created by Charlie Woodall
Cyclists, loved and hated in equal measure, they ride in all conditions and through all colours of traffic lights, but what's it like out there in the depths of a two-wheeled winter?
The low point was definitely November 14th this winter. Wet, cold, windy and late for work. The inevitable puncture that ensued in a Wandsworth industrial estate, far from the refuge of public transport and possessing what turned out to be a duff spare inner tube, couldn’t have been scripted in a more masochistic manner.
Now we’re rolling into the first signs of summer, the gloves are off, the arm warmers are a distant memory and t-shirt season is but a few short weeks away. The assumed misery of winter commuting season on the bike is teetering into the altogether warmer, sunnier and more fun few months of cycling to and from work with the Sun’s warm glow on my back.
The necessary repetition of the commute breeds complacency, and it’s only the first glint of the summer sun off Big Ben’s familiar face or reflections coming across the still water of the Serpentine that triggers the reminder of what a great looking place it is we live and work in. It’s no secret that London looks great in the summer and it’s no more apparent than from the freedom of two wheels in the dawn and dusk that bookends the working day. Memories of that damp, lonely morning in Wandsworth vanish with a warm tailwind through Battersea Park, past the Pagoda and on to Chelsea Bridge towards the pulsating life of the city with the footpaths bustling with runners in marathon training and the Cycle Superhighways ever more packed with the diverse peloton that is the London cycle commuter community.
This mismatched bunch of riders, from the lycra-layered racers to the single-speed trundlers, both of which are categories I fall into, are joined by the Boris Bike beginners, the fashionistas on their upright machines and all sorts in between. Competition in the ranks is always silent, but ever present. The first pedal strokes departing a busy junction like Vauxhall Bridge always set the tone in the bunch, with some dropping like a stone to the back and others desperate to keep their wheel in front of the rider next to them. Those without mudguards cause widespread unspoken ire in wet weather, another trigger for trying to surge in front of the rider ahead, out of the trail of effluent spinning off their rear wheel. Garmin devices and bar-mounted phones are further evidence of the silent competition commuters engage in each day as they seek the top spots of the Strava leaderboards.
The battle goes on into the summer as fitness and temperatures increase together. And then, as soon as you’ve got used to the long evenings, the reality of the cold November rain will bite and draw us back into another winter of windy struggles and silent competition through the dark months when we zip past Big Ben with no regard for his presence.
Charlie Woodall rides his bike a lot.
Follow at him @woodallc87