An essay written for the recent, BikeVDesign event at the Design Museum, run by Alice Marsh, Michael Czerwinski and Stephen Preston. I was one of the people profiled in the magazine which accompanied the night, it is still for sale at the Design Museum shop, but I thought I'd post my thoughts here too. I was quite pleased with the photo Phil Sharp took of me too.
I learnt to ride at seven or eight, had fun on a BMX, then road bikes while I was in my late teens. Mountain bikes arrived a few years later. Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s didn't exactly encourage long distance road rides. University and my twenties zipped past, my racing bike being used for frantic dashes to college. I finally bought a mountain bike in my late twenties, I rode that in Epping Forest, for commuting and adventures up to the Peak District. Then I moved house and changed jobs, which pushed commuting beyond the realm of the possible, 12 miles and 8am starts weren't feasible. I started climbing and mountaineering, then had two lovely boys, my mountain bike lived in the shed. It was the school run which led me to buying a Brompton and falling in love with cycling again. A Cannondale CAAD10 arrived about nine months later.
I mainly ride in London during the week, using my Brompton to explore the city. It comes everywhere with me, like my ice axe did in the mountains. I don't carry a lock for it, as I've never been turned away from anywhere with it. My Brompton is a big part of my life, the small size means it is rarely far from me and I'm used to riding, wheeling and sometimes carrying it for much of the week. I do treat it badly though, I get off it to do things, go to a meeting or get home and see my family. So it is the bike which is folded away and left grubby, whereas my road bike gets all my attention.
My Brompton has changed my relationship with London, I wait a lot less, as my transport is under my desk. Merino has become a firm part of my wardrobe, with a shirt to change into tucked in the Brompton bag. That is my only concession to commuter riding. I need to be able to get off my bike and go straight to a meeting. The design of the front luggage system on a Brompton makes this possible, as I don't need to ride with a backpack. I wear normal shoes and jeans, I save the lyrca for my CAAD10.
On my road bike I often ride in Essex, Epping Forest starts behind my house. I make a regular Sunday loop out into Essex, sometimes I manage a mid-week ride, but turbo training with the Sufferfest is also likely. I ride in sportives, particularly in Sussex, I'm envious of the plentiful cat 3 hill climbs and I rode in the Pyrenees last year, which was breath-taking. This is the riding that is my most indulgent, when I can push myself, exploring my strengths and frailties in a way I can't on a Brompton. A road bike fits this terrain perfectly, through mine I've discovered I like hill climbing, easing into the rhythm of the climb balanced by the burning in my legs feels right somehow. I do wish London had some proper mountains nearby.
I track my rides by GPS now, like many. I made a map to see how my understanding of London changed by bike. Blue points at a dozen or so tube stations versus red ribbons from east to west and north to south. The data came from Chromorama, which uses the TFL Oystercard as its source, and from Jonathan O'Keeffe's Strava Ride Mapper. I feel I know London much more intimately from a saddle, than stuck in a tube tunnel. Instead of patches around tube stations, I know whole connected swathes of London. The smells and sights of London are much more a part of my world now. I miss reading while commuting though, but not the tube carriages.
Like climbing, I love the focus that cycling offers, your mind empties and for those moments it becomes about the senses. I can't understand people who ride with headphones. I ride to relax; for the sun on my skin; pushing it on a climb; a pretty view; to get to work; and to show to myself (mainly) that at 40 being active is possible and fun. Strava helps too. I'm also encouraging my boys to ride. At 3 and 6, they're both riding and my eldest is having lots of fun at Lee Valley Youth Cycling Club, where I'm a volunteer.
Watching my boys take to cycling is a delight and there will be a lot more of that in the next ten or more years. For me, this summer I've have done my first century ride, the Dunwich Dynamo and followed that up with a much more hilly one in Sussex as training for the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. I've also tried my first race at the London Nocturne, which was great fun. Fitting in more than just cycling for commuting alongside my life with my two boys and my lovely wife will always be a compromise. It can't be cycling first, I'm not a pro rider. This in fact gives me freedom to pick and choose my challenges. This year was about distance and hill climbing. I know the hills will stay, but next year it might be racing or cyclocross. Cycling also forms part of my business life, helping road.cc, Vulpine and others with digital strategy. It seems a Brompton can take you a long way.