The docking station on Hackney Road had more choice than I’d predicted. While I have used a Boris Bike before (or Santander Sponsored Death Traps, to give them their full name), it’s never been a part of my morning commute. On top of this, I have probably had 5 or 6 bike rides in the last 10 years. So I was pretty nervous going in.
The good news is that riding a bike is like, well, riding a bike. You really can pick it up and start again after a long time away. Despite being slightly wobbly to start off, it doesn’t take long to get in to the swing of things and I very slowly set off in the direction of my office.
My biggest concern was that I couldn’t find a route from Bethnal Green to Waterloo without going through the centre of London. The start of the journey along Old Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane would be fine, as would Southwark Bridge Road and Union Street at the other side of the river. But in between? Bishopsgate, Bank, etc? It would have been like a human version of Frogger.
Despite a quickly aching gluteus maximus (or a*se muscle, if you like), it was mostly enjoyable. I can’t say that my pride wasn’t hurt a little as I was overtaken by a man carrying a small child on his back, but this is about baby steps. Cycle gently down backstreets before you enter the Tour de Force and all that.
When planning my route in the morning my girlfriend warned me about the perils of one-way streets. I was grateful for the advice, but unconcerned. I was essentially taking the route I walk every morning anyway. There were no surprises to be had.
Oops, Brick Lane is a one-way street. Time to take a diversion.
Carefully weaving in and out of ambling pedestrians around Spitalfields, I started to get nervous. This wasn’t what I had planned. I had a very specific route in my mind and I was getting dragged further and further to the west. I eventually found myself on Moorgate, heading south with what felt like every bus in London.
Me, but with better hair under his helmet.
While being a cycling novice along Cheshire Street was okay, it was now starting to show. A lycra-clad cyclist flew past me, yelling indecipherable things about speed and my lack of it. A bus suddenly pulled to one side and, having cycled too close to the back of it (come on, that’s Cycling 101) I had to swerve to avoid it, pulling further towards the centre of the road than I felt comfortable with.
I was in over my head.
I dismounted my bike and consulted my phone. From where I was, there were very few routes south that could be taken without traffic. With beads of sweat dripping down my back and a quickly drying mouth, my mind started whirring. I could sense the Grim Reaper sneaking up behind me, equally unstable on his bicycle. I had to give up. Plus the cycle hire was about to go up to the next rate. But mostly the “not dying” thing. I returned the bike to a docking station.
Walking past Mansion House I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. It suddenly seemed as though the whole city was on a bicycle, mocking me as they went. I’m pretty sure I saw a six year old overtaking a van, but that may have been the exhaust fumes from riding so closely to the bus. I had made the right decision, which I probably wouldn’t have done 5 years ago (when I’d have probably been drunk), but it didn’t make it sit any more comfortably with me.
And funnily enough, I wouldn’t sit comfortably for the next three days.
Cycling in London Rating: Two very painful calf muscles and a new found hatred for bus drivers.
The Santander Sponsored Death Traps are located in docking stations around the city. If you don’t value your life, you can find your nearest one here.
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