OPINION

How lockdown helped me (and the dog) finally crack 30 Days of Biking

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In these strangest of times, getting out for a daily ride has been a welcome escape and chance to reflect

30 Days of Biking, which challenges people to ride their bike every day throughout the entire month of April, has just celebrated its tenth birthday – and this year, during what is undoubtedly the strangest month I’ve ever lived through, I managed to complete it for the first time.

Living in a small Cotswolds town in the first half of the decade, where all the local amenities were within walking distance, I’d get out for a ride in the countryside on my road bike perhaps once or twice a week.

Moving to Cambridge five years ago, and now spending most of my time in London, my Elephant Bike, usually with my dog in the front basket, has become my main way of getting around – but still, it takes a conscious effort to get out each day.

Strangely enough, it was the lockdown imposed on the UK in late March that has given me the structure and the motivation to take that once-a-day ride throughout an entire month.

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While in one sense the instruction to only leave the house for essential reasons didn’t change much for me – I’ve been working from home for more than a decade – in other ways, it changed everything.

Gone for now is the mid-afternoon walk to the café with the dog and laptop to carry on working, or heading to the pub in the evening to watch the football, or to catch up with friends at a rugby match at the weekend.

Meanwhile, the solitude I previously had working from home has disappeared, with my partner and her son both working remotely, three of us tapping away on our keyboards in this two-bedroom flat, a small balcony our only outside space.

Elodie, my Miniature Schnauzer, still needs her daily walk, and I’ve slotted into the role of chief shopper for the household – both of which can be combined with my daily outdoor exercise on the bike, and it’s an opportunity I’ve embraced.

On a typical day, I’ll go out for a couple of hours in the late afternoon or early evening, ride to somewhere pleasant, and give the dog her walk. It gives me some time to get lost in my own thoughts, while giving my girlfriend and her son a bit of space to themselves.

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There have been no mammoth rides. On days off in the past, I’d happily cover 50, even 100 kilometres exploring London on my bike, dog in tow. My longest ride this month came in at less than 20 kilometres, but on a typical day it’s more likely to be 10 kilometres at most.

I’m lucky enough, though, to have some lovely places to ride to within easy reach, the closest being our local park, a couple of kilometres away, that previously I’d only visited once or twice.

Now, it’s become a sanctuary in the evenings when it’s quiet, perhaps taking some bread for the ducks and geese, the bats emerging in the twilight reminding me it’s time to head back.

Slightly further afield, there’s the riverside at Richmond, Kew or Chiswick to visit – for the latter, I've learnt to check the tide tables before heading out to ensure the road won’t be flooded by the rising river, or that it will be low enough that we can walk down the steps to stroll on the foreshore, away from the bustle of the towpath.

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Indeed, it's become as much a part of the pre-ride routine as taking panniers for the shopping and Elodie’s blanket for her to sit on in the basket, plus ensuring I have the small, black bags needed for when my small, black dog eventually deigns to undertake her daily business.

I find myself taking delight in small things – a flower, the blossom on the trees, the parakeets flying overhead, the brief glimpse of a fox as I return home – and engaging in the seemingly quaint pursuit of ‘admiring’ a view of the river or the landscape, a handsome building, an unusual-looking houseboat, or some other fancy that catches my eye.

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I’ve also discovered that while you can still grab a coffee from the petrol station across the road from Gunnersbury Park, a much better one can be had from the family-run Italian deli by the Thames in Chiswick where the entire shop has effectively been moved outdoors and trading conducted amid rigorous social distancing. 

It’s helped, of course, that for most of April, the weather here was glorious and, if truth be told, when it turned a couple of days ago, had I not been 48 hours short of completing the month, I might have just taken the dog downstairs and encouraged her to go about her affairs as quickly as she could before returning to the warm, dry flat.

Instead, we headed out on the bike, both wrapped up against the rain and the cold, and again yesterday evening to make it a bike ride (and, of course, a dog walk) for every day of the month.

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And so May begins, and I’ve settled into a pleasant daily routine that, more than four weeks after it began, will hopefully be a hard one to break.

30 Days of Biking may be over until it returns in September, but – with a day off work today, to boot – I’ll sign off now and head out to begin my own, unofficial 31-day version.

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Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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