The cycle commute – the key to inner happiness

If you read the horrors of my previous post detailing the perils of commuting on London transport, you will know I ended it deciding I will get back on my bike instead. I have cycled to work for about 8 years but the past year I have only used it sporadically, but having given up smoking and instilled with new-found energy I pumped up my tyres and greased up the chain and hit the cycle paths once more.

The volume of cycle commuters in London has grown dramatically, there are better resources, cycle paths and route advise available, and ride to works schemes that were in place made it more affordable (though I do believe this will be scrapped under Government austerity measures) and now the introduction of the bicycle hire scheme you will see dotted over the capital.   I first noticed a huge influx after the 7/7 bombings, the following day with many in fear of public transport, the roads were full of rusty old bikes, dragged out of retirement from people’s sheds, the cyclists skills were as rusty as I witnessed bicycle pile ups at traffic lights as inexperienced cyclists had ventured out of the dark underground systems into blinding daylight.

I am lucky that only half my journey is on the roads, the other half is on the Grand Union Canal, I could cycle the whole route by canal being a few minutes from Regents Canal in Camden Town, but this stretch gets quite busy and with low bridges and stretches without canal side paths anyway, it is easier to do the road stretch then hit the canal without needing to come off, and besides the road section I take is mostly around Regents Park so that in itself is pleasurable.

My journey begins on the Camden Road, I cycle out of my street and see the familiar faces of overground passengers filtering into the station, I would usually be one of them, this was part of the reason I have been lazy, the station at the end of my road and only a 20 min journey to my work, and being overground is so much better than the tube so if you have to use transport at least get the most out of it.

Heading towards Regents Park I take my well planned shortcuts to avoid as many red lights as possible and eventually reach the outer circle taking to it counter-clockwise.  The vast aviary of London Zoo looms ahead, and soon pass the zebra and giraffe enclosure.

I carry on passing the mini mansions circling the park, and turn to exit the park and join the road passing Lords cricket ground.

We are now on the St Johns Wood and Maida Vale border, on match days the queues will have started already as smartly dressed men queue for a day of cricket and alcohol.  I cross the Edgware road and join Blomfield Road which earmarks the point of the canal emerging form a long tunnel, if you had cycled on it earlier you would have had to come off beforehand and can join again shortly.   A cafe sits atop the tunnel overlooking the water below, narrowboats line the banks and grand houses line the streets alongside.

This is Little Venice,  worth a visit, some nice pubs and restaurants are here, even a restaurant on a barge and  a children’s puppet theatre boat.  This is of course where people live, their boats customised expressing the personalities of their owners, some you can see a glimpse inside, others have decorated and adorned their boats outside.

My road trip ends on the canal section begins, when I first join I witness the seasons first ducklings, huddled in a circle facing inwards for protection and fiercely guarded by their parents.

Under the first bridge and the pathway widens as the route takes as past high rise council blocks and art studios.

Continuing on the concrete highway streaks above my head, the A40 flyover, graffitied walls line the route and we pass the next bridge headed by the bus depot and The Grand Union pub.  Beyond a small park lies home to a skate park, empty at this time of day, looming over me now is Trellick Tower, and eyesore to many but familiarity to others, striking it is though and a landmark of sorts.

I take a brief detour hopping off the canal to race up one road parallel, before rejoining at the end of the road, wisely missing two sets of cycle barriers which would have otherwise of held me up.  I join again at Ladbroke Grove and one of the nicest spots for a supermarket in London as Sainsburys looms over the canal, ahead is a hill which you have to hit at full speed to make it to the top.  Timing is key as if you see someone coming round the bend on the other side, they will hit it first then you have a fight atop the hill to decide who can go through the cycle barrier first.  This ‘run up’ is made harder by the new shingles laid down on my side which slows you down and also causes stones to pelt out from your wheels and hit innocent pedestrians sitting on the canal side benches.   Once over you hit another stretch of narrowboat homes, whereas Little Venice has a certain snobbery about its residents, here everyone is a bit more chilled, they moor up in the shadow of the gas rings and opposite the Kensal Green cemetery which runs along the other side.

Five minutes later and I am approaching work, The familiar shoebox shaped warehouses line the river, I disembark my bike and carry it over the bridge feeling energised and refreshed, stark contrast to the lethargy you feel after a tube commute.

My commute is roughly the same if I took the train or not, but I save £45 a month, those who get the tube would save a lot more as I am lucky that the overground journey I take is fairly cheap, but not only that, you don’t feel like you are going to work, there isn’t that sense of dread, or uncomfortableness of being squashed on a sticky train and at the mercy of broken trains, failed signals or strikes.   You’ll soon come to get your London bearings and gain a perspective that tube goers don’t have, they see london mapped out as a tube map, none the wiser of actual distances between certain areas or no understanding of the geographical landscape, you’ll be at one with the City then your lover affair with London can really begin to take off.

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