One of the great things about cycling is you are much more connected to your surroundings. I think I first realized this many years ago after I’d been cycling a lot more then I had to drive somewhere. I was in my car heading back in towards a rather awkward junction in Streatham in the pissing rain in the dark. I felt as if I was blind!
Suddenly I had these pillars blocking blocking parts of my view. The small piece of window I could see of was frantically being cleaned by my wipers and I couldn’t hear a damn thing! It was then that I think I realized how much I rely on ALL my senses whilst travelling by bike, even in the pouring rain I’m much more aware of what is happening around me then in the car. I feel disconnected from the road in there. But when I’m on my bike I feel very much part of the traffic, I can hear it breathe around me and have nothing obstructing my view.
Another great advantage of not being hived off in a little metal box is that it’s much easier to interact with your environment and other road users. I know you can sort of do this in a car (heck you have enough time whilst sitting in queues to look around) but I’m talking about those “moments” when you make a brief connection with another human being.
One of these happened was earlier this week as I was heading up the ramp from Wandsworth r/b towards Tooting. It’s not a long hill but you certainly feel it and I was slogging away up it and sensed another rider behind me. He swung out to the right side and I hugged the left. I looked over and we exchanged a knowing smile 🙂 He then commented “Windy today” and we both just smiled and dug a little deeper to keep up…….also earlier in the ride I’d had a chat with another cyclist who asked had I heard her swore (as if I’d care, I could make a sailor turn red with my mouth……) it turned out some kids at the bus stop thought it would be funny to “pretend” to push their friend into the road in front of her. Hilarious I’m sure if the cyclist had fallen off, I’m sure they wouldn’t be laughing when the police arrive however.
Then the following morning as I was heading up Queenstown Road towards Battersea and I arrived at a set of traffic lights. Stopped alongside me was a chap with a kiddy trailer on his bike. I smiled as I love seeing people using bikes to transport kids! As the lights go green the young boy in the back yells “Go Daddy!” and promptly kicks the rear wheel 🙂 All meant very kindly but I couldn’t help but smile at this funny and wonderful little moment, I’m hoping the helmet cam caught it so I can post it up!
That evening I was doing my usual job of not racing along The Embankment when a rider (who I had already overtaken previously) came past drafting a scooter! Now this is basically like a red rag to a bull for me! I set about chasing him down and once he’d lost his wind block he slowed up a bit. We then managed to form a small peloton of 4 as the 2 of us caught another couple of riders. Once the traffic snarled up he hopped onto the pavement and slowed up ALOT. I carried on down the road and again gave him a glance and we exhanged a knowing smile. Although we didn’t acknowledge it earlier we both did now 🙂 One of the tennants of Silly Commuter Racing is not showing any signs of actually being in a race….something we both clearly missed as we responded quite clearly to each others accelerations 🙂 I then had a bit of a filtering fubar and got hemmed in behind some vehicles before Battersea Bridge. The cheeky sod only rides past on the pavement and says “Your stuck now!” before dropping off the pavement at the front of the queue just as the lights go green. I didn’t see him again after that, the traffic was fairly heavy and he was far enough ahead for me to lose sight of him. Damn shame…..
I guess what I’m trying to say really is humans are social animals. Cycling gives me a chance to connect with and interact with other riders that driving doesn’t. I think it’s the happy endorphins that are released during exercise that sparks it off as if you tried to stick up a conversation with a stranger on public transport you’d probably be seen as a mental case! Not that those who are listening to their iPods and have their heads buried in a smartphone would know about that. They don’t know what their missing 🙂
Well not on proper roads yet….just the one outside the house but it’s certainly a start. The best part is she did it “properly” – a little wobbly but that’s excusable when it’s her first time without stabilisers 🙂
The she I’m referring to here is my 3rd eldest daughter and it’s quite frankly made my day! It’s a difficult feeling to explain, but one that most parents of cycling children will know all too well, that feeling of immense pride as they roll off down the road or park path without you 🙂 I was smiling from ear to ear as I looked up and realized that no sooner had I removed her stabilisers she just ridden off the drive and “got it”! She still needs to master the push off but I think it may be remedied by using a different bike, the current one has a rather small gear which means she’s barely moving on the initial crank turn and barely has a chance to get her foot on the other pedal to carry on riding! Of course now she has gained her cycling wings it means I’ll be taking 3 of them to the London Skyride this year….it was bad enough last year trying to keep an eye on 2 of them, hopefully this year the eldest can be trusted a bit more, either that or I’ll have to rope in some assistance – 9 miles, evenly taked slowly, could be a big ask for a 6 year old.
The best part is I think it was her younger sister who prompted the removal of her stabilisers as she asked for her’s the be taken off whilst on the way back from a friends party today. Nothing like a bit of sibling rivalry to kick them a kick up the arse! I also don’t think it’ll be long before I pen another post when she eventually figures “it” out and joins her 3 elder sisters racing around outside which brings me nicely to my last point. The fact that the children now have their bikes and a suitable place to ride them at home.
Before we moved we just didn’t have the room for my bikes and theirs. We had no access to the garden at the rear from the street which meant any bikes that needed to be taken out there for storing would have to be wheeled through the house. Hence my bike was stored in the hall, on the floor during the week and then suspended (most!) weekends from a Lidl bike hoist – possibly the best £5 we ever spent! Such a simple way to reclaim floor space 🙂 The road we lived on also wasn’t the safest and most conducive to children playing out. With a tyre shop/hairdressers and popular chip shop at the bottom combined with us living just before the first side road this meant we where on the stretch that was often used as a racetrack by those wanting to turn around! We now live in a house with gated access to the rear which means plenty of room to store both mine and the kids bikes (and my mum now has her garage back – thanks for the storage!!) and our location at the top end of a cul-de-sac with an abundance of children means there is very little traffic and those that do drive expect children to be playing and running around so drive respectfully. As such the kids can play out or ride around with each other the other kids in the area, relatively safely 🙂
I still have fond memories of cycling around as a child, afternoons spent riding round the local neighbourhood with other local children – calling instructions back down the line as we braked or turned 🙂 Then there was the summer holidays before I started running for my local athletics club, in an effort to build up some fitness and out some muscle on my legs I’d regularly ride 10 miles each day (such is the joy of bike computers!). I can see the same enthusiasm in my own children, the eldest already has a bike computer and loves to tell me how far she has ridden or how fast she managed to go 🙂 Even this afternoon’s downpour didn’t dampen their spirits, after all what are raincoats for if they can’t be used to keep you dry!
I once read that cycling was one of the few activities you can do as an adult that makes you feel like a child again and no one (well not many….) people will think you need locking up 🙂 I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in a position that lets me continue to cycle as a means of getting to work, not many people I’ve spoken to outside of those cycle-commuters, have said they look forward to their journey to and from work 😀
I also have 3 more little cyclists to raise which means 3 more chances to get that warm fuzzy feeling – I can’t wait 😀