It’s always a great sense of accomplishment to travel somewhere far away by bike. Other than commuting to work, my cycling usually involves travelling in loops from home to home. So it’s always fun when the opportunity arises to use the bike as a genuine mode of transport.
On Thursday I rode from the Chew Valley (Someset) to Kew Gardens (London), a distance of 132 miles / 213km. I left at 7.30am and arrived just before 5pm. Total riding time was 8 hours, plus regular stops for coffee, pasties, sandwiches, chocolate and more coffee.
I was going to ride the steel-frame touring bike, but a friend lent me his seat-pack so that I could ride the carbon fibre lightweight bike. I reckon this probably saved about an hour on the journey time compared to the heavy old steel frame plus rack and panniers. When you’re staying in hotels and buy all your food with a credit card you’re basically cheating at proper touring anyway, so you may as well go the whole hog and ride a race bike!
It was fairly mild when I left, but then I entered a thick cloud of fog which seemed to cover most of Wiltshire. For at least an hour I rode along saying “f**k it’s cold” on repeat. Travelling light has its limitations on kit so I just had to man-up and ride on.
I ended up riding through parts of Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey and London. I stuck to quiet lanes and B-roads so it was like a trip through the lost lands of middle England; places unvisited by the fast-paced A-roads and motorways. With the sunshine it was blissful. A land of fields, tractors, thatched roofs and the raw smells of manure!
The roads were quiet and I hardly encountered any bad driver incidents, which was good. I think the worst moment was a lorry driving too fast down a dusty lane. I pulled off the road and we exchanged un-plesantries as he passed. He was quickly followed by an old gent driving a TVR who looked just like Michael Caine, who shouted “don’t mind a bit of dust do you fella!” and sped off before I could explain that it was the out-of-control, 10 tonnes of metal that I’d minded rather than the effing dust. I spent the next ten minutes thinking that it definitely had been Michael Caine, and the next ten minutes deciding that it definitely hadn’t been Michael Caine. This is the kind of petty, repetitive nonsense that goes on in my head during a long ride. Which is a nice change from the stresses of normal life.
The last hour was a bit of a slog through the never-ending suburbia of Greater London and then Central London. 7 hours of quiet countryside, followed by an hour of traffic lights, cars and pollution so thick you can taste it. For all its positives there’s a lot about London that I don’t miss – traffic being one of them. I’m not sure whether I’d cycle if I lived there now. Maybe I’m just not used to the stress and intensity of that type of riding any more. It felt dangerous.
I arrived at Kew at 5pm. Timed perfectly for beer o’clock. My wife joined me the following morning, having driven in the support vehicle so there was fortunately no need to cycle home again. A great adventure and nice to put the fitness to practical use.