Stop the press! I managed the impossible! People said it couldn't be done, some said I had more chance of being the next James Bond (I actually turned down the role for Casino Royale!), but I persevered, I overcame the obstacles. The wife rode a bike!
Just by an off chance I had found a clearance sale from Cycle Experience in Slough who were selling hardly used bikes from their loan scheme (from £10pm, you can test out the bike and at the end of the month, you can either purchase it for a discount price or give it back) so these were the ones that were returned. The range they had would of rivaled Team Sky's bike stock for a whole season. Hand bikes, Pashleys, BMXs, huge range of MTBs and some balance bikes which I have managed to persuade my school to buy for our children. The wife did have her eye on a Pashley but the heavy front with the basket had put her off (she only has little arms!...*punch lands in my face from a swinging Irish fist!...ok she doesnt, she's training to be the next Connor McGregor!) so her eyes were shifted to a purple Raleigh which was in excellent condition. After probably the shortest trial ride you've ever seen (a 10 second loop around the car park was enough for her!) she was sold and she started to feel the joy that I have experiencing for the past 8 years!
So where do you take a 'newbie' to develop their confidence and get back to what it feels like riding a bike? And there lies the point of this blog. We are in the West side of London, a stones throw from Twickenham Stadium. There are some cycle routes around but I wouldn't for a chance take my wife on them. They are not properly connected, going from path to road to nothing back to road back to path and so on. If you do not have the confidence of being on the road with flowing traffic, you are in a bit of a pickle. We are constantly surrounded by campaigns for safer road infrastructure especially for cyclists but it just seems who ever is designing this stuff is doing it from their sofa. A part of my commute to work has just been relaid and redesigned. They have narrowed the road to accommodate the parked cars who are parked at an angle raised up from the road (most of these houses have driveways, I completely get some people will have more than one car but this parking infrastructure is not logical). So most cars will reverse onto the road to begin their journey which isn't the safest manoeuvre. The cycle path is in between the houses and the path, no big problem there although the majority of the commutes last week, the entrance to the cycle path was blocked by a parked car so at the speed I do otherwise I would be forced to brake sharply and manage my way through the parked cars, I was forced to continue with the traffic. I'm quite confident on the road so this doesn't bother me but imagining someone like my wife or even a child riding along here, I would tell them to walk. What makes it more worse is that the opposite side has now a very wide clearly painted cycle path. Why could there not be one on both sides?! Hounslow Council, if you're reading, get in touch because I think I need to take you guys out on a ride to show what the commuters experience every day from nonsense designs!
I apologise I don't normally rant but when someone close to you wants to join in the cycling world, you refresh your safety parameters and every little problem you come across that you deal with naturally, has all of the sudden enhanced its dangers and you start wondering where is best to develop your riding skills in a safe and calm environment? For location, Richmond Park would be the obvious option. But it has had some bad press lately especially with the park forever becoming a car park itself with its increasing popularity as a city getaway for central London's residents. Don't use the roads I hear you say? Ah of course it has its shared paths but even these are becoming over populated and with its undulating topography, its not the best place to start for someone who's not confident going downhill as much as they are going uphill. Before the wife had purchased her bike, I did think of hiring a bike from the bike rental place by Roehampton Gate to get her appetite for cycling going but once I realised that a couple of hours rental was the equivalent of owning a Cervelo, best just to wait for a bargain! So Richmond Park for all its beauty and rolling roads and it's hard for me to say but it is not the place I would recommend to start someone's cycling journey.
So what does that leave you with? River Thames bike path? Not bad idea until the tide cuts off the bike path! The path is blessed though with some great backdrops and numerous cafe stops. Still not the place I am looking for though. So let me introduce you to Windsor Great Park. Situated in Berkshire right next to Windsor, this gorgeous Royal park is home to a view which would rival Richmond's hill top lookout. It does have public roads but the gates are manned so those who have business in the park (its home to a Polo club, yes very posh!) and those who live in The Village (I'm not kidding, someone took M.Night Shyamalan's 2004 film and made it real!) can access the park. Weirdly, whereas Richmond Park's speed limit is 20mph, WGP has a 38mph speed limit. It's very rare to see any of the cars spotted around doing that kind of speed because of the amount and variety of people using the park, it's just not sensible to travel that fast. Anyway, we are taught that speed is a limit, not a target right?!
So squeezing the Raleigh and my trusted Specialized into the wife's Corsa, we set off to WGP. I would recommend parking near Bishopsgate if you can as its free and has direct access onto to the main roads that intertwine through the park. Plus there's a lovely little pub there too (avoid the Wheatsheaf with a barge pole, you've been warned!). The wife had a few nerves at first but even though there were a few families and even clubs out on their Sunday rides, the road is wide and open enough for all. You forget you're on the outskirts of our bustling capital as we roll beside its fields, some occupied by the local cows, some being used for trotting by the local horse riding group. For your daily roadie, its 'hills' are not really hills but you forget what it was like when you first ride up your first gradient. The wife after had let me know how sore her glutes were thanks to these ascents! But for a first time experience (she had ridden her bikes loads as a child back in 'Norn Iron') back on the bike, she loved it and it was mostly down to the location of this little outing.
Thanks once again to the success of our Olympians and Paralympians, the cycling boom is growing once more. HSBC has just got on the act and has taken over the sponsor of British Cycling from BSkyB. The amount and variety of cyclists on our roads now are forever increasing (saw 2 Penny Farthings in Bushy Park a couple of weeks ago!). But with every good vibe comes a negative sidekick. All over Twitter today a video has been posted of a driver filming (whilst driving!) cyclists not using a shared cycled path down Roehampton Lane and then mocking them by sounding the horn and passing close by. I do try to use empathy in all situations. Thinking about how people have chosen to behave like they do and how they have arrived to that situation will allow you to deal and control situations better. So lets briefly look at this guy. He believes as there's a cycled path, it must be used. No matter what anyone says, unfortunately the law doesn't agree with him as it's not against the law to ride on the road unless a sign specifically bans you from doing so. Why not use it anyway he might think? Most of shared paths are in quite a bad state and cross junctions where there's more chance of being hit by a driver turning in or pulling out. So its probably safer cycling on the road. But then this driver comes along and drives this particular way. Are you in that much of a hurry to watch the repeat of X Factor that you can't wait a minute or two?! And there we have the point I have raised before in a previous post. For some social reason which I try not to let myself be part of, we turn into someone else behind a vehicle. I'm sure this guy waits patiently at the self checkout at Tesco with his Womans Only mag and kiwi fruit so his alter ego takes over Dark Knight style and we've got to question him 'why so serious?'.
So combine videos like these that pop up and puts people like my wife off from cycling on the road and sharing this feel good factor which our country has given us through the successes of its professionals such as the Olympics and Paralympics, Tour de France and not to mention the much under-hyped Rachel Atherton on her MTB success this year, with the lack of locations around which offer near traffic free roads with natural landscapes, there's still an issue of accessibility for all. We are not asking everyone to love cycling because we are all human, we all have our pet hates (mine is people who eat their shopping as they walk round the store before they buy it, that's called stealing!). But no matter what your beef is with cyclist or other vulnerable road users, its someone's life at stake. You can severely injure or kill someone. That's called life changing, not just for that person but for everyone connected with them and you have to live with that. So councils, government, drivers, cyclists, dogs, cats, pigeons, turtles (looking at our 2 lumps here Mylo and Ezio!), lets create more places like WGP and educate our next generation of drivers so people like my wife can focus on going faster than 8mph because there is only so much more of poodling I can take! (I love you really darling!).
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking”.