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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (1) - MY FIRST LONDON COMMUTE 10 YEARS AGO

May 2005


The bicycle has always been in my radar, whether by reading about it in the pink pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, or by riding it in my childhood during my holidays visiting grandparents in Parma. In Genoa, where I’m from, cycling for leisure is not really an option as the sprawling city is built on steep terrain. My flat, for instance, would have required an elevation gain of 150 metres over 1.5 km… not exactly something for the occasional rider; so the riding was limited to the summer holidays in pan flat Parma.Therefore, while living in relatively flat London, cycling started to have a certain appeal, especially considering the ever increasing price of public transport and the constant waste of time waiting for either trains or buses.
Two or three of my colleagues were cycling on a regular basis, but the prospect of future rides was tempting enough for me to finally give it a go.
My fitness level was very low, ok, non-existent when compared to them and I was worried that, considering I would have had to cover more than double their distance from my home, it would prove too much. But there’s no knowing without trying.
I proceeded to buy a mountain bike as I thought it would be a safer ride over potholes, manhole covers, rain and the occasional towpath. Racing bikes were still the exception in London’s traffic... how much things have changed since then!

10th May 2005.
8:30am.

I was wearing lycra leggings with minimalistic pad (I’d soon regret that), long sleeve jersey (very baggy) and a yellow waterproof jacket. It was May and I was preparing myself for a ride in the Arctic Circle. Little I knew how hot it would get during the ride.
As previously mentioned, my fitness level was bad, I let myself go a bit thanks mainly to the copious lunchtime beers, therefore my tummy seemed to get in the way of pedalling. That would need to be addressed.
The route I chose proved disastrous because it went through Putney, Fulham, Kensington, Park Lane! (why, oh why did I go that way), Oxford Street (of all roads); basically the busiest streets in London’s morning traffic.
Out of New Malden, I hit the first and only climb, Copse Hill, which is only a gentle slope ramping up to 5% at the top and about 1 km long, but back then and as heavily dressed as I was, I could have sworn the effort felt comparable to what pro riders would feel on the steep slopes of the Tour de France.
Adding to my discomfort were toe clips I had added to my pedals. As I had managed to time almost each red light to perfection (around 75 of them, no, really), fitting my shoes back onto the pedals and into the toe clips so many times required the type of skill I definitely lacked, often resulting in a few pedal strokes with the straps hanging and hitting the floor in pure beginner’s style.
However bad that first ride went, including ample amounts of sweat (mainly thanks to the greenhouse effect produced by the waterproof jacket), it was enough for me to fall in love with the cycling experience.
The freedom to choose the route, the ability to forget everything else and enjoy the wind in my face. The clue was in the smiling, which would become part of my cycling from then on.
Adieu to stuffy trains and crowded buses, to high fares and boring waits. Bienvenue to cycling.

RIDE STATS
ride length: 21km
ride time: 1h23m
average speed: 15.2km/h
total elevation gain: 118 metres
highest point: 59 metres


Image: mapmyride.com

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