I took Florence (the Fuji cyclocross) into town for another day trip yesterday. A cyclocross designed for off road and multi terrain might seem a strange choice to take to London for the day. But actually she is perfect. With brake levers on the flat handlebars as well as the drops, rough tyres and a lightweight but strong frame she is flexible, easy to manoeuvre and brakes well. Much better for the unpredictability of the London traffic. Our purpose there was two fold. To visit Brooks Running for a technical meeting regarding a new shoe they are bringing out in the new year and to address much neglected bike handing skills.
Our first destination is the marvellous Look Mum No Hands cycle cafe in Old Street in the city. I really like it here for their excellent coffee but also because I know it’s somewhere safe to leave Florence. After losing the Focus cyclocross to a nasty hateful thief last year, the bikes safety has been a much higher priority. People cannot help developing an emotional attachment to their bikes and losing mine was an experience I didn’t want to repeat.
The journey there was uneventful and the cafe itself quiet in the late morning before the lunch time rush. Folks were sat outside in the courtyard sunning themselves while they enjoyed their drink. A restful bubble enveloped the space, making it feel far away from the usual city bustle happening just outside the gates.
I opted to sit inside and enjoy the peace. Although earlier that morning, the freshness of the air had opened the door to the possibility of Autumn, the light streaming through the windows was warm enough to believe that Summer was not about to desert us just yet.
I settled down with a copy of Rouleur Magazine and a coffee and turned my back on all of the tempting treats decorating the counter.
Gradually the empty spaces filled and noise levels increased until I could no longer ignore the time. My appointment was 6 miles away in Earls Court. I had planned to travel through the heart of the city to get there which would inevitably slow me down. Reluctant to leave but hating to be late, I slurped the last of the cooling coffee and started to gather my things together.
Five minutes later I set off along Old Street towards the Clerkenwell Road.
The ebb and flow of cyclists mixed in with other traffic was weirdly soothing as I revisited the feeling of cycling in the city. Horns tooting, drivers making snap decisions depending on the traffic ahead. Cabs being hailed and U-turning regardless of permission. Buses pulling in suddenly to the demands of passengers waiting patiently at stops. Work trucks and delivery vans and all of the hubbub that makes up city traffic. It was exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.
Knowing the relationship between motor vehicles and cyclists can sometimes be a little fraught, I deliberately followed the highway code, stopping at each red traffic light and pedestrian waiting at the pelican crossings. I allowed taxis and buses to pull out when they indicated their desire to do so and tried to ride as relaxed and courteously as safety would allow.
I found myself getting frustrated at other cyclists who would ignore red lights. They crossed, by weaving around pedestrians and vehicles who had right of way. Ignoring shouts from rightly aggrieved parties to cycle on to the next junction and repeat the process.
I made slow progress through Holborn and onto Shaftesbury Avenue. I had an exciting descent down the Haymarket avoiding pedestrians following each other across the road like sheep, or perhaps suicidal lemmings, ignoring the ‘do not cross’ warnings as traffic drove at them. One young boy panicked and got stranded in the middle of the road, eyes wide like a rabbit in headlights. He stood stock still as traffic drove around him until one forgiving bus driver stopped and flashed him across before he could come to any danger.
I pulled off the road at the end of Pall Mall to check my bearings before slipping back into the traffic making its way to Piccadilly. Here traffic was heavy and I was stationary, waiting for the lights turned to green. Behind me was a car, the driver intently staring at the screen of his mobile phone. The car drifted forward slowly until he clipped me with his wing mirror. Completely oblivious to the fact I was there I tapped gently on the side of the car door to wake him out of his mobile revere.
I frighted the shite of out him.
He jumped and then got out of the car and started shouting at me. I calmly explained that he had hit me with the wing mirror as he glided past. Taking a cursory glance at me he told me that I had no place being on the road in the first place and that it was my fault he hit me since I was such a fat cow he could hardly have missed me.
The chap in the white van behind us then chipped in to the defence of the car driver saying he had done nothing wrong. I tried to stay calm and explained that he had hit me and I was just bringing it to his attention since he clearly hadn’t seen me as he was so intent at looking at his phone I was just letting him know I was there. Then I might have told him to wind his neck in and butt out of the conversation! Oops, so much for calm.
The traffic ahead had started to move and so I got back on the bike and opted to pedal on the off side of the traffic to make better progress away from my protagonist in case he tried to exact revenge. I certainly felt safer with distance between us.
Once past Hyde Park and into Knightsbridge, the traffic flow was considerably better and I made good time to Earls Court and my meeting.
As I locked up the bike in the basement of the hotel where the meeting was due to take place, I reflected on the journey.
I like cycling in London very much. It is a challenge no doubt and it certainly teaches you about vulnerability on the bike. My old adage of ‘assume no one has seen you and everyone’s an idiot’ certainly served me well. But in most cases drivers were courteous and thoughtful.
The one run in I had I was certain occurred not because I was there per se, but was primarily a response to the fact I had frightened him. It could also have been a reaction to been caught reading his mobile while driving. The white van drivers reaction was interesting. I don’t know whether he witnessed the clip or not but he certainly had no problem coming to the drivers aid regardless of what he had seen. An interesting lesson for all cyclists I think when looking for independent witnesses in a collision.
Although looking at the behaviour of cyclists generally in the city, it’s not surprising that such antagonism exists. Very few of the cyclists observed the highway code. I found it quite embarrassing to be honest. Cyclists behaviour certainly needs to change to enable a change of attitude in car drivers.
But I had really enjoyed my time cycling in London and headed off to the meeting in a happy state of mind.