Over recent weeks I have finally taken the step I have threatened to for a long time. I have dusted off the as yet unused Claud Butler Lombard St, single speed I bought last year. Slapped some Continental Gatorskin 25's on it, my collection of Lezyne lights, and my Garmin Edge 810, and started using it for the short commute to work.
I would love to say the decision was driven by my desire for a cleaner London, because of Sadiq Kahn's constant babble about it, but that just would not be true. Although it does indeed mean I am creating less pollution, and one extra parking space in SE16.
If there is one thing I am very conscious of when it comes to cycling, especially in London, it is visibility, and being seen. Wearing the right gear is key to me. Lycra is a necessary evil I'm afraid, and it is used shamelessly, daily! Hi-vis, reflective, lights, good helmet, and my new best friend, my Deuter Race Exp Air backpack. What a piece of kit it is. A commuter cyclists best friend.
Last year, when I started cycling lots, I became very engrossed in leisure road rides, solo and with friends, I covered 2,000 miles "just for fun". Whenever anyone asked why I didn't ride to work, the age old excuse of "the roads are too dangerous" was useless, as I was using them for most rides anyway. So a new excuse was invented. "It's not worth the time getting ready"
In fairness this is a valid point, especially when getting ready for a long road ride, but with a few tweaks, it's actually not too bad.
Swapping bib shorts for undershorts, and topping them with overshorts. Having most things for the ride pre-packed into my backpack and saddle bag. The simplicity of a single speed, and the lack of cleats, means I can almost just get on and go. As long as I have a change of clothes at the other end of course. And so it begun.
With a couple of test rides to find a route and my rhythm, I felt I was ready to take on the commute daily First few days were exhausting. While not a long ride, it's a shock to get up from a desk and ride, especially early days. A few weeks in, and its all good fun.
Given that the ride to work is now only about 17 mins (5 Miles), my old excuse about the time to get ready is still valid. It would be pointless almost. But as it is getting easier, I have become more adventurous about the routes I take, adding more and more miles to both directions. A 10 mile round trip can now be up to 25 miles long. Still room to add to that of course, but early days. It has also driven me to a whole new collection of challenges I didn't even know existed.
So there it is, I now commute to work, Yay!
However, this isn't where the story ends. In fact, I am just getting started.
For years, not being a cyclist, I always has the bad experience bias, light jumpers, traffic weavers, lane hoggers. Bloody cyclists! But as I started riding for fun, and spending more time on the roads, I soon realised that there are A LOT of excellent, polite and considerate cyclists out there. Amongst the idiots of course. So now I knew about road cycling, especially in London, right?
It turns out that the time of day I usually ride for fun, is a totally different time of day to the "rush hour". So I thought I would add some observations here.
First up, a small group of commuter cyclists are frickin diabolical! No attention to traffic lights, rights of way, and no respect for other road users. Riding dangerously, and putting other cyclists at risk, with their weaving in and out of traffic, sudden direction changes, and unpredictable actions.
One thing I observed on Jamaica Road the other day, coming onto the roundabout was the utter chaos that occurs when a group of commuter cyclists reach an impasse in the road. Stationary traffic, 3 lanes, and onto the roundabout too. What was the chosen action? SCATTER ! A cluster of 10-15 cyclists, all taking different routes. Any motorist sitting in that would have been overwhelmed as to where to look to check it was safe to proceed. The same scene can be found at multiple bottlenecks on London's roads. Another is the Old Kent Road, the same thing happens. And I can tell you from a motorists point of view, it is horrible to sit there, looking in all your mirrors, wondering when it will be safe to go.
I guess in some ways you can compare it to the same attitude with motorists. At a certain time of day, it becomes everyone for their own, and no one really cares about the next persons journey. Difference is, do that in a car, hit another and you end up with an insurance claim. Do the same on a bike and it is totally different. Come off on a busy road in the rush hour, and you will do well not to be hit by a motor vehicle. Jostling for position, nudging people out of your way, not giving other cyclists space as you decide to pass them and pull in front of them. These are just a few things I see as a commuter, but less so as a leisure cyclist, unless in a Sportive (then it gets a little tasty).
The thing is, from experience, the difference between a good run to work or home, and a "slow" one, is usually a few minutes at best. Are you really telling me you are willing to die, be injured, or harm someone else for 3 minutes? If so, you are pathetic!
When I see news of cyclists being killed on London's roads, these are the first group of people who spring to my mind. Mindless idiots, willing to jump lights, and skip across a busy, moving junction, because they are more important than anyone else!
The other group are the ones who should really not be on the road. The wanders. Meandering along the roads and pavements, carefree, headphones on, in their own little world. Blissfully unaware of anyone else using the roads, so just rolling out in front of other road users, making no progress whatsoever, and sitting between a lorry and a bus in traffic, completely unaware of their impending doom.
I know not all accidents are the cyclists fault, in fact I am not sure I would ever care to guess which party is usually found responsible for the accidents. But having seen the risks some are willing to take to get past a single vehicle, I am certain there is a percentage which is cyclist fault.
Personally I will not filter between large vehicles unless they are stationary, AND I can clearly see that there is no possibility of them moving in the time it takes me to pass them. In traffic I consider myself courteous towards other road uses.....Unless of course they act like a dick. Take yesterday for an example ... Close call!
There have been a couple of occasions now where I have come close to an accident, which I would consider not my fault (not that that would change my injuries should a collision have occurred).
There is the above incident, where an elderly driver taking a turn into a restricted area, read the wrong traffic signal and pulled across my path, but remained convinced I was in the wrong.
And a few days before in Blackheath where someone pulled onto a roundabout from my left causing me to swerve. After shouting at her, she caught me up, asked me to repeat myself, then refused to apologise (even though she said she had planned to) as she didn't like the tone of my comment. Apparently you are meant to be jovial and happy when someone almost knocks you off your bike.
In the past few week, due to things happening out there, I have made some changes to my bike. Upgrading the brake calipers to Shimano 5800 105, and changing the rear pads to SwissStop. Give me that extra little chance of stopping when the next idiot comes along.
All in all, given that I have previously said that commuting on bike would not be enjoyable, I have really enjoyed it. I love finding different routes to ride to add the miles up, and have to say it is really keeping me on my toes. Not to mention that Strava and Relive are working overtime to produce all my ride data for me. I do love a Relive video.
So I will continue to ride to work, and might even take one of the other bikes at some point to see if I can beat some of my single speed times. Carefully of course.
One other thing, using a single speed daily is a real eye opener, showing you what you can really do without dropping down the gears, if you really put your mind to it. More about that another time though.
Til then, safe cycling people, and communist commuters, calm your arses down!