Posted by: Ian | August 28, 2010

London Cycling

Zoe and Heidi were in London with me this week and on Tuesday we all cycled. In the morning they got up unnaturally early with me to ride just over 10 miles from Notting Hill to Canary Wharf. Emily lent them each bikes and rode with us. Heidi was on Emily’s green Brompton and Zoe borrowed the super-zippy Scott Contessa CR1 carbon road bike.

I gave them a choice between riding through the parks and seeing the sites or going a different way that takes in the cafe next to Condor that serves London’s best fresh-baked muffins. The photo reveals their choice. The great thing about cycling at 6 something is that the roads are clear; it really is a treat.

Later, with extra bike fans joining us after work, we followed the “quirky” ride from this book of London cycle routes. Our first stop was the London Stone at Charing Cross, which was allegedly used by the Romans for measuring distances across Britain. From there we went to the statue of “the little fat boy” that reportedly marks the spot where the Fire of London finished.

The third stopping off point had a less contentious claim to fame, being London’s oldest church right by St Bart’s hospital. In the interests of keeping the distance manageable, I cut out the sites south of the river, and to avoid the need to carry bikes locks around I didn’t try to rush us into the Hunterian museum. I did, though, stop off to take a couple of off-piste snaps of Temple Bar. I cycle past it all the time and always mean to try and capture the Potteresque drama of the griffin that marks the westernmost edge of the City.

Next, we went to Trafalgar Square (via the wrong-way access road leading to The Savoy) and,returning to the London Stone theme, learned that the statue of Charles I stands on the former site of a cross formally used as a central point in London for marking distances. We failed to find “Britain’s smallest police station”, though when we saw photos of it the next day we knew exactly where it was. From there it was a short walk up to Brydges Place, which is claimed to be London’s narrowest street.

Most of the party called it a day here and returned home. Continuing West towards Notting Hill, we tried half-heartedly, and failed, to find the Pet cemetery in Hyde Park. Then we found the blanked off houses in Leinster Gardens.

After cycling more than 20 miles around town, the girls had had as much fun as I had. Zoe said she wanted to cycle around London every day.

The car drivers I see while cycling are generally having a lot less fun. Increasingly, they seem tetchy and short-temptered. I watch them winding their windows down and mouthing off at cyclists all the time. While it reflects a lack of politesse that should be punished by permanent exile, I can see why they get so frustrated. They’re stuck inside their cars lurching miserably from one queue to another while carefree cyclists whizz past them from all sides.

The Boris bikes can only be adding insult to injury. It’s one thing to be left behind by a peloton of carbon race bikes and another level of humiliation entirely to be outpaced by fleets of cycling non-cyclists languidly pedalling past on bikes that weigh as much as your car. I do worry that there might soon be so many of these that unless there is an offsetting reduction in the number of cars London will no longer be enjoyably traversable on a normal bike.

I had an exciting sighting on Tavistock Place a few days ago. About twenty yards ahead of me I saw a bike flash across the road into a sidestreet and recognised it as a Van Nicholas Yukon. This is the bike Emily has recently ordered. A few minutes later I saw the same bike ahead of me again as I swang around the south side of Coram’s Field. I chased the rider down as she rode into Red Lion Street and asked her how she liked the Van Nic. “It’s fabulous,” she told me. She was all enthusiasm and the Yukon looked every bit as great as she said it was.

Emily ordered hers at the same time as I ordered my Zephyr, getting us a discount for buying two together. The Yukon is due in around three weeks and my Zephyr is due three weeks later.

The Van Nic guys accidentally emailed me their 2011 brochure yesterday, making me the first consumer to see their new range. The brochure is very nicely produced. By flicking from bike to bike in Preview on my mac I can get a good sense of the differences in geometry. By comparison the Zephyr is funky. The top tube and the seat stays become very narrow where they join the seat tube. Moreover, the seat stays meet the seat tube markedly lower than the top tube does. If questions in bike frame manufacture had been set when I was studying mechanics at A level I would not have chosen this design. But I’m sure the VN guys know what they’re doing and I can’t wait to see how the performance/comfort pay-off works out in practice.


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