps David Attenborough could put one together, with an episode on city mouse/country mouse.

Avatar
Daveyraveygravey [692 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Saw a buzzard flying down the road in front of us today. In the country. Less than 50 miles from London. You can stick your city cycling and your lame folding bike.
Although I do sometimes detour to Brighton and even the A24 to get my fix...

Avatar
Sam Walker [71 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I ran your comment through Google Translate, as 'lame' doesn't describe my folding bike so it couldn't possibly be English. Google thought about it for a while, unable to detect the language but fairly certain it wasn't a compliment. Finally it decided on 'awesome'. Given that those little wheels have conquered the big city, awesome seems fitting, so I didn't argue.

Have fun whatever and wherever you ride, and whoever you ride with. Including buzzards.

Avatar
arfa [859 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

The vast majority of my cycling is clocked up commuting on a road bike across London.
I do also occasionally use a Brompton to knit together shorter hops around town and this is where I totally agree with your article. Being able to cross the west end in 15 minutes is just great as you wind around the near static traffic and it folds so easily and neatly that you just carry it wherever you need without the worry as to whether a lock will hold tea leaves at bay.
Anything but lame in my book !

Avatar
sm [409 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

My wheels are city slickers and I've been dreaming of moving to a sheep catchment area for quite some time, one with moors and hills nearby hopefully.

And yet, a tiny part of my brain marked madhatter wonders if I will miss the mania and adrenalin pumping city rides.

This from a man who enjoys ten plus laps of Regents Park, who gets up early to enjoy the city streets to himself, who damn well loves the thrill of riding in streets with more stories than he could possibly read.

Avatar
Beefy [379 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Good on ya, from a personal point o view I will ride around Liverpool, Preston and other northern Cities happily though I prefer the country roads which I suspect are more dangerous given the obscured views and the willingness to ride faster. To be honest the thought of riding in our capital is frightening, the only time I would consider it is on a closed road sportives.

Not to in anyway detract from your cycling pleasure, we are all individuals and though I'm a road bike fan, I must say folders particularly Bromptoms are cool. Happy riding

Great to read a nice piece which isn't having a go at people, just simply enjoying two wheels

Avatar
Angeld [16 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Damn... that dose of nostalgia hit me sidewise like a ton of bricks who forgot how gravity works. I used to love the London rush hour dash, missing that buzz now.

Where's me map... *wonders off, planning to be done*

Avatar
Sam Walker [71 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Whenever I go into the city without a bike I feel a pang of what I'm going to go ahead and call nostalgia for the last time (probably just the previous week) I was blissfully awheel. Being a pedestrian is an unnatural state. Or as Dorothy Parker almost put it,

Walking tires you;
Buses are crap;
The Tube perspires you
While minding that gap.
Cars stick in jams
Boil cabbie in kettle;
Cycling sculpts gams;
You might as well pedal.

Avatar
Initialised [334 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

This is why I like Newcastle, 5 miles one way and I'm in town dodging busses and errant pedestrians in the urban playground, 5 miles the other I have the Northumbrian or Durham hills to play with. Best of both worlds. And only 3 hours away from the centre of the universe!