On about my 5th ride here. I feel lucky to have only come out of the saddle and onto the pavement once. This place teaches you vehicle and road awareness like no town Ive ever pushed a peddle in. Pittsburgh, my hometown and a notoriously tough road ride arena is a cakewalk compared to London.
When you think of England and bicycles, the dreamy images of its country roads and its villages and polite pedestrians flood the brain - miles and miles of winding pavement with earnest weekend bikers grinding away on Raleighs and Mercians and Birminghams and all the myriad steel workaday frames made of the famed Reynolds tubing that made the UK a cycling center beckon....
Well, at least not in area code 44.
London was designed to discourage anything on two wheels.
Or maybe it was built for things on two wheels or drawn by carts but now....its a charnel house of lanes and roundabouts and strange signs and even stranger fantatical commuters bent on outsprinting you to the next stop light 400 yards away. Mile after mile after mile.
I can leave my place in LA, a city basin twice the size of London and not put my foot to pavement more than 5 times in a 70 mile ride.
I'm stopping every mile in London. If I'm lucky. And when I got to the big loop all the cyclists talk about - Regents park- Im faced with the Anglican tendency to stop at anything remotely resembling a yield sign or cross walk. The mile-ish loop there then automatically has two stops mixed in. Who thinks this way!!!????
I long for unruly shameless scofflaw bike messengers of Manhattan.
But then I find myself cruising along the Thames trying to dodge Italian tourists backstepping into the roadway, streams of hard wired City bankers headed home at big crank speed to....do whatever london bankers do at home, the random lorry turning into an access drive that crosses the bike lane (Lorry is truck in English english) and I look up -stupid enough- and see Im passing Westminster or the Chelsea Physic garden or any one of a thousand astounding and beautiful historical and cultural monuments and I say to myself....whats the frickin hurry Dave? You're not riding in June to Beat anyone. You're NOT going to a fundraiser to Race. You're not even a Racer anymore.
So big flipping deal. Just do the time in the saddle and let the world be what the world is.
And breathe it in.
And my God what an astounding city. And how lucky am I to be rolling through parts of it most visitors would never see. The alley behind the East India docks where the wealth that built the British empire first off loaded. The bike lane that winds thru a housing estate with a sign saying "Bow Bells one mile" the Bow bells which if you were born within the sound of, you can call yourself a cockney. The road past Putney bridge under which the Oxford Cambridge boat race finished last weekend and at which the chairman of Cambridge University - THE Cambridge university as the football players say - the venerated college system built 700 years ago and still churning out geniuses and printed matter that the world otherwise would never see the appointed head of this august academy looked down upon his men's 8 and even as it lost to Oxford, passing beneath him he intoned "FUCK YEAH BOYS!!!"
I could ride these streets for a long time.