Newer readers may be surprised to learn that, along with being an ex-dancer and ex-runner, I was once also a cyclist. I started cycling purely for commuting purposes, but I gradually learnt to love it as an activity in its own right. That is, until I was involved in a life-changing accident. Since then, I have only been back on a bike once.
When I started working in London, I was dismayed to find that it took me 45 to 50 minutes to travel the five miles between home (Clapham) and work (Kensington), provided there was no delays. I did a little research and discovered it would only take me 25 minutes to cycle the same distance.
I loved the idea of knocking 40 to 50 minutes off my daily commute while squeezing in some extra exercise and saving money on public transport (not to mention I would avoid being trapped beneath someone’s sweaty armpit in rush hour). So I bought a bike.
I wish I had the help of a retailer such as 99 Bikes, who sell bicycles in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes, as I had no idea what I was looking for and probably got ripped off.
I bought a standard road bike, and decked myself out with all the accompanying protective and reflective gear. Surprisingly, I cycled for eight months in London and was only caught in the rain four times – not bad considering the city is infamous for rain!
Cycling in the winter was not always pleasant (especially when I had to cycle in the cold and dark to make it to my 7am clients!) but it was beautiful during the summer. My commute tracked alongside a couple of large parks, and of course cycling through the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea wasn’t bad. I even rode through downtown London a few times, which was pretty cool.
My godmother is a professional cyclist and had always encouraged me to try it, but I had no interest and I didn’t want it to interfere with my lifting. Surprisingly, I found cycling actually helped my training. As I wasn’t cycling long distances, it did not lead to overtraining. When I had post-workout muscle soreness, cycling helped to speed up my recovery. Improving my cardio fitness also meant I did not struggle so much with higher-repetition sets. And, unlike when I was running, I suffered no knee pain from cycling.
I felt fitter, and even got to eat a little more to support my extra activity. I felt so much happier for not being held at the mercy of the tube schedule, and for not being surrounded by grumpy Londoners.
The downsides were that I lost time I often used to read or catch up on emails during my commute, and that I had to shower when I arrived at work. London is also full of criminals, so I had my helmet and lights stolen a couple of times. Talk about first world problems.
Of course, the major downside was the day I was hit by a van and had to have three surgeries to repair my broken bones and detached retina.
I happened to move closer to work the week after my accident, so cycling was no longer necessary anyway, but I doubt I would have gotten back on a bike in any case – and definitely not my bike, as it was mangled beyond recognition.
I have been back on a bike once, and that was on Christmas day. As I was cycling by the river, there were no cars around and I felt completely safe. I was a very careful cyclist, but I lost all faith in the actions of drivers after what happened.
I’m not saying I would never cycle again. On days like yesterday, where I walked 20 kilometres, I do miss the convenience of cycling. If I end up in a bike-friendly country in Europe (for example, Amsterdam and Copenhagen have more bikes than cars!) I would absolutely get back in the saddle.
But, given how many accidents and fatalities occur in London, I don’t think I would ever cycle in that city again. I already escaped one near-death experience, so I don’t think I need to tempt fate again!
Have you ever cycled regularly? Was it for practical purposes or for fun?
Full disclosure: This post was sponsored by 99 Bikes but, as always, all opinions are my own.
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