Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Tuesday afternoon and as I walk out of the door at the office the rain is light. It falls in tiny droplets: not hard and fast or thick, but quickly as if speed can make up for density.

I walk to my bike and begin unlocking it, strapping my two panniers onto the sides and adjusting my lights. Nigel (he of the big mouth and big opinions) stops for a chat about the weather and offers to put my bike in the back of his car and give me a lift - I tell him I'll be alright: I've been wet before.

My latest panniers are quite good for weatherproofing and come with yellow covers that can be unzipped from the bags and pulled around the main bags, so I put them in place making sure not to cover the workings of the bike. Even so the bottom of one bag will get covered in bike oil by the time I get home. I zip up my day-glo yellow jacket (visible from the space station) and set my mileometer running.

The second I start the rain feels harder, the wind and my movement pushing the tiny darts into my face and my bare legs - there is a pair of waterproof leggings in the pannier, but they are unbreathable, weigh you down and make you sweat so nine times out of ten you're better off getting your legs wet.

I push up the first big hill, coming out of my seat as we (me and my bike) reach the top. It's a relatively short hill and despite the steep incline it's quite an easy one to master, so I enjoy the payback as we roll down the other side and join the cycle path. This is a busy road with all the main traffic to the town running along it, so I have to take it slowly along the cycle path as there's a couple of cyclists ahead who seem oblivious of any need to be anywhere soon.

Finally they make way for me and I cross the junction with the main A road (roads in the UK are divided into M (motorway) and A and B roads - depending on size and speed. Below B are unclassified roads, mostly local)

This is the Big Hill of the journey, a two-three mile slow incline that takes us out into the countryside for a few minutes. This is where, one day on my way into work, I saw my most impressive piece of roadkill (a deer), but today I mainly focus on the road and the rain. The hill flattens out after about two miles before dipping and then climbing again for the last mile as we enter the next town. This is where the traffic gets to its busiest and I make the first of my three right turns. For those of you who don't know we drive on the left in the UK, meaning that in order to turn right a cyclist has to pull out into the middle of the traffic and cross over more traffic that doesn't want to give way. This is never easy and with the rain in my face there's more than a chance I could lose balance if I'm not careful.

Round the clock and up past the park we turn down into the next hill and freewheel to the traffic lights: not only a right turn but a blind one due to the tall buildings. I follow a car around the corner and into a long, slow uphill. The rain is coming down harder now: still as small as accupuncture needles that bite into the flesh on my legs. The wind is chilly and it keeps me awake as we reach the top. Only one more uphill to go and at six miles gone we dip down into the valley again. There's no streetlights out here and I take a moment to think how dangerous it would be to take this route in the winter when there is no light before joining the second and last cycle path that takes me up the final big hill.

On both sides of me now are fields, their emptiness a juxtaposition with the busyness of the road. I'm glad of the cycle path as the rain picks up speed and take my usual moment to admire the huge mansion that can be seen by the roadside and wonder who the hell can afford to live in such a big place.

At the final traffic lights I turn left and down the hill past the education centre. Seven or eight miles gone now and the rain lashes into my face as I hurtle down the hill. I've been pushing much harder today because of the rain and the adrenaline is pulsing through my veins. I feel a crazy sense of euphoria set in and find myself wanting to laugh and to scream at the skies "Come on!" I want to scream, "is this the best you can do?"

The rain drives into my face and turns my legs red. The bike is covered in mud from the road, but I wouldn't swap this moment for all the gold in Fort Knox. I feel invincible, totally and one hundred percent alive as we reach the bottom of the hill and power up the final incline.

Despite the distance and the feeling of fatigue I change up a gear and pick up speed before taking the large roundabout. There's three roundabouts all in quick succession and each interlinks with a major road, so I have to be careful at each as cars have a tendency to shoot out without looking. Still: I feel like nothing can stop me now.

Over the last of the roundabouts and its a quick couple of turns before I'm onto my road and jumping off the bike. I lean the bike against the wall of my house and stop the timer, unable to stop myself from laughing with exhileration. It takes a moment before the mild hysteria calms enough for me to open the gate and push my bike through and then I begin the serious business of unpacking.

Everything from the panniers is kept in plastic bags to add a double layer of protection and everything must be swiftly rescued so that bags can go on radiators. I peel the soaking cycle gloves from my hands, place my shoes and their covers on the radiators and go out to deal with the bike.

I clean and dry it as best as I can, putting it back into the shed. Back inside the house I take a look at my mileometer and realise that I've made the eleven mile journey in under forty-nine minutes, knocking nearly four minutes off my previous best.

I change out of my wet things and go upstairs for a shower, switching on the heating as I go.


Peter Goulding said...

Once upon a time, when I was young and impoverished, I used to cycle six miles in and out of work.
Now I am just in awe of cyclists particularly in inclement weather and wonder how more of them do not end up as "impressive roadkill"

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

peter - as a cyclist and a pedestrian you have to be super-aware that car drivers will happily kill you to shave 30 seconds off their journey

BTW should have mentioned - if you look in the crowd on the left of Wembley Stadium you might just see me and Our Kid. Apparently a person that was to become one of my best mates was also present that day - small world i guess

Friko said...

I am very glad that "chilly wind keeps you awake" on this journey. it definitely helps to stay alive, if you want to complete it.

Congratulations on your record. How often do you cycle to work? Summer and winter?

English Rider said...

How exhilarating that sounded, and I bet you sleep well at night. Knowing there is a warm, dry place at your destination changes everything, doesn't it?

Argent said...

Well done on the new PB. I'll be starting my 'walk to work' programme next week. It won't be as exhilerating but it'll be better than going in the car.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Friko - i cycle 3-4 days a week to work depending on what i've got on in the evening and how soon I have to be there - i started cycling to work this year just after the clocks changed because it was light enough in the evenings and will keep going until it's dark again - it's just too dangerous to be out cycling in the dark.

English - actually I didn't get to sleep until 3:30am. I think i pushed harder to get out of the rain, but towards the end i was quite in the mood for dumping my bags and doing a few more miles!

Argent - walking to work is definately the way to go, you'll find yourself really looking forward to it

the watercats said...

god I'm knackered just reading that.. I vaguely remember that fitness feeling though... it was nice...

Raven said...

I feel exhilarated too! How I envy you the strength and energy and enthusiasm to do this. Thanks for taking me along on the ride. I enjoyed the trip. I look forward to seeing you at wordzzles again, but only when it feels like fun. It shouldn't be a job you go to once a week, but a party you attend if the spirit moves you.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

cats - i love cycling. Worst weather i've had was probably hailstones in the middle of june when i was still 6-7 miles from home. Oh and the rain in China - but we shall speak of this again...

Raven - i love doing wordzzles, and will be back

Lydia said...

Wow, loved the whole post ending with that exhilarating song by Simple Minds, who I've never heard before.

I do so love your cycling posts. You are obviously one with the bike and so present in the moment that you capture your rides in crystal words. This one was beautiful. And I am so impressed by your time, and your level of fitness.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

lydia - The Minds (as we used to call them) didn't make a massive impact on the states. their biggest hit there was "Don't You (Forget About Me)" from the film The Breakfast Club and they haven't been big since the end of the eighties/early nineties

Waterfront is great though - i recently went through their albums again and realised i'd forgotten how good they used to be