Friday, 16 August 2013

Going Dutch: a cautionary tale

On the whole, I think that the Trois V is in favour of the move towards cycle lanes in the Dutch style (and certainly towards a legal system that puts pedestrians at the top, then cyclists and then vehicles).  But, as the Tristesse Endura ride showed, cycle routes are not without their difficulties, and we're aware of the perils of the crap cycle path as much as anyone.  I suspect that at least some of us also favour John Franklin's view of roadcraft, while being aware of the debate that is going in cycling blogs and Twitter.  But this is not a manifesto, nor a position statement (our Constitution eschews such things) but by way of explaining what I was doing here:

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As it turns out, I was doing bad things.  En route to the Team Bike marshalling station in Gunnersbury to drop of the Squadra and a heavy back filled with sugar in the form of High 5 gels, I had my departing instructions from one of the Friends of the Trois V running round my head: 'go safely, darling'.  This, combined with a curiousity about bike lanes and going Dutch, the recent history of three minicabs turning in front of me and two pedestrians stepping out without looking, led to me acting on a whim at the arrival of what I mentally called the Hammersmith roundabout, but now view as the Hammersmith Gyratory - the name captures more of the urban horror.

There was a sign of a little bike, pointing onto the pavement, followed by a series of bike height Pelican crossing buttons and lights, rather like the lights for horses (again, this was too urban for such Constitution Hill indulgences).  I followed one set, slowly, and then another, at a gentle pace, and began to make progress towards my destination: King Street on the other side of the roundabout (which, in case you are unfamiliar with it houses Coca Cola, a bus station, a tube stop and some butt-ugly half-baked-PoMo office blocks).  To my right was some bike parking - a good sign - but the sense of bike path was no fading.  Where to go? I freewheeled on slowly, looking for a sign, was momentarily distracted by a very bad and loud busker, when I head a voice:

'Do you know why I stopped you?'

I looked around and a slight, young British transport policeman was trying to get my attention away from the busker. That was a good thing.  But the series of smart alec replies that ran through my head ('because of these red shoes?', 'to save me from the busker') were wisely suppressed.

'No, officer'.

And so it began.  I have become a pavement cyclist, the lowest form of life, pretty much.  Despised and loathed by the Trois V, the comments section of the Daily Mail and Standard, as well as giving fellow wheelers a bad name.

I explained that I had been directed here by the cycle lane, wondered about saying how slow I was going, and that I was only one abreast this way, that three cars had earlier decided to try and kill me, but instead suggested he should point out to his superiors the poor design, the lack of signs (visible ones anyway), and that I never normally did such a thing (true) and had just decided to follow the cycle path rather than attempt the gyratorory, as I normally did (en route to Richmond Park, a detail I didn't go into).  Floating above all this was a sense of ridiculousness, a slight worry I would be late for the marshalling point, and a slight wondering whether this was all on CCTV.

Perhaps not wanting the paper work, I was given a verbal warning, had my date of birth and name taken (which I gave up trying to spell after a while.  The curse of having such an unusual name as 'M[redacted]').  All done with a half-thought about the times one does or does not have to give up such information, how efficient their records were anyway, and what computer systems they might use.

And then we entered a long digression about who partly paid his wages (TfL), so it would be better if the complaint to them about the lack of the above would come from me.  It actually began to be a pleasant chat at that point.

So, sent on my way with a verbal warning (ingested as 'don't bother with cycle paths') and some homework ('Dear TfL, would you like a trip to Amsterdam?'), I clip clopped in my red clogs precariously on my way.  I remounted, and promptly had a Mercedes pull in front of me and a man stepped into the street.  Good work, Condor, on the brakes, btw.



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Ride London Surrey 100 Sportive: Putting the Hammer Down, or, ‘Waiting for Sagan’

It was 6:38 am, and I was in pen ‘G’ along with 1,000 other Mamils, waiting for our wave to be unleashed, not onto the Normandy beaches but onto the A12.  Unlike me, Dr Doug missed out on a place in the ballot for the inaugural Ride London Surrey 100 Sportive (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?), so this meant only one thing: who would I wheelsuck for 98 miles before jettisoning my water bottles and racing to the finish?  These, and several other questions, would be answered over the next 5 hours and 15 minutes:

Q. Is Box Hill really just a false flat?
A. Yes.  Especially if you think you recognise someone from Team Bike, but it turns out that they bought the jersey randomly at the Tour of Dartmoor; nonetheless, you enjoy a nice chat spinning up the ‘hill’.

Q. Is Leith Hill really just a false flat?
A.  No. Nor are the ones before it.  Like any sportive, you can enjoy the sight of people getting off and pushing.

Q. What is it like riding on closed roads?
A. A bit like getting upgraded to First or Business.  Turning right after this is a bit of a let-down.  That said, it took a while to stop slowing for lights or junctions, and to remember to use the right hand side for overtaking, choosing a good line for a descent.  A bit like remembering to put your seat flat and making use of the free slippers.

Q. How often do you fly first class?
A. Not as much (ever?) as some of the other Mamils on the route, I suspect: 'accountant' was the occupation most cited by participants.

Q. How good is your race plan?
A. First, it’s not a race, it’s a ride.  A timed ride, with thousands of club riders on well-specced bikes, all relishing the thought of a hundred miles of closed roads, but still a ride not a race.  And this was my plan; enjoy the sights of London, see how much of an event it is, soak up the atmosphere, and not go to fast too early and blow up somewhere on the flanks of Leith Hill.  This was a good plan.  It was a rare treat to see London and the roads of Surrey like that, plus there were odd acquaintances to bump into and have a bit of a natter.

Q. But didn’t you put the hammer down?
A. Yes, but mostly out of laziness (see wheelsucking above).  The first third was a bit of a haze, what with it being a 4 a.m. start.  But whirring along the A12, through the Limehouse link, past early well-wishers in the City and Docklands, and then through the West End and out towards Richmond Park took on a splendid dream-like quality.  The same could be said for the stewards of the first wave at 6 am (send on their way by Boris), as they directed these whippets towards the Blackwall Tunnel.

I took on some water at Hampton Court, spent some time in the portaloo (be cautious in your beetroot intake in the days before), and then made a 19 mph average towards the Surrey Hills, mostly riding alone.  These turned out to be nice spins up to pleasant views (Leith Hill excepted).  And I began to realise that this was more than a decent day out, but an Event!  With Closed Roads! Cheering Crowds!

I cautiously opened the toolbox and rummaged for something rusty.

The average crept up.  The legs still felt okay, with a slight hint of weariness kept at bay by gels. 30 miles to go.  But it was gusty, and even a bit of an unexpected headwind.  The legs now started to get tired.  A group was needed.  Around Esher a well-drilled train zoomed by.  I jumped on their back and then, unlike others, they noted took my turn at the front.  10 mins at 26 mph.  About 15 miles of this, and we got separated, so I tried to get someone to work together to catch them up; even deployed an old trick to get someone to take the lead.  And by Wimbledon we were back together (helped by volunteers handing out gels and water on the street as we rode by).  A whizz down Putney High Street brought cheers from Friends of the Trois V who had made the trip to a point recommended by 10 mile emails from Cyclemeter, and we crossed the river at speed. By now there was a touch of hanging on for dear life.

Then, The Mall appeared after  a sharp left turn at the foot of Trafalgar Square.  Where was the line?

There! There! Sprint... and... ride done.  Medal, shandy, and home (with a Schleck on the way).  The orange group appeared on a populist newspaper website the next day, crossing the line in a variety of Sagan-esque poses.  Thankfully, I had just slipped through.

Q. But I thought this was the year of the no sportives?
A. Let's keep this among ourselves.


Here's the movie: