Some writing I’ve been doing recently for a couple of other websites has got me thinking about when I first started cycling in London. More specifically, it’s got me thinking about why I started.
As anyone who’s ever spent any time with a small child will know, why is always the most difficult question to answer. In this case, it’s even harder as it’s been 11 years since I first started cycling in London. Memory is a notoriously unreliable witness, so my attempts to piece together my reasons for first getting on my bike are proving to be something of a challenge.
This much I do remember. Although I had cycled before I moved to London, most recently when I’d been studying in small town Mississippi, cycling in London wasn’t something that occurred to me at first.
I remember that a colleague from my first job in London had cycled to work. I remember him coming in every morning, and hanging his sweaty t-shirt over the back of his chair to dry. I remember thinking that I couldn’t do what he was doing. I don’t think I ever thought he was ‘brave’ to cycle, or any of the other words that people use when I tell people I cycle. No, I just thought I physically couldn’t cycle all the way to work. It was simply too far. I was probably right; at the time I lived in Brixton and worked in Queen’s Park. I’d find that challenging even now.
There was also the small fact that London is a very big city, and I’d only just moved there. At the time, I couldn’t find my way around the Tube network, let alone above ground. If I’d tried to navigate my way around by bike, I would’ve got lost instantly.
But then a friend of mine started to cycle to work. She was an old friend from university, one of three who had also made the move to London. This was when I’d been in London for a little over a year and still didn’t know that many people. As a result, this small group of friends had a huge influence on how I felt about the city, and what I did. So when this particular friend started to cycle, it piqued my interest.
The final push came, I think, from someone I was working with at the time. He was blond, single, a good few years older than me and rather sexy (in an older man kind of way). He also cycled to work. I had a bit of a crush on him, and cycling gave me an excuse to talk to him. I got him to tell me all about the facilities for cyclists where we worked, and he even showed me the bike sheds – much to the amusement of our other colleagues.
The final step – actually buying a bike – happened almost without me thinking about it. If I remember rightly, I went into Halfords one afternoon just to have a look, and came out shortly afterwards the proud owner of a shiny green Apollo women’s bike.
I don’t remember ever thinking it was too dangerous to cycle. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to think that. In fact, I don’t think I really thought about the reality of cycling in London traffic until I was actually on my bike. I remember taking it out for its maiden journey along Brixton Road: I was in the bus lane and a bus driver behind me beeped his horn and completely freaked me out. I was convinced I was doing something wrong and I’d put my life in mortal danger.
(In reality, I was almost certainly going really slowly, and the driver was probably just getting impatient – my legs then were not what they are now.)
So there we have it – mix together a small dose of curiosity with a smattering of previous experience, throw in a serving of lust and stir it all together with a big helping of foolhardiness, and you’re left with something approaching why I started cycling in London.