Friday, 3 September 2010

MRS TREFUSIS TAKES A BICYCLE


"If it all gets a bit much, don't be too proud to cycle on the pavement" says Mr Trefusis, kindly, rapping me on the top of my helmet as if to test its strength, and waving me off on my inaugural bicycle ride to the office.



Well, I say inaugural, but I do have form for cycling, albeit in the dim and distant past. Eight years ago, in the middle of a tube strike, I wobbled off to work on my monstrously cool yet entirely impractical Kronan, and I only did it because I had no alternative. The Kronan was developed in the Second World War for the Swedish army, weighs as much as a tank, and was once selected by Tyler Brûle as one of the most stylish design objects of the twentieth century. A bicycle less suited to a commute from West London to Carnaby Street, I can't imagine. Quite apart from its heft, it has no gears and only a back pedal brake, a distinct disadvantage when pedalling up and down the aptly named Notting Hill. As brutal as it is beautiful, I keep expecting to find it used as a murder weapon in an episode of Wallander. Anyway, it was a one off experiment and the Kronan has long since been retired, due to the hassle of getting spare parts shipped in from Sweden, as well as its other disadvantages. Until now, cycling to work has remained nothing more than a latent aspiration.



However, the ongoing Great Trefusis Economic Crisis, and the onset of incipient middle-aged lardiness has put commuting by bicycle firmly back on the agenda. Could I save money and get fitter at the same time, ideally without finding myself squashed between the 148 bus and a John Lewis delivery van on the Bayswater Road? I'm not convinced enough to invest in a bicycle of my own – and of course, that would hardly tick the money-saving box - so I borrowed an old one from my parents instead and bought the sort of luminous waistcoat that people on building sites wear. I figured that if I was to cheat death on two wheels, it was best to make my lack of cycling proficiency really, really visible.



On paper, or indeed by car/bus/tube, the journey to work is simple – turn right out of our road, turn right again, and keep going straight until one gets to Oxford Circus. But on a bike, going along Holland Park Avenue and then down Oxford Street feels like a route mapped in one's own blood. I plugged the postcodes into TFL's planner which came back with a route so circuitous and complex that it went on to two pages – God only knows how one is supposed to memorise a route like that, but I tried to keep it in my head by earmarking the familiar. It's roughly straight on West to East – how hard could it be?
Anyway, I set off, went straight, turned left at the Rug Company, ran behind Holland Park Avenue and Notting Hill until I passed Le Cafe Anglais, and then, not quite a third of the way into the journey, I promptly forgot the route, found myself back on the main road, inches from the thundering juggernauts. I remembered Mr Trefusis's pavement advice, but the pavement was, rather inconveniently, full of pedestrians, so I crossed at the lights and went into Hyde Park – what could be nicer? Trees, no cars, squirrels, loveliness and Parks Police. "Cycling is not allowed" shrieked the Parks Policeman, "can't you see the sign?". 'No Cycling' is written in two foot high letters at intervals along the path so I was definitely caught red-faced and red-handed. All I could do was dismount and walk my bike, head held as high as I could muster, to the nearest exit. Not being able to cycle in the park, parallel with the Bayswater Road, seems to me to be the most enormous swizz – Hyde Park is huge, with much wider pavements than the street, and could easily accommodate a small cycle lane. Boris should have fixed this at the same time as planting all of his bikes all over London. I overtook two Boris Bikes after that, just to get my pride back.



Actually, the journey from then on was relatively uneventful – I took a slightly idiosyncratic route north of Oxford Street, and then down through Hanover Square so I could 'wave' cheerily, hem hem, at Vogue House before arriving at work rather earlier than usual.



Cycling is moderately terrifying, I must admit, but the greatest dangers seem to be from other cyclists – those wearing earphones to cycle seem to lack an appropriate respect for their own personal safety – and Professor of Traffic Psychology (and God, who knew there was such a thing), Dr Ian Walker's insights seem to work, cars/buses/cabs and vans give you a wider berth if you're obviously a bit rubbish, your mum's bike and long blond hair worn loose are as essential a part of your Cycling Safety kit as a helmet and lights. As I write this, I'm about to don the fluoro waistcoat and swirly-girly helmet for my newly mapped route home, past Estee Lauder's head office, over Park Lane and straight on until I get to the cup of tea Mr Trefusis promises he has waiting for me at the other end.

19 comments:

Staircase Witch said...

I am disappointed to hear that there's no bicycle path in Hyde Park--or that cycling is altogether prohibited. That I would have expected in an American suburb, where bicycle commuters are all suspected of being communists in the employ of Osama bin Laden.

That said, do persist. When I lived in Chicago, I got quite good at finding the quiet side streets. (And Chicago has a bike path that goes the length of the city along the lakeshore.) But university towns are much more bicycle-friendly, I have found.

I own a folder that I can ride while wearing a long skirt but am currently lusting after a seafoam-green Electra Amsterdam. I love the sleek, substantial bulk of Dutch bicycles. They are the 1959 Thunderbirds of the bicycling world.

Mothership said...

Oh WELL DONE! I think it's marvellous that you're cycling to work. During my tenure at my one and only actual job back in the dark ages of 2000 I used to cycle to work from Sarf Lundin to Primrose Hill, and later when the company moved, to The Strand, both routes involving the last great adventure on earth, the long, polluted, bus-infested, evil tempered Old Kent Road. However I do have to say that I got really fit, loved being able to discover all the little back roads, saved TONS of money and saw the most wonderful sights like the cool misty morning I quietly rode within 2' of a heron fishing on the bank of the canal at Regents park. Ten years on and I still recall it perfectly.
Plus you'll be amazed how quickly you get there. Once you have your route down you'll be at work in 20 minutes or fewer, I reckon.

nappy valley girl said...

Good for you! I used to cycle to work, Clapham to Bermondsey Street, taking a rather circuitious route that avoided Elephant and Castle. It was great once I got the hang of the route and knew which turnings to avoid - I am a very nervous cyclist. But it gets you fit, is MUCH nicer than the tube and you also get to experience the seasons much more than you do on public transport. (Although not always in a good way...). I hope you persevere with it.

Miss Welcome said...

This was painfully sweet and funny to read. I can't imagine the bravado (not sure I would have it). It's hard to weave through thundering traffic and try to keep the "work chic" elegance, especially with policemen glaring at you. Well done!

That's Not My Age said...

Well done for taking a bicycle Mrs Trefusis - one of my (very fashionable) colleagues makes fun of my fluorescent waistcoat but better safe than sorry, I say. And I should know... I don't want to put you off or anything I used to cycle into Soho every day until I got knocked off my bike by a white van man. It was at a big junction and he turned left into me as I carried straight on (one of the most common bike-related accidents apparently) and sent me flying. I won't go on but now I steer clear of main roads and use the back streets and cycle paths.
You can get maps with all the different cycle routes on from the London Cycle Campaign.

Keep on pedalling!

Bethany said...

Well done you! I've been cycling since April and love it - I'm lucky to have a route that takes me down Abbey Road and then round the Regent's Park to get me to work. It's amazing how you suddenly discover hills that have been completely indiscernible on foot or bus (Notting Hill included!). cyclestreets.net is a great website for finding routes as it gives you options about the busyness of the route and also tells you the change in the gradient.

Alison Cross said...

Well done! Do you think you'll be able to keep it up when the weather turns a bit more wintry?

I don't work. Well, do work, but I work from home, so many people think that I don't work :-/

My son has decided to cycle to and from school (he's 10) which is not as perilous as it sounds. We live about 10 minutes walk away from school.

Unfortunately, school is at the top of a hill, so much of the bike cycle is, I suspect, a bike push.

Still - keeps him fit and burns off some energy before school!

Keep up the good work!

Ali x

Lindsey said...

I've been cycling to work for a few years now (SE London to the City) and it's fab - even the rain is fine if you're prepared and have good waterproofs. I an heartily recommend taking advantage of your local authority's subsidised cycle training - it made a massive difference to my confidence. And confidence is the key. Well, confidence and not cycling down the inside of lorries and bendy buses...

sunday said...

hahah.. that sounds so familiar! the bank holiday weekend i was in paris and took one of the velibs by the end of sunday i wanted to cry... not only i panicked everytime a bus/car/vespa would wizz past me but i was also in a company of 2 experienced riders who made me feel..uhm..this big!

Marie said...

I was thinking about signing up for the Boris bikes but seeing as I walk to work in 35 minutes wasn't sure it was entirely worthwhile... However your tale has made me think that I should look into cycling again, if only for the getting fit part!

Blighty said...

Dear Mrs T, I love this post, partic as a week ago we all got bikes, for the first time in 12 years or so I am mounted(snigger snigger). You are v brave to cycle in london, we are just doing recreational rides on forest tracks, Boy 2 is obsessed with the gears on his new bike, asking every 2 seconds what gear he should be in.. I am worried Mr B might buy some cycle shorts, oh the horror..

awhirlinlondon said...

Brave you! I'm too frightened (and clumsy) to try it.

A propos nothing except that I'm reading it and you would love it, the D of Devonshire's memoir is absolute heaven. Delightful beyond words.

Helena Halme said...

I laughed out loud. A fantastic post, particularly loved the mum's bicycle and long blonde hair worn long as part of essential safety kit.

Son's girlfriend uses Boris bikes to commute from Paddington to Imperial College and cycles through Hyde Park... she must be committing a heinous crime every day?

Helena xx

LillaBrunaElk said...

I rode a borrowed Kronan in Sweden - it was designed for a giant so riding it had an air of the Penny Farthing as I had to use any convenient fence/wall to launch off. This was fine until I lost momentum on an uphill section and with no brake other than the back pedal crashed eye wateringly onto the cross bar...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

I have just started too - SW11 to W12. I have customised the tfl route a bit, and after a lot of stopping and starting initially I now know it off by heart. When I get scared (sometimes Battersea Bridge gives me the willies), I get off and walk. I love it. I go through some beautiful bits of london and I gawp at all around me. I am very slow and happy. Only downside is I've lost the bulk of my reading time...

shayma said...

Mrs T you are so so so amazing! i cannot believe you are cycling to work. bravissima, cara. i am such a coward, i have thought about cycling to work, but Rome put me off cycles and motorini for life- they are crazy- like the Pakistanis! tee hee really wonderful, darling. x shayma

Young at Heart said...

bravo and how brave!! Have thought about the Boris bike myself but am too scared of the open road, glad to hear you've embracced the high-visibility option....safety first!!

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Mrs T, I would love a bike but I fear for the safety of other road users if I was let loose.

I do have a park at the end of my street (London Fields) and there are cycle lanes all around it. I have considered just cycling around that although I'm sure that would get dull by the second day.

I can't believe you can't cycle in Hyde Park, Boris should definitely sort it.

Can you recommend a cycle helmet as that's my other problem? xx

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