The pub looked so inviting: a country inn, serving real ales, possibly some cider, and a lunch menu that included doorstep sandwiches. There was just one problem – what was I going to with my bike? I thought about leaving it in the street out the front, then noticed the gateway at the side which led to a small covered yard. I wheeled my bike through, and propped it against a wall, next to the bins and underneath a window which, judging by the conversation I could hear, I presumed to be in the pub’s kitchen. I took my phone, wallet and camera out of my pannier bag and then went into the pub.
This would have been unthinkable had I been in London at the time. But I wasn’t – I was in the small market town of Hatherleigh, in Devon.
Normally if I’m leaving my bike for even the briefest period of time I’ll remove anything that can be easily removed, and lock it – frame and wheels – to something immovable. This isn’t just paranoia – it’s a lesson I’ve learned from bitter experience.
I still remember the last time I left my bike unattended with the lights still attached. It was maybe nine or ten years ago; I was on my way home from work, which at the time was on Brick Lane, and had to drop something off at the Brady Arts Centre just around the corner. I was only going to pop inside and come straight back out again; I locked my bike up, but figured it was too much hassle to unfasten the lights for such a short amount of time. So I left them there.
I was inside the building for perhaps 30 seconds, a minute at most. But when I came out again my lights had disappeared, as had – funnily enough – the two boys who had been playing in the street when I’d arrived.
I’ve also had the seat stolen from my bike – again, while it was left unattended for a matter of minutes. My bike was locked up in Cavendish Square, just off Oxford Street. I’d gone off to do some shopping, and my then boyfriend was waiting for me by our bikes. I took longer than I’d expected, so he got bored and wandered off. There was perhaps a five minute gap when neither of us was by the bikes, and in that time someone managed to make off with my saddle.
I’ve also had two bikes stolen: one from outside a pub near Angel, and another from Upper Street (the latter in broad daylight).
So no, it’s not paranoia.
But Devon is not London. Over the course of my few days down there, I started to relax a bit. Like a scoop of ice cream in the sunshine, my London ways soon melted away. I developed a bit of a laissez faire attitude towards my bike and my belongings. So what if there wasn’t anything to lock them to? There was hardly anyone around who might want to steal anything, and even less incentive for anyone to do so.
So I stopped looking around for bike racks or railings to lock my trusty steed to, and started to lean it against shop windows while I went in to have a look around. I left it propped up against walls and benches while I went off to take photos. I left it in the car park, both panniers still attached, for most of the morning while I went to look around Lydford Gorge.
And then I came back to London.
My train back from Plymouth got in to Paddington at gone 11pm. By the time I’d cycled back to Stoke Newington it was around midnight. I was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed, but there was one thing between me and my duvet: I didn’t have any milk for my breakfast. Handily, there’s a 24-hour corner shop not far from my house. Less handily, the nearest bike rack is across the road from it. Ordinarily I would lock my bike up and nip across the road, but this time I couldn’t face the thought of lugging both my pannier bags across the road and back again, and I wasn’t going to leave them on there while I went in the shop. But nor could I face the thought of waking up in the morning without any milk for my coffee.
So, emboldened by a combination of tiredness and holiday spirit, I did something I’ve never done before. I left my bike unlocked outside the shop, leaning against a stack of boxes of bananas, while I picked up a pint of milk.
It felt strangely liberating to be able to do that. It’s not something I would do again in a hurry – I value my trusty steed too much to do that, and I only did it out of necessity. I also only did it because I know the shop and I trust the people who run it. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could just leave my bike anywhere I wanted to, safe in the knowledge that it would still be there when I came back?