I wasn’t racing. If I was – single speed V mountain bike – would be a good match. The MTB had slicks and gears, lots of them. I had 1 gear but narrow tyres with trick Mavic hubs and 35mm deep rims – those wheels fly (I think I’ve bored on about them already).
As we left the office together, the guy from my office on the red mountain bike and I didn’t discuss the ‘race-that-wasn’t happening’. We didn’t have to. It was on. I was confident.
Naked, in the office showers last week he’d proudly announced he’d kept up with me all the way from Priory Lane. I hadn’t realised I was being followed. I recognised him in his cycle helmet now.
Down potholed, rutted and pedestrian strewn Cornhill, I’m happy to let him lead, until the lights at the infamous Bank crossroads, draw alongside, wobbly track-standing as the lights counted down, avoiding eye contact. On the ‘G’ of the green light I’m gone. Covering the ground super quick to the next set of red lights 50 yards ahead, then the next and then the next. Stopping at each. My track stand is improving. Red MTB is next to me again.
Queen Victoria Street, left onto White Lion Hill, a perfect right hand bend with a rampart leading down to the Embankment, you can pick up some speed but at the foot of the rampart there’s a tricky junction with a choice: stop (brakes on hard), look, listen. Or hit the inside of the two lanes at speed. Hopefully faster than the oncoming traffic, keeping out in front.
The Embankment Super Cycle Highway isn’t very super today. I join a queue of slow moving bikes. Overtaking is a squeeze, risk pulling past a Boris Bike it could be too late to see the oncoming Hipster with no lights. I practice patience. Red MTB will be held up too.
It’s dangerously dark. Visibility is limited, headlights glare on my glasses, cyclists pass in and out of shadows but as I wait at Parliament Square I clearly see Red MTB jump the kerb and get ahead of the 30-strong stationary cyclists. He can cheat if he wants. It’s about to get fast. He’s not.
The trick is to get through just one of the many set of red lights ahead of Red MTB. Easier said than done. At each red light, I draw up to and wait, look back nonchalantly. Each time as the lights turn, Red MTB sails through, whilst I power up back up to speed. We leap frog from Westminster to Chelsea.
No matter how hard I push, legs milling around, wheels jumped on I couldn’t get away. It’s a familiar feeling. Factors outside of my control constraining and halting my progress. At least it was only pre-programmed traffic light sequencing rather than someone deciding to knock my house down to build a runway. Or move my job to mainland Europe post BREXIT. That might still happen.
No sign of Red MTB through Parsons Green. He might have gone through Chelsea Village. Or I’ve got ahead. At last. Over Putney Bridge I get caught by the lights at the last moment. Re MTB arrives just as they turn back green, predictably. It starts again, from scratch. All that’s left is the Lower Richmond Road. I gun it, give it everything.
Inevitably the lights onto Upper Richmond Road West are red. Inevitably Red MTB draws up just as the lights turn green, he squeezes to the left of the traffic I go right and get boxed in. I race alongside, round, in between crawling traffic to regain ground. Back at Priory Lane Red MTB is nearly wiped out as a car turns across him, he scrapes through a narrow gap. I must wait until my path is clear of cars jumping the lights.
The ride was not an analogy. It was just life. The more I thought about life’s ironies, of control by unseen forces, of lack of results versus effort, the further ahead Red MTB got. The red lights had levelled the playing field. Any advantage I had was negated, any effort expended unrewarded. Corbyn would approve.
400m to home. Buses pulling in / out. Cars gridlocked. Traffic lights poised to turn red again. As I turn off for home I think I’m ahead. But can’t be sure.
(NB. No red lights were jumped in the making by of this non-race (by me at least)).