Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Message to cats...

Weenie's bike is not a hidey hole toy. And please do not use it for sharpening claws, particularly the tyres. FYI, that blackish oily substance will never be tasty, stop sniffing it to check. I know you're doing it because your normally white bib is black Mr Handsome.

When Weenie brings work home, don't walk all over the proofs she's attempting to read. Yes it does make a marvellous scrunchy crunch sound when you jump on it but the sound is matched by a wail of exasperation and rage from deep within my soul.

My cycle helmet is NOT a toy. Just because it spins across the floor when batted does not mean it was built to do so. Also, you look ridiculous when you successfully set it spinning only to jump two feet in the air with your fur on end 'because it attacked me'.

You are NOT a tiger. Tigers do not prowl the wilderness by day only then receive with enthusiastic glee biscuits provided by a human. Nor do they snuggle into said human's armpit and roll onto their backs emitting pussycat snores as soon as it gets a bit chilly.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Where have all the Boris bikes gone?

On Monday I decided not to use a Boris bike as I was just too tired. I went in without my helmet and bike stuff and took the train and tube. Eugh. On the way home I felt so ill with the heat and crammedness I vowed never again.

I was a little disappointed yesterday and today, therefore, to fine no available bikes at Paddington's two nearest docks. I lucked out on Tuesday when someone pulled in while I stood in shock, but today there were none and I walked to the next one.

It wasn't a massive inconvenience or anything but it does show that the planners were wrong to site so many docks in residential areas. I would have thought it was obvious that the people who would jump at the scheme would be commuters like myself who come into a main station and want to hop by bike to another one or into the centre of town.

When I arrive at Victoria there are always loads of docking spaces because all the bikes have been taken. In fact, I am often hovered over by men in suits who patiently wait for me to dock, take off my helmet and reflective belt, get my stuff in my bag and start to walk away before they grab the bike I've just used.

The other problem with the Victoria bike dock I use is that it's in the middle of lots of one-way streets, so I can't cycle the last bit. It's also on the coaches' approach to Victoria coach station's arrivals hall so huge coaches and TfL buses are coming past all the time. I'm always careful when I back my bike out but I've seen several people nearly come a cropper when a coach has wheeled round the corner.

I know my key didn't work properly at first and other teething problems exist, but I really think the scheme's a winner. I just hope that the scheme organisers use the feedback and bike data to make sure that any new docking stations are put in useful and usable places.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Cycling for arthritis awareness

Someone has brought a campaign by Arthritis Research UK and I'm quite taken with it.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. It can cause a lot of pain but with the cause unknown it's difficult to treat.

I've mentioned my dodgy hip on here a few times and it's had a significant impact on my life. As a young(ish) person, it can be very frustrating to be unable to walk long distances or shop for hours with your friends because you have to keep sitting down. It's embarrassing and depressing. Luckily, I am now at a stage where it does not affect my every day life and I no longer allow it yo limit my activities.

Arthritis Research UK are running a London to Paris cycle in September to raise money for research etc. I can't take part, but anyone else who fancies it should give it a go.

Cycling proved to a be a great therapy for my arthritis and has improved my situation dramatically. With research, other young people who suffer with swollen and painful joints will be able to experience the freedom I now can.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Sleepy pootle and an injury

Sooo tired, this commuting lark's exhausting.

I nearly didn't bike today but sternly told myself off with an internal monologue when I got to Paddington. Unfortunately, I then cut my finger on a wayward piece of plastic under the saddle when I was adjusting the saddle.

A Boris Bike repairman was waiting for colleagues next to the docking stand and, when he saw me sucking the finger in question asked what I'd done. He conscientiously investigated with me saying he'd take the bike out of service if there was a sharp bit on it, but we couldn't find what had done it. I still have no idea but it bled a lot.

Even with the injury, I knew I'd made the right decision as I hit Hyde Park with blue sky up above and the sun shining. Because they're so heavy, the bikes force you to pootle and, in a sit-up position, it was lovely to admire the view and glide through the park. I know my route really well now so I can peer around and admire the various things going past.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The rage returneth...

Gosh, just a week or so into my return to cycling and I'm already full of rage.

I've shouted at two naughty black cabs, one dozy minibus driver and have seriously muttered about a lot of cyclists.

It's an unfortunate truth that some of the cyclists in central London are complete peenarses. They speed through Hyde Park like they're in a race, with little old ladies and wayward toddlers forced to leap out of the way even when they're on the pedestrian sections. So intent on overtaking their fellow cyclists, some of these dimwits turn the wide two-way cycle lane into a speedway. A couple nearly hit me head on yesterday while trying to overtake other cyclists. Others just nip out of the cycle lane onto the pedestrian walkway, blindly expecting people to get out of their way.

As I'm still on Boris bikes at the moment I also get the sneery look of derision from some of them as they whizz past. I'm sorry mate, but given that your carbon dream machine weighs about an eighth of the steel contraption I'm on it's no wonder you're going faster than me. It's so not a legitimate scalp you moron.

Then there are the worrisome nobheads on their phones while cycling. They weave around, occasionally glancing up to see what's coming. Sheesh. Get off your phone or get off your bike.

Perhaps I was protected from all this when I was commuting into zone two, maybe zone one is just another twilight zone, infested with evil meanies.

Monday, 16 August 2010

For the last time lame people....

Whether you wear a helmet or not is entirely your choice, you're a grown up, so why the frick are so many of you bringing out a helmet and then hanging it off your handlebars/backpacks?!

I don't care if you don't want to wear one but carrying one around without using it would indicate to me that:

A: Your significant other/parents have told you to wear one and you carry one so that when you leave the house they see you carrying one and assume you're going to wear it.

B: Part of you thinks you should wear one but you just can't bring yourself to strap the polystyrene monstrosity to your head... in public.

C: You are under the misguided impression that, when one came with your bike, it was some sort of technical thing that belongs with said bicycle and that to separate them by more than four feet will render the bike useless.

To all of you, be it A, B or C:

You are lame. Make the decision and stick to it, grow a pair while you're at it.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Could the cycle hire scheme change attitudes as well as commutes?

I've been stopped several times by random people while out on a Boris bike.

'How much does it cost?'

'How do they handle?'

'Have you had key problems?'

'Is it easy to find a dock?'

People are interested, they want to know. So I tell them, often wheezing as they're invariably on little carbon fibre things. I've been told a couple of times that they're interest is because they're keen to get a friend or other half cycling in London and it's a nice way to start.

I've also helped several people having problems with the scheme. I've guided people to the nearest neighbouring dock when there's no empty spaces, I've pointed out that putting your key in makes it harder to dock the bikes, not easier and I've shown people which way up to put their key in the slot.

I've been happy to help, but what's shocked me is how many others are equally willing.

On the tube, it's an unwritten rule of London that you NEVER strike up conversations with strangers. Those who do are automatically given the mental label 'tourist'. Eye contact is a no no.

Cycle hire scheme bods seem to reject this. Even suited and booted trader types will give a hearty 'good morning' as we release bikes at the same time. 'Lovely day for it', is called out by the previously sour-faced school maam lookalike. In a London where I'm often the only person to help those with prams negotiate the stairs at stations 'Allow me!' is bellowed by an older gent who has seen me struggle to pull up a stuck seat post. I was so stunned I could barely offer a thank you before he sped away.

Yes, this is a different way to commute. Perhaps it won't just change the way we travel in London, maybe it'll change our entire attitude towards the others battling to work and back. Dare I say the word... camaraderie.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Cycle hire scheme top tips

Be ready. The green light may only flash for a single second. Insert your key, leave it there, grab both handlebars, keep an eagle eye on the lights and be ready to pull the bike out.

They are HEAVY. If you are used to lighter weight machines, be prepared for this. While it gives you stability after the initial shock, I had a bit of a weaving phase before finding my feet as it were.

Key problems. I have had a few already. The cycle hire line is pants and it's obviously not coping with demand. Don't be put off. At least twice I've called back and gone through to the centre itself instead of the overflow. If they have to reactivate your key and it doesn't work immediately, it's worth trying it again after about 10 minutes. I found walking to the next docking station filled the time and destressed me.

Redocking. Do a BoJo. When he says be firm, he's right. I've seen several people insert their key to redock their bike. You don't need to do this. Again, take both handlebars in a firm grip and roll the bike at a reasonable speed into the dock. Hold it in while waiting for the green light.

Do your research. While I've not yet been unable to get a bike at my dock of choice because of a lack of machines, it does happen. I have memorised the nearest four docking stations to the two stations I travel between so that I can just walk to the next one. Some of them are in weirdly residential places and bikes are always plentiful in these.

Persevere. The initial key problems caused me no end of grief and I got really annoyed. I refused to be cowed and decided to keep trying and it's been worth it. I travel into London and out again to get to work without having to use the tube. Lovely.

Back in the groove

Hurrah for cycle hire!

Having finally got the hang of my routes to and from Victoria I sailed across London this morning. There were bikes left at Paddington, my key worked first time, I knew where I was going and the weather was cool and clear. I donned my helmet and yellow reflective Sam Browne and I was off.

The joyous thing about my route from Paddington to Victoria is that it's downhill. When still half asleep I barely need to pedal going through Hyde Park, especially as the Boris bikes are so heavy, I just let gravity pull me along. The way back is a bit harder as it's mostly uphill on a fat-arse Boris bike, but it still beats hideous tube interchanges.

This morning I left my house at 7.25am, got the 7.39am train and was docking my bike near Victoria by 8.20am. That, to me, is amazing. Using the same train from where I live I've missed the 8.44am from Farringdon and, if I change to the district line using the same first train, I get to Victoria for about 8.40am. More than that, it's packed with commuters, stressful and uncomfortably warm. Getting in and out through the ticket gates is horrendous, with people pushing all the time and there's no guarantee of a seat.

More than all this though, I think my body's finally remembered how to cycle. It's been a struggle the last two days but this morning it finally clicked. I could almost hear it sighing 'ah, that's what you want me to do'.

The route I'm taking is not direct but it takes in the park and backstreets. I've negotiated Hyde Park Corner a few times but, even with the cycle lanes etc, I hate doing it. I'd rather cycle 10 minutes more and be happy.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Boris biking fun

I have decided to defy the NHS and begin cycling again.* However, I decided my return to pedal power would be on Boris's marvellous cycle hire contraptions as the sit up and beg position means no weight is being lent on my wrists and the route from Paddington to Victoria is mainly through Hyde Park.

A week after signing up, my key arrived so, on Monday morning, I headed out with my helmet and Sam Browne in my bag, ready to hit the bikes.

My key didn't work.

I headed back to the trains after a call to the cycle hire line that said they were too busy to sort it out and that they would call me back. Train delays meant I was horrendously late for work. Boo. That evening I rang again, pointing out that no one had rung me back. 'Sorry madam, we're still too busy' came the cry.

After getting very cross. I decided to calm down and walk to Paddington as Mr Weenie was working late and it was a lovely evening. I planned out a route and had a lovely walk. This morning, having seen a lovely occupational physio who guardedly said that, while she couldn't tell me I was fine to cycle because of protocol, she could tell me that many other people started back doing everyday activities at this point and no harm came to them. Hint hint.

Yesterday morning I got to Paddington (trains were again late) and my key STILL didn't work. So I rang the line, and they picked up! After apologising profusely for the delay they reactivated my key and it worked.


I climbed aboard and, once I'd secured my bag and strapped on my helmet, I was off.

Be warned all those who cycle light and modern roadies and hybrids, Boris bikes are heavy. Vary heavy. I wobbled somewhat as I began but I soon hit my stride and, as I've cycled around Paddington many times, I knew exactly the way to Hyde Park using small backstreets.

The brakes were sensitive without being too sharp and the gear changes were smooth. Yes, the bikes are heavy, but they're also stable and feel well built.

After getting a bit lost I arrived at Victoria in around 25 minutes, a vastly improved time than it's been taking of late. I saw a docking station, obeyed BoJo's instruction of firmly ramming the bike into the dock and the light went green first time. I walked 100 yards to the station and my train was already at the platform. I hopped on and arrived at work far happier than I've been for some time.

I've always supported the idea of the scheme and, although it's unfortunate that the call centre is clearly ill equipped to deal with the volume of interest, I'm heartened that the interest has been so great. Given that only members can use the bikes at the moment I've been impressed by the number of people I see out and about on them. Fingers crossed they work the kinks out as soon as possible.

*I should point out that the doctors do not object to my cycling per se, it is their concern that I will fall over while on my bike. My hip problems mean that I've fallen over about 15 times since I broke my wrist while walking around. Hmmmmmmmmm

Friday, 6 August 2010

Train commuting vs cycling, which is more dangerous?

I'm still not allowed to cycle... in case I fall off. This means that this morning I was yet again braving the train commute. After noticing I seem to be jostled often, this morning I decided to count the hits.

My right forearm was hit 10 times by people's bags or elbows, and that's only counting the ones that hurt. I also nearly got shoved off the train at Ealing Broadway and would have fallen flat on my face and probably thrown my arm out to catch myself.

The theory that it is somehow 'safer' for me to be doing this every morning instead of cycling is becoming more and more questionable. Dogs and small children are continually at my feet attempting to trip me up, I am shoved from behind as I step off high trains onto low platforms by people anxious to get to work, people with ridiculously large bags with hard edges swing them into me as they plough through the crowds.

I haven't even factored in the higher risk of obesity and heart disease caused by sitting on your arse on a train instead of cycling.

Oh God, I'm doomed!

PS: Am still waiting for my key to a Boris bike....

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Romance and the bicycle...

Yesterday we said goodbye to my grandma's sister, auntie Neen. Her funeral was in Stockport, where my mum's side of the family orginate from.

It was a long drive up north and and, on the way, grandma and I got chatting about how she'd met grandpa as we were passing through where they met. Their eyes met across a field of rhubarb as they were both working on the harvest. The rhubarb was bound for the jam factory, where wooden pips would be put in to pretend that it was strawberry jam. It was 1948.

Apparently, grandpa was 'gorgeous' and, as the only single young man of the group of three he was in, he was highly sought after. Grandma giggled when she remarked 'but I got there first'.

Were there dates, I asked. 'Oh no,' she replied, 'but I cycled 10 miles to work, and he cycled 15, so we would meet at the crossroads and go in together.'

Grandpa's a veteran tour cyclist and I've always known that he and grandma occasionally tandemmed together, but I had no idea that bicycles played such a key role in their romance. How fabulous.

There's scientific proof that the availability of cheap bicycles had a huge impact on the UK gene pool. Suddenly, lads and lasses were able to meet and marry people from other villages and were able to look for work further afield. I didn't realise, however, that their availability had had a direct impact on my existence, for if grandma and grandpa hadn't met in that rhubarb field, I would never have been born.

Yet another reason to fall in love with cycling.