Cycling outside during the pandemic seemed to split opinion. A lot resorted to turbo trainers which became as rare as a Gold Wispa. Some like us continued to ride outside but we kept our rides local. The government guidelines for England at the time were that cycling outside was allowed. Our first ride around resulted in being shouted at by a lorry driver to 'Go Home!' which technically that's what we were doing...!
28 Days Later. If you haven't seen it, just watch the first 20 minutes and you will get a feeling of what the roads were like. Surreal, eerie, quiet. Not to mention there were no planes flying or landing at Heathrow, it was like someone had scrolled through the Earth's settings and turned off the volume for machinery.
The 20-25 mile rides we kept ourselves to were taking no time at all. Rolling through the local high streets with the shops closed and no footfall was just something to be seen. Weather was mostly bliss too, it was really cycling zen, it was just a shame and unfortunate that it was due to a global health crisis. The furthest we rode out was actually into Central London. We were unsure if we should with everything that was going on but it was an opportunity to see what the capital was like with just bikes. This was around the time you were not allowed to stop and rest, you had to keep moving so we took our photos of the landmarks as quickly as we could and cycled on. We covered Embankment, Parliament Square, The Mall, Trafalgar Square and Picadilly Circus. Just wow! Standing in the middle of Picadilly Circus where usually it's like dodgems trying to avoid people, I was the only one there. 28 Days had come to life...
But it wasn't all rosey on the roads. With less traffic on the roads and I know it's anecdotal, but there were drivers who used the roads as race tracks, scary when all it takes is a moment's lapse in concentration and your obituary is being written in the local newspaper. The crown for the worst road rage incident though goes to the man in Staines who got out of his car and threatened to knock me out. Going over Staines bridge, I moved around to avoid some pedestrians walking across the road, the driver behind was way back and I wasn't holding him up. But he then began to beep at me. I slowed down to ask him why and his response was to tell me he was there. Weird as there was no need and I told him so. He then changed his story to I was weaving all over the road. I looked down at my bike at the time just to check I had took my stabilisers off but pointed out to him there were pedestrians crossing the road. This made him irate and we were both waiting at a red light discussing each other's road behaviour. He then threatened to get out of his car and knock me out. Before I could respond, he jumped the red light (yep, some drivers do do it!), blocked the opposite junction, got out of his car and squared up to me telling me to shut up otherwise he will knock me out. Whether you believe I was in the wrong or not, I felt an urge not to back down because he was a bully, I hadn't done nothing wrong, in fact, I did the right thing by chosing not to hit people crossing the road (it wasn't even at a crossing point, they just decided to cross as myself and the drivers behind approached the bridge). I told him there were witnesses and looked around back at the cars who were correctly waiting at traffic lights. He then walked back to his car and sped off. No, it wasn't finished there. I caught up with him and thought let's ask him in a civilised way to start again. He refused to listen and drove off. I then caught up with him again but hung back in traffic. I could see he was on his phone so I though sod it, I called him out on it. He put it down. Final offence he committed was that he sped like a maniac weaving through other cars down the dual carriageway. This all stemmed from him beeping at me for not hitting people crossing the road and throwing the blame back at me. I didn't threaten him, just stood my ground.
Some of you will be asking why don't you run a camera? Honestly, I don't want to be worrying about every driver and having to upload and report every night. I just want to ride. If the driver had hit me, I am not sure what I would of done. Part of me feels I would of retaliated in self defence (I was wearing a solid helmet) but the other part of me knows I have a family to get back to and who knows what this guy might of had in his car, he could of turned around and driven at me. The whole incident did shake me for a while. Why are we sharing the roads with this people? The whole road tax/insurance claim from drivers really has no weight here when people like this douchebag wants to punch someone in the face for basically calling them out for their wrongs.
Another negative that presented itself a lot more in lockdown was the constant fly tipping. I began to notice horrendous amounts at the same point every week when I was commuting into work to look after key children. Cranford Cross is right next door to Cranford Country Park - this is usually my gravel route through to school. This back road though is quiet on a normal day, ghost down in lockdown. But because there was no one around, it became a perfect spot for fly tippers. Just look at the photos... This monstrosity had been cleared quite quickly by the council but unsurprisingly, fly tippers are still continue to return to their favourite spot.
Heathrow was very eerie. There was one moment when I was waiting at the traffic lights on the perimeter road and it dawned on me that there should be a bustling airport right in front of me. Instead, all the jets were parked up like one massive showroom. One of the staff car parks had been turned into a testing centre although all the times I had passed it, I had only seen a handful of cars inside, the workers looked bored and were just chilling in the sun twiddling their thumbs waiting for their only swab of the day.
We did visit Hillingdon Cycle Circuit a couple of times and it was a pleasure to see more locals use it even though some were running/walking anywhere they wanted to really. This would be a perfect opportunity for councils to really push for cycling infrastructure and you may have seen this happen in your community. The pop up lanes have caused a stir depending where you read and that's the thing, they're pop ups meaning they're likely to be gone once the status quo has returned which I have always felt would be the case anyway. We're a very car driven society, I am not against cars, used to love them back in the day. I'm on the side where we need to reduce the necessity for them. We walk everywhere we can with little NITP, no need to take the car. My mind explodes when we see people drive a few minutes to the shops, spend ages looking for a space, becoming agitated and stressed and then off home again. In the same amount of time, I could walk down to the shops with little NITP, spend time with him, relaxed, cut through the parks and enjoy the peacefulness. It seems people we know have adopted this mentality. Our neighbours regularly take their children out on the bikes and have explored the nature reserve behind our houses. They never have done that before but have taken the opportunity to find out more about the local area.
A big drive during lockdown (still checking - are we still in it?!) was to help small businesses. Honestly, queuing is a Room 101 thing for us, would avoid it, same as sitting in a car in traffic, that's not how I want to spend my time which is why I appreciate the bike so much. The queues for the local supermarkets and some of the chaos that was evident at the beginning showed how some of us forget about others - the stripping of shelves etc. were just disheartening to witness and to be honest an embarrassment. The NITP family found ourselves using a local newsagents for day to day things and it was a much calmer experience plus they basically had everything a small supermarket would have, we shouldn't turn our noses up to these places and other smaller businesses in other sectors. One weekly contribution we made was to the cake industry and more specifically, Cinammon Cafe. Nick and his cake minions organised drop offs and pick ups for their famous Cinammon buns. We thought we would be buying a slice or two but ending up buying a whole cake every week for 4 weeks! It was also a reason to get out and ride. The bun cake though - sublime, Mrs NITP was very impressed. Still waiting on what she will buy us in return to the same value and quality...
We did look into volunteering for the NHS with helping with medical deliveries etc. but it seemed they closed their applications due to huge amount of people applying. We did get the chance to help our school by delivering reading books to children who live in Hayes. I did feel like Deliveroo for literature and it was really nice to see some of the children through their windows, for some it was probably the first time in a very long time they had seen someone from school.
LBS (local bike shops) were and rightly so chosen to stay open during the pandemic. But getting a slot for service and repairs was difficult to say the least. Luckily for us, LKY7 in Ashford were on hand a few times to help us out with guidance and repairs. We've bounced around a few stores in the past, some in our experience have been better than others but for us, it's all down to trust and the relationship you have with the staff and vice versa. I won't name drop on here as I don't feel it's fair on those shops as everyone has a different experience but one store I was very loyal to had a major staff change and my trust had gone out of the window on the last service so opted to search around. The next store put the wrong size headset in so we searched again and was recommended LKY7 by Sam Hodges and have been very happy with the service so far. Plus they have a McLaren F1 in their workshop. I don't know why but I'm not complaining!