swan central

It’s started. The Gathering. Outside my house at early o’clock on a Sunday morning.I prise open the door ever so quietly so upstairs wake at a more agreeable hour. The weather has turned for the better, just not turned by much, we’re still wearing tights and full finger gloves. It’s bright outside, cold too, very cold. The cloudless sky means it’s not raining but it’s cold. Most cyclists would take that correlation.

Today’s RB is the Doog. An Aussie triathlete who just when you think he’s gone, blown up, comes right back, he never gives up. His road sense and his bike handling skills however are terrible, it’s safer to be in front rather than following his wheel, but keeping in front is easier said than done with the Doog.

We’re going flat but fast, out along the Thames to Chertsey and back. There won’t be much talking between us, just a silent focus on our pushing up the average speed. It’s not a social ride. It was never going to be this early in the morning. If the pace drops one of us will surge forward to take the wind and push the pace back up, the other does their best to stick to the back wheel, until it’s their turn to repay the ‘favour’.

I need to check the route map as I’m not sure exactly where it is, somewhere just after the smooth bit of tarmac coming out of Sunbury-on-Thames, through the hedge, there are hundreds of swans, a blanket of white feathers on the water. Why? Are they ‘flocked’ together? Can swans ‘flock’ on water or only in flight? They’re definitely not a herd or a pack of swans – so a grounded flock it is.

The problem with cycling fast – obsessing on the average speed – is you can’t stop to find the answer to your questions. Instead that ‘why’ bangs around the inside of your cycling helmet, ricocheting randomly. Maybe the Doog is trying to figure out why too, as he inexplicably swerves across the road.

What’s so special about the bit of Thames just there, just outside Sunbury-on-Thames, just before Shepperton? Why has given way to scrambled hypotheses inside my helmet. Is it calm water, with no current to disturb their rest? Or the perfect ecosystem for swan food to thrive? Or maybe swans just like each other’s company, to gather together – in a sort of swan commune.

I always thought of swans as a compact family unit, mum & dad and 5 or 6 cygnets with a defined territory they share with subjugated ducks. Are they flocked by necessity, convenience or a social bond like humans do? Have they consciously chosen to live together? Or is just outside Sunbury-on-Thames, just before Shepperton some kind of ‘paradise’ for swans that every swan knows about?

I can’t answer any of these questions, what I do know is that I don’t know much about swans and I’ve stop obsessing about average speed which was ruining the ride anyway.

(I’ve since checked my route on Strava.com and I think it’s Shepperton Marina – Paradise for swans).

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morning (ride) is broken

It’s going to be one of those days. The lights are against me and the ire of my fellow road users is palpable, real. Whether they’re on their bike (like me), scooter, motorbike, car, bus, huge massive tipper truck. Everyone is angry this morning. The mood on the road is dark, impatient, tetchy with an air of ‘get out of my way’ and ‘I don’t care if I run you over’. It’s not all directed at me. Or at least I hope not. There’s motorists hating cyclist and vice versa. Everyone hating buses. Cyclists hating cyclists – Yes, this does happen.

When irascibility mixes with the traffic fumes, we can turn on each other.  It must be the lighter mornings and brighter evenings as there are a lot more of us all of a sudden, an uncoordinated swarm of buzzing, fluorescent, light-blinking wasps, fighting it out for safe space on the road – out of the gutter, racing between curb and vehicle or worse between vehicle and vehicle. All of us, at multiple speeds, the fast intimidating the slow with aggressive fly-bys and the slow weaving an unpredictable path. It’s a mess.

The new cycle super highway on the Embankment isn’t going to make the morning/evening cycle-scrum any better either – and we cyclists won’t have anyone to blame but ourselves as we crash into each other, trade bitter insults and give fuel to those who say cyclists are selfish and lawless (the ones watching from behind their steering wheels, static in the nose to tail traffic jam on the newly single-lane carriage way.  That’s my cheerful Doomsday scenario as I battle it out on my morning commute.

It’s not always like this, sometimes it’s quite good fun.

a ride like no other

a ride like no other

Richmond Park again. And again and again. It’s my back yard and I’m not complaining. I live in London and yet I have 2,500 acres of parkland on my doorstep to ride, run, walk, explore and lose myself in.  Charles I is to thank for enclosing the park in the 17th Century for his own hunting pleasure, it wasn’t   popular with the locals then but has served to preserve a very special rural retreat in the South West corner of Metropolis London.

As I crest Sawyers Hill with Richmond behind me, on a clear day I can see the dome of St Paul’s, surrounded by the skyscrapers of the City.  This line of sight is the axis upon which I live and work.

Despite my unbridled love for Richmond Park I’ve started to spice my training rides up with small detours out of the park into the local roads, explore a little, try a different hill, but always coming back into the familiar surrounds of the park to try and snatch a www.strava.com PB.

Except today I didn’t obsess about lap times, the wind direction, the traffic, or seek detours, I ignored the grazing red deer, barely noticed the arriving Spring colours and the immigrant green parrots at the roadside because I was basking in the joy of wearing my new cycle jersey.

I know how that sounds, except this jersey is different.  It’s the new club jersey for a new ‘virtual cycle club’ – http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com – (maybe the 1st of its kind…?). It felt great to be wearing a jersey designed by myself and my co-club founders and produced exclusively for us by huez.co.uk It’s not just a jersey, it represents a hopeful future for our club and our newly incorporated cycle-touring venture.  Wearing the jersey makes it all seem real and ambitions achievable.  It’s given me a first glimpse at the pride, satisfaction and excitement that can comes from challenging yourself to the things you thought you couldn’t i.e. start-up a cycling company.

You’ve got to start somewhere.

the origin of the subconscious cyclist

the origin of the subconscious cyclist

My blog about cycling was born whilst driving (cyclists drive cars too). Returning from the French Alps my family were ignoring their driver, transfixed by their iPads.  With no conversation and no music permitted (as it distracts from the DVD the kids are also watching –  multi-tasking aged just 7 and 4) my eyes roamed freely across the largely uneventful landscape of Central France, that borders the monotonous but largely traffic free AutoRoute.

With the droning soundtrack of tyres on tarmac and the just audible film soundtrack my thoughts naturally drifted away from concentrating on piloting my family safely home to – cycling.  More specifically to gravel road cycling and gravel bikes. In my mind, until now gravel bikes were simply a niche too far, another blatant marketing fad – certainly in the UK.

UK roads are bad but rarely are they unsealed gravel. Bridleways, those ancient relic thoroughfares that criss-cross Britain, come close but a Mountain Bike will suit and excite more. Of course I want one but I’m still searching for the justification to find space amongst the other niche but totally justified bikes in my cellar (the Fatty, the Fixie, the Titanium, the Aero Road, the 650B…amongst others).

Until now. Along the length of the AutoRoute between Calais and the Alps, there are miles and miles of gravel road. Many running alongside but much, much more interestingly, many spearing off at right angles from the AutoRoute, cutting across the fields, heading towards undulating farmland, woodland or vineyards.  Here was justification enough! I pondered writing a whimsical travel book charting my adventures as I explored France’s gravel roads (on a brand new gravel bike).

Except of course I can’t. My usual excuse for not doing anything, for not follow my dreams reared its ugly and familiar head: Mortgage to pay. Wife & kids to support. My dreams were smashed again. Drive on.

Except they didn’t have to be. Why can’t I fulfil my dream and write about cycling? No reason. From subconscious thinking (whilst driving) my blog on cycling was born. ‘France by Gravel Bike’ may have to wait but there is nothing stopping me exploring my writing style and finding a voice through the subconscious cyclist.

suburban paradise

suburban paradise

If you could choose to ride your bike anywhere in the world, suburbia would not top the list. It probably wouldn’t even make the list. Typical then that my 1st blogged ride trundled through Kingston-Upon-Thames, Thames Ditton and inevitably Surbiton. Ironic even, when last week I was cycling in the French Alps. That’s cycling. We’re always chasing the perfect ride but happy to take what we can get.

Besides, last week the idea for a blog hadn’t materialised. It was still locked deep in my subconscious. Besides I couldn’t think. Subconsciously or otherwise. I was too busy sucking in every last molecule of oxygen from the thinning mountain air, too in awe of the awesome mountains, just too damn scared to think as I plummeted back to the valley floor on ragged roads beaten up by the brute winter.

I’m doing suburbia a disservice. Start in Richmond Park, cut along the River Thames at Ham, speed past Sandown Park, past Hampton Court Palace, through Bushey Park and up Richmond Hill – wondering as always which town house is Mick Jagger’s, slowing for the famous view from Richmond Hill (the only view in England to be protected by an Act of Parliament, a view that inspired the works of Wordsworth and Turner amongst others). Not bad for suburbia.

I had to enjoy all of this on my own as I’d broken the Golden Rule of our cycle club: never leave anyone behind. (Again).  My ride buddy had suffered 3 punctures and we’d agreed to part by mutual consent as he resorted to tracking down a taxi that would take a bike as well as a sweaty man dressed in Lycra at 8am on a Sunday morning.

When is it OK to leave someone? When you’ve been together for too long? When you just fancy a change? The United Kingdom joined the European Union on 1st January 1973, over 30 years ago.  It’s been a difficult union, a dysfunctional marriage marred by petty spats. I think there’s a very real chance that the UK will vote to leave not because the Get Britain Out camp presents a compelling argument for exit but because we’ve been in the EU for a long time and we all just fancy a change.  Which is a lot less reason to leave someone than 3 punctures.

check out my ride

on Strava.com