Family cycling

This past Saturday saw a rather lovely “first” happen as I got my first proper ride with Nelle on the WeeRide as myself, Isaac (16) and Charlotte (11) took a ride over to my parents in Croydon as the rest of the family drove over – our car *only* having 7 seats and friends staying over meant we were a few seats short!

This is a journey I’ve often done myself and as a regular and quite capable cyclist it’s a trip I barely give a second thought too – there are a few routes I can choose depending on what kinda mood I’m in and how energetic I feel. For the large part, the routes I’d cycle is pretty much unchanged from what I’d use if driving however that all changes once you start considering a suitable route to use with 2 of your own who can’t quite match your normal cruising speed or quite have the same confidence on the road around high volumes of motor traffic.

After a bit of deliberation, I decided it would be best to try following the signed cycle network route to Croydon. I’d take up the lead position, Charlotte would ride 2nd and Isaac would act as a rear marker as he has a bit more experience riding on the road. I had a vague idea where it headed but as this is one of the original cycle networks it is notorious for sending riders down quiet back roads (good – means generally speaking traffic levels are very low) but does require you to keep your eyes peeled for directions as it’s rather winding (bad – we only had 1 missed turn, thankfully called out by Isaac). As it turned out we only really had a couple of awkward moments on the whole 3-4 mile journey where we had to cross busier roads which involved trying to find a suitable gap in traffic for me & my co-riders. At each one, I’d explain what we needed to do as we waited, either to head straight over or do a bit of a zig zag so if we did get separated we’d soon be back as one group and it went fairly well.

Eventually, after about 40mins we ended up turning up in what the network considers “Croydon” as the little blue signs vanished. This turned out to be about 1/4 mile up London Road from West Croydon. At this point I used my local knowledge to plan a route towards East Croydon station, again trying to avoid busy roads, but that was all dashed when I noticed (new?) signs stating that North End – the main pedestrianised shopping street in Croydon – was actually a shared use area so we could cycle through there! The slower pace set by the younger riders meant this was ideal and we deftly negotiated the hordes on Saturday shoppers. The final part to join up to East Croydon did involve using a slightly busier road but as it was only a very short stretch and turns into a bus/taxi/cycle only section past the station it wasn’t a huge issue. I just needed to wait briefly as I made it through a set of lights the other 2 riders didn’t 🙂

 

The return journey in the evening again saw me giving some consideration to routeing that isn’t always needed when driving. I had the advantage this time of knowing where the other route ran so managed to use the route towards Thornton Heath from East Croydon – my only gripe being a lack of signage to turn you right onto Dingwall Road if headed over the railway bridge however once on that section. It’s a fair traffic free route and using some other local knowledge I was able to connect us back up to our morning route once we got to the end of the “Thornton Heath” leg and the rest was fairly straight forward.

The experience did highlight a few things for me which I believe shows why cycling as a family like this isn’t as widespread as it ultimately needs to be if we want to tackle both rising pollution and obesity levels through promoting active travel.

Firstly the whole “ordeal” of planning a route. It’s not until you want to ride somewhere with less able cyclists that I realise how much I take for granted my own abilities to cope with regular roads. Trying to work out the “least busy” route isn’t quite as easy as it seems! In some ways, it was actually useful being on a different bike to my usual commute and carrying Nelle as it meant I was riding slower and could under-gear so I travelled at a speed that Charlotte and Isaac could match. We also come up with an impromptu system to let me know if I’d got a little ahead as Charlotte would ding her bell twice 🙂 This did also again show me it’s possible to cycle in regular clothing and NOT get all hot and sweaty as I was barely even exerting myself – fantastic for the ride over as it meant I could chat with Nelle, who due to the design of the WeeRide, was neatly snuggled between my arms (note to self – take coat and gloves for the small passengers, wind chill is a thing!)

 

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Nelle in the WeeRide during Pride Ride

 

Secondly, and partially related to the prior point, is that the lack of provision on routes that would be the most logical and direct ways to travel often don’t “feel” viable. It’s pretty much just a few advisory cycle lanes! The provisions provided on the cycle networks (from what I can remember) worked OK for use on regular bikes but I suspect some of the contra flow lanes would present a problem if you should have a cargo trike as they tend to be wider than your average traditional bike meaning that some of the entry points might be too narrow to accommodate them.

The tricky part is how do we fix this? For starters, it can involve simple steps such as simply showing those cyclists you meet on the roads whilst driving some courtesy – don’t tailgate them and wait until it’s safe to pass. When you do pass try to leave as much room as possible, you don’t know if that rider will need to swerve for something you’ve not seen from inside your car. Don’t try to squeeze passed at “pinch points” such as at traffic islands or on narrow roads with oncoming traffic, a few seconds delay won’t kill you but your impatience could seriously injure or kill them. This makes cycling a lot more pleasant and a lot less stressful for the rider, who is ultimately just someone trying to get to their destination in one piece – just like you 🙂

To see a proper uplift in cycling numbers and more families out cycling is going to take some fairly large environmental changes, thankfully the Dutch have a 40-year head start on us in the UK so we can borrow design cues from there to help here. Segregated lanes on the busiest roads and traffic reduction on residential roads that stops rat-running are just 2 techniques used by them to create roads that not only feel safe, but are safer for everyone by either removing conflict entirely or reducing the potential for harm when it can’t be avoided.

TfL’s “Healthy Streets” initiative looks like it could go some way to implementing some of this, with a focus on switching peoples travel mode from private car to public transport, bike or walking however it’s still in the VERY early stages at the moment. The segregated lanes in London have shown that where safe infrastruture is provided it is used, we just need this message to get through to transport planners in local councils!

 

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World Naked Bike Ride 2017

I’m back! Hoping to blog a bit more on here and this recent ride seemed like a good excuse to jump back in so here goes 🙂 One small bit of housekeeping before we start, this post will contain some nudity – I know the title might be a bit of a hint but I thought I’d just mention there are a few pics from the ride so you may see some blurry boobs and willies!

I’ve never really been one for taking small bites when it comes to my cycling challenges.

I started off commuting about 20 miles a day and then signed myself up to the London Bikeathon some 11 years ago – a single 26 mile ride, not a massive jump in my usual daily distance but was one that would need completing in one lump.

After that I did the Capital to Coast a couple of times, riding from Esher to Hove, covering approximately 60 miles. The second year I did this I set myself the challenge to do this non-stop, which I almost did bar a brief hop-off for thunderous leg cramps after I dropped my chain on approach to final climb!

After that I think came a biggy, and the reason I started this blog all those years ago, the Magnificat – a double whammy as it would have been (and still is!) my longest single ride to date AND my first imperial century ride at a whooping 127.5 miles. I’d only ever done just under half that in a day before and in preparation for it I completed a solo 85 miler but wanted to save popping my 100 mile cherry for the actual event 🙂

For a few years after the Mag it went a bit quiet for long rides until I complete a 270 mile jaunt from Bolton to London, calling in at Barlborough and Letchworth on the way as we did a tour of my employer’s offices following being brought up by BT, over a long weekend.

This was what I’d consider my last big challenge until I decided it might be fun to attend the World Naked Bike Ride in London. To keep fully in the spirit of the ride I decided I’d take the “bare as you dare” dress code to it’s [almost] final end, adding only my cycling gloves to the recommended attire of shoes. This would make this ride my first time as a naturist (something I’d casually considered before, I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin) and first time attending a WNBR. The date for this years ride was 10th June and on the 9th I checked the weather and it looked nigh on perfect. 23C and no rain!

One of the aims behind the ride, besides being an excuse to disrobe and go for a sightseeing tour around London, is (amongst other things) to protest our current car culture and to raise awareness around the vulnerability of cyclists on our roads. With these in mind I’d been mulling over slogans that could be painted onto my back, legs etc. on my commutes for the week or 2 before the event and had a few firm favourites.

When the 10th did roll round I woke up with a sense of excitement and trepidation. Today was the big day, what was it going to be like going naked in front of strangers – who are also going to be naked but also amongst the general clothed public! I pushed that aside and got on with preparations, ensuring I had all the bits I needed in bag and getting SWMBO to assist with sloganing up my back and legs. Went with a snappy “Natures own hi-viz” on upper back, “Does my bum look good? #gocycling” above bum, “Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Cyclist” on my right thigh and “I hate tanlines” on my left with a bonus “MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra for those unfamiliar with the oft used term!) free zone” under left arm.

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The plan for the day was to ride to the West Norwood start point, ride up to the main event in Central London, complete the course then come back. There would be body painters there so I was expecting to see some naked people but wasn’t aware until the morning before that the ride from there to Central London is under the same “bare as you dare” dress code. Arriving there around 2 PM and making our way into the backyard, having spotted a naked guy and lots of bikes up the alley I was met by a lot of skin and feeling rather overdressed in my shorts and vest top! Our host greeted us and explained where the toilet was located and about body painters. I took off my top almost immediately, had a bit of a look around at the body painters work and some other riders painting each other before finding the loo. After a bit of “nervous bladder” I thought before rejoining the main group there is no time like the present so just took off my shorts and returned to the backyard and it just felt (to nick a quote from the great Stewie Griffin!) “right”. I think having everyone else there nude helped in that I didn’t feel out of place and at that point I’d cleared the initial hurdle – disrobing for the first time. I got Isaac to assist with repainting some of my slogans as they’d rubbed off on my shorts and t-shirt on way up and within 25mins or so the call went out to prepare to leave.

 

**GULP**

We all filed out and collected our bikes, ready to take the next big leap (for me anyway as a first timer!) of getting out onto the public roads proper. West Norwood was about to get an eyeful of about 30 cyclists, with very few of us being able to be described as “lycra louts” ;P

As we joined the main road the theme was set for the remainder of the day, shocked drivers and pedestrians and mobile phones being pointed at us, god knows how many people have  a brief fuzzy video of my arse on their phone around London that evening! We stopped at the lights further ahead down the road with a generally warm reception bar one lady in a car who drove past yelling “put some clothes on! You’re disgusting”.
“Get a bike and come have some fun!” I yelled back, which I assume she heard as she flipped a 2 finger salute out the window. Result! At this point I just ignored the fact I was riding around in just shoes and gloves, after all I’m in a reasonably sized group of similarly undressed riders and for the whole of our route we certainly drew attention. Brixton High St was possibly the busiest outward bound section as people literally crowded out of shops or to the windows to catch of glimpse of “those crazy naked cyclists” – it’s an odd feeling knowing you are part of the group that brought a ray of WTF sunshine into so many Londoners day!

 

As the ride progressed we started picking up roads I normally use for my commute, albeit it at about ⅓ the speed I usually ride them at with about 95% less on! We stopped at the north end of Vauxhall Bridge to wait for the group headed in from Kew/Clapham Junction to join us and then continued on along Millbank. I joked “I’d be tempted to go for a Strava KOM considering the marginal weightsaving of being naked!” and did find myself pushing on a bit as 2 non-WNBR riders overtook me. I was at the head of group and I picked up the pace a little before being called back by ride leader!

 

Our route for the day saw us heading along Millbank, hanging a right over Lambeth Bridge and then headed round to Waterloo. From there we went round Aldwych and past the Royal Courts of Justice before heading towards Lincolns Inn Fields for a break. Here we got some freebie Naked (great product placement!) yoghurts and a chance to stretch, have a chat with our fellow riders, use loos, admire each other’s body decorations/slogans and even a bit of a sing and dance thanks to some bikes towing PA systems! About 30 minutes later we set off again, headed for Covent Garden and possibly the most electrifying atmosphere as the roads were pretty much lined with tourists and workers cheering us all on, riders blowing whistles and horns, lots of waving and the continued tunes being blasted out. It was just epic. We rode over Trafalgar Sq and down The Mall before ending up outside Buckingham Palace – definitely a bucket list item!

 

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Naked at Buckingham Palace, not something I ever expected to blog about!

 


This was the split point of the ride, where those headed back to Clapham Junction and West Norwood would go one way and those wanting to finish carried on along the cycle path to Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. Our route back saw us also visit Knightsbridge before heading down to Sloane Sq. There is something rather poetic about heading down a road lined with designer clothes shops whilst naked that puts a large grin on my face “You’ve not got any clothes on!” commented one bystander “Of course not! I can’t afford the prices down here!!” We then headed along King Street in Chelsea before crossing Albert Bridge and stopping at Clapham Junction to part with some of the group.

The return leg to West Norwood saw us skirting round Clapham Common, a brief bit of my usual commute stomping ground along CS7 and then peeling off towards Brixton again and then over to West Norwood where the group had a clothes optional BBQ to look forward too. I didn’t stay for this, with 23 miles done that day with the last 20 done naked, myself and Isaac were just about ready to do the final 3 miles of so home!

 

So now having had time to reflect it has been an amazing day. I’d say about 98% of the reception we had was positive. Nearly every pub we passed resulted in cheers and clapping, similar with the crowds sitting on the open green spaces we passed. The police could’ve made an absolute killing booking drivers for using their phones whilst at the wheel and I’ll admit the group *did* hold up traffic on some roads and to ensure we all stayed together and ignored quite a few red lights! That last one did sound like material for a meme “I don’t always jump red lights, but when I do I’m naked!”

 

That being said we did get some negative reactions. People calling us filthy or disgusting, suggesting we should be ashamed of ourselves or to cover up as there are children around. I even think I heard one bloke call us “faggots” but we’d moved on before I could challenge him. Most of these comments I believe reflect on the upbringing of the person making them. Obviously being a participant in a ride like this I clearly have different views around the human body to these people and having engaged with some friends on Facebook via my posts about this event I can see the reasons behind this are many and varied and a little beyond this post, even with the WNBR theme of “accepting the human body” – what better way to teach people about the problems of body shaming and the seemingly unattainable goal to be “perfect” then by presenting them with a broad cross section of society stripped of all the usual social trappings of clothing? I assure you not every rider who attended was what would be considered “traditionally attractive” but that didn’t stop them coming out, displaying those imperfections and saying “Yeah, So what?”

 

As a little bonus the wife had a rather nice laugh the following day 🙂 I’d made a rookie WNBR error and not put on suncream ALL OVER and hadn’t realized the body paint isn’t tan through so the following day I was left with this rather amusing sunburn!_20170611_105839.jpg