OK, just to explain the abbreviation before we start. BDA: Before, During and After. I'm not writing the whole thing for a title! We don't want to turn this blog post into a political rant about how the pandemic was handled, a lot of people suffered and the fallout is only just starting to unravel. For those who know us personally, we teach by trade so we were in school a few times looking after key worker children and helping out where we could. I think using the term 'silver linings' would be disrespectful to people who have lost their lives. We can only speak for ourselves but the lockdown re-evaluated our priorities and reminded us of what we should really value in life and take the time to appreciate it.
Cycling though has come out of the global crisis as a crucial tool to aid travel (avoiding public transport thus avoiding crowds) and showing our society there is/was an opportunity to change behaviour in terms of promoting active travel where possible. If toilet roll (seriously, what was up with that?!) was hard to get hold at the start of the lockdown, buying a bike is like gold dust at the moment! So many colleagues I have spoke to at school have all asked for advice on getting to work by bike or what kind of bike they should be looking for. It just feels sad that a major health crisis has had to be the factor in opening mindsets.
We are only speaking from our own experience and our local area. Obviously, these comments may not reflect what others have experienced or it might resonate with some people. The bike is our mode of transport for commuting to school, even if we wanted to take public transport, it would take at least an hour with at least 2 bus changes including one going in the wrong direction! If we were to take my wife's car which would involve dropping little NITP at nursery and then my wife at her school, I'd be in rush to get to work in on time. Even if I had my own car which I do not need and it has never crossed my mind to own one again, I have timed it in the past that it takes the same amount of time to drive to work as it is to cycle. So the bike wins hands down as the most efficient and quickest way for myself to get to school.
My commute is usually 7-8 miles depending on which route I'd take. Before lockdown, my route would consist of quieter back roads, an underpass under the railway, a shared path alleyway, the perimeter road around Heathrow and finally a road where a lot of drivers try to inch their way past at any opportunity, sound familiar to any road you know?! We used to take a more direct route to work but the amount of times we have had to call out drivers at regular pinch points just made us feel it wasn't worth it. At least our slalom of a route took us through quieter areas and avoided notorious junctions where some drivers are more worried about the paintwork on their car rather than your life.
North of Heathrow, I feel the standard of driving take a turn for the worse. I've had a few close brushes which has lead me to calling out drivers who then go onto the defensive and try to blame on me. That really gets me because I am just cycling to work and I'm not exactly going at crawling speed even though that shouldn't matter anyway. One clash I had with a van driver was because I had decided to use the outer lane to go straight on. The traffic in the left lane could go straight on but a lot were turning left at the junction and I decided I did not fancy being turned into. The lights were red and I hadn't held him up at all. Short story, he attempted to drive into me as I rolled off. Lovely chap but just you wait till you read what happened to me a little later on in the post.
So roads around our area are a mixture of cycle path cut throughs and driving behaviour which you need to be on your guard and try to protect yourself. When you read it like that, that's not the way cycling should be but some drivers I truly believe just see anyone on a bike as annoyance because you're in their way no matter who you are. Call them out and they turn into a child who is adamant they've done nothing wrong and it's your fault for being there. This is not every driver though. We don't stereotype. We never label. You only have to look at a certain global movement at the moment to see what impact labelling and stereotyping does to a certain ethnicity of people.
Through the Winter, I began using my gravel bike and that was such a joy. Cutting through parks without traffic was a more relaxing way to work. We even regularly said hello to 3 elderly men every morning on their group walk where we both were too polite and would give each other a wide space (pre social distancing here!). We saw lots of wildlife too, rabbits would often shoot out of the bushes in the country park that would lead us up to our school. A gravel bike gives you so much freedom but that's a blog post for another time.
So in summary, my commute pre-lockdown most of the time was ok, there were junctions and certain roads I would try to avoid and the chances I would come across someone with an inferior complex would be most often weekly. Cycle paths come and go, often stopping suddenly so what's the point of using them if they then throw you back into traffic?
Our weekend rides within the last year or so have been mainly local and solo due to little NITP but we have tried to grab a chance to ride with Sam Hodges and Chris Detsicas although the latter has now moved out of the endz and has found a new postcode to play in. As we mentioned, the gravel bike gave us a bit more freedom to explore local parks and commons which we were really enjoying and had been given a few routes to explore including the much recommended Esher Common.