Archive for the 'Cycling in London' Category

One tiny prick hasn’t deflated the dream

November 18, 2015
Embed from Getty Images

It was the briefest of pricks. I didn’t think it would sting. I thought it would be completely undetectable. But he felt it. Boy, he felt it.

Walking towards me, this guy had suddenly turned left into my path, causing me to step back and swerve out of his way so he could barge into Tesco, his face buried in his phone.

“Prick,” I mumbled. I barely heard it myself.

But he wasn’t looking at his phone now. He’s lumbering behind me, bulky and indignant, shouting over and over, “WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?”

I got to the cashpoint next to the Tesco. “I think we both know that I called you a prick,” I tell him as I take my card out of the machine. I’m smiling at him. It’s lunchtime on a weekday near Monument station in central London and he’s not going to fight me. Not with all these people walking by, surely, and not when he’s wearing a fucking suit.

He tells me I should be saying sorry to him because I was in his way, and I know I can’t top that, so I just shake my head and carry on smiling as I take a couple of tenners from the machine. Brilliantly, he provides the topper himself: “I WANT A REACTION” he shouts, clumsily trying to fill the gap I’ve left.

“Mate,” I say to him, even though I never call a stranger “mate”. But fuck it, let’s see what happens when I do. “Mate,” I say, “you got a reaction. You’re just fucked off because it’s not the one you wanted.”

He’s silent and for a moment I realise I may have got the odds wrong. He’s going to hit me. I can sense it. Then there’s another couple of seconds of him seething and me smiling and I know his chance has gone. I’m going to walk away from this. But before I go, he says something which sets the tone for a series of random yet revealing encounters I’m going to have during the next 18 months.

He says, “You think you’re so superior just because you’re a cyclist.

Now at this point, I would dearly love to be incredibly superior and tell you that he identified a fellow pedestrian as a cyclist because I am, of course, in superb physical condition and I regularly draw gasps from passing strangers. Sadly, it was actually because I was pushing my bike along the pavement at the time. So instead of acting superior I’ll be grateful that The Lunchtime Thug, who wanted to teach me a lesson, actually taught me something more valuable: there is now a personality type that does not care how well you ride or even if you are riding at all. They are certain you are in the wrong chiefly because you happen to be a cyclist.

It happened again around six months later on another pavement and another lunchtime, on this occasion in Soho. I was running way ahead of time for a hospital appointment that I knew would bring a long-running series of check-ups to a welcome conclusion, so I wanted to find somewhere nice to eat beforehand. A quiet celebration for one. I had given up trying to work out the logic of Soho’s one-way streets and no-entry signs and was walking with my bike when two teenagers, looking like a pair of Dappys, rushed past me on the narrow pavement. One said to the other tetchily: “Cyclists should stay on the road.” Even when they’re not riding, it seems.

The next encounter was with a much older man, an Eighties throwback in one of those brown leather aviator jackets with the collar turned up, who expressed a similar view to Soho Dappy. He was walking in a cycle lane in Kingston a few months ago while having a telephone conversation as I freewheeled slowly behind him. After three polite “excuse mes” on my part, he finally turned round and moved to the pavement, but not before telling me I should have cycled on the road.

Finally, there was the night I came off on Borough High Street when I was trying to dodge a Friday night reveller. I was crawling along at less than 10mph when he suddenly appears, stepping out from behind a stationary bus. My front wheel tapped his leg and I hit the tarmac, where I lay for a few seconds, largely unhurt, listening to his angry lecture on the subject of how cyclists never look where they’re going. He was looking the wrong way before I hit him.

There was a time when I thought cycling in London would be accepted as a normal activity supported by the majority. And remarkably, as Andrew Gilligan pointed out last week in an Evening Standard piece about public consultations for road alterations, statistics show it pretty much has. In London, the majority don’t want fewer cyclists riding on the road (or having the temerity to walk on the pavement); they want more. That means, of course, that the dream of a completely cycle-friendly city is still within grasp. But the sour encounters I’ve had with cycle-unfriendly strangers fascinates me. How did seemingly normal people become so entrenched, so far beyond reason?

Perhaps it’s because they know they will never get their way. Many years ago, I’d frequently see badly-photocopied flyers in bike shops advertising mass gatherings of cyclists, the ultimate aim of these protests being the removal of motor vehicles from the road for good. Which, of course, did not come to pass. At the core of those fringe groups was a belief that the motorist was always, always wrong. Now the constituency of the fringe has moved: it is now populated by very different people who believe it is cyclists who are always, always wrong. Neither is true. But expressing it fuels a delusion that they might, somehow, go away one day.

You can thank God the meeting about cycling in Richmond Park didn’t become a bunfight

December 20, 2014

Leaflets handed out at meeting about cycling in Richmond Park

Strange times in Richmond this week, where a public meeting to address the tensions between cyclists and motorists in Richmond Park ended with panellist and GLA cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan noting that it hadn’t been the scene of confrontation that some might have anticipated. I think there were many small reasons that helped to bring about this Christmas miracle, along with a very big elephant-in-the-room-type one. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment. First, though, I’m going to run through what I consider to be the notable moments during Wednesday night’s event at Duke Street Church, which was chaired by Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston (and if you want a briefer and less analytical look at what was said, then by all means have a look at my running commentary on the night).

The audience’s most consistent response, judging by the level of applause whenever the issue was raised, was that far too many motorists use the park as a shortcut. The most visceral reaction came in the form of two collective gasps from the crowd when Sergeant Michael Boulton, who leads the park’s policing team, revealed that the average speed of motorists who had been caught breaking the limit was 38mph, and the fastest was 56mph (the limit is 20). By contrast, cyclists were not as badly behaved as they are often perceived: Simon Richards of Royal Parks observed that they are only really speeding on the downhill sections – damn you, gravity! – and Kingston’s police commander said the number of tickets issued in the borough for jumping red lights was “low”.

On the issue of special facilities for cyclists, there is very little enthusiasm for a cycleway. The Friends Of Richmond Park said they are “wholeheartedly” against the idea as they believe it would turn the road into a dual carriageway, while Peter Treadgold, the panel’s expert on sustainable transport, drew the line at adding “heavy infrastructure” and would only go as far as suggesting that a separate cycle lane on the uphill sections might enable cars to pass more easily. A comment from the floor that motorists should travel in one direction on the circular roadway and cyclists on the other was met with a few groans of displeasure. Through traffic is through traffic, I guess, regardless of which way it goes.

Zac Goldsmith suggested that one of the areas that might be explored by interested parties was opening the park at different times of day for different users. He asked for a show of hands which showed there was broad support for looking at this concept. I understand that various groups and individuals will be meeting to discuss ideas generated by the meeting, and I’ll be interested to see what becomes of this one, as well as the idea of road charging which was also raised by Paul Harknett, my chum and London Dynamo club captain.

There was, of course, a bit of hostility to cycling, most memorably with one motorist declaring that Richmond Park was “plagued” by cyclists (the irony that the park is a facility principally for outdoor pursuits seemed to have escaped him). I could hear some grumbles and snorts from my corner of the pews whenever a cyclist made a reasonable point, but they were too quiet to register in the room. So why, given the strength of feeling about the issues at stake, was this not a noisier and more confrontational affair?

One reason could be because the anti-cycling brigade felt inhibited because they didn’t have a visible platform: as you can see from the picture above, we were all handed leaflets publicising Royal Parks, the Richmond Cycling Campaign and Zac Goldsmith, but there is no such organisation as Friends Of Motorists Who Choose To Drive In Richmond Park. There was also clear common ground between cyclists and non-cyclists on the issue of through traffic. Paul, Dynamo’s club captain, sounded reasonable and engaged, which probably helped build bridges (although I admit to being biased on that one). And even though Zac apparently received hundreds of strongly-worded emails prior to the meeting, it appears no one on either side of the debate is brave enough to be as angry in a public setting as they are behind the safety of a screen and a keyboard.

But my theory is that the venue itself took a bit of the heat out of the mood. We were in a church. Many of those who clearly appeared to be against cyclists were of an older generation who are more likely to be religious or at least show greater deference to its customs. And they were, thank the Lord, unwilling to raise their voices in a house of God.

It’s like having a football pitch in your own backyard

November 6, 2014

Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park on sunny afternoon in October
I’m not sure Jen and I live in London anymore. We have a telephone number that begins “020”, but I spotted a temporary sign near our flat which warned that a leafy road was “closed for toad migration”. That was some time before we moved here in July. Since then, I’ve woken to hear parakeets squawking in the garden and breakfasted to the sound of clopping hooves outside our living room window. We didn’t get those sorts of things when we lived within earshot of two Premier League football clubs. Although we did get a lot of shouting on Saturdays.

I knew this area from years of cycling through it (in fact, I am only a 25-minute bike ride from our old flat) but it didn’t seem quite as pastoral before we began living here. We have moved to the edge of Richmond Park and, as I write this, I am looking at a row of trees which define part of its perimeter. On rainy days like this one, those trees are a forbidding wall, telling me to stay where I am until less inclement cycling weather comes along. During sunnier days, the branches sway in the breeze, beckoning me for a quick three laps. And how can I possibly refuse?

Imagine if you had somehow managed to buy a home that had its own football pitch, tennis court or Olympic-sized swimming pool; as a cyclist, that is how it feels living with the capital’s cycling Mecca on your doorstep. I am a mere seven minutes away from the meeting point of London Dynamo’s ever-popular Parkride (you missed a key selling point there, Zoopla) which enables me to fall out of bed at ten past eight on a Saturday morning and still make the eight-thirty start. I’m usually starving, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. But, hey, I’m there.

Or rather, I’m not. Recently I’ve been knocking out laps much later on a Saturday, the idea being that I can still put in a good workout by trying to finish before the sun sets. It works, but for some reason the sorts of cyclists who frequent the park at that time of day are much less likely to leave you alone. Lone riders chase each other down, form a cluster, and then interpret my gradual easing past them as an attack. Even when I slow down and leave two bike lengths between us, I still get the old elbow flick telling me to come through.

I mean, really. What rudeness. Don’t they realise this is my park now?

The key to preventing bike thefts

October 31, 2013

I’ve had an idea how manufacturers could help prevent thefts of their bicycles. It’s not going to happen now, but I think it could happen in the future. To explain, I’m going revisit the recent past.

A few months ago I wandered into a shop which sold only electric bikes. The owner’s enthusiasm for his products was tempered by a smugness which I thought was unwarranted. Thanks to his bike’s motor, he could get from his shop to central London within 10 minutes – but then so could I, and I can enjoy the exhilaration of riding a bike rather than the tedium of operating a clunky electric machine. He pointed out all the bicycles in his shop were fitted with a disabling system (which I presume contribute to their two grand price tag). It’s basically a small electronic card that fits into a slot on the handlebars and it functions in a similar way to a car key: without it, the bike won’t start. He said that as a result of the disabler, he had only one bike stolen in the past seven years. Well, none of my bikes have a special electronic key, and I haven’t had one nicked for more than a decade. Maybe knowing where you can’t safely leave your bike unattended is more worthwhile than having an expensive anti-theft device.

I doubt electric bikes will sell particularly well in the UK over the next few years. Apparently they’re the coming thing in China, the Netherlands and Germany, but these are countries that each have had their own cycling cultures for generations, so I suspect a lot of long-term riders are converting to electric when age or its attendant infirmity or injury prevents them from using regular bikes. Countries such as Britain that have recently caught the cycling bug may take longer to convert. Here in London, some of the Barclays hire bikes will go electric for a trial in a hillier part of the capital, and I imagine they will prove popular with the more, shall we say, leisurely rider who doesn’t want to sweat it when the road heads upwards. But realistically, how many Londoners would end up spending the price of a decent second-hand car on an electric bike of their own if they could use one for £1 a pop?

The disabler, though, is a useful idea. I wasn’t aware that such a facility existed – and neither, I suspect, did the thief who threw the shopkeeper’s bike into the back of his van, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken it. Surely what we need is a gadget that can fit onto the next generation of ordinary, pedal-powered, mass-market bikes; that way, every thief would know about them, and its presence would act as a disincentive to theft because the bikes would be much harder to sell on without that “key”. But what would that thing be?

I think it already exists. It’s the electronic groupset. Take the battery out of the slot for Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 and my Ridley Excalibur is not much use. Yes, you can still ride it in whatever gear you left it in, and I’m not suggesting we all buy expensive, Di2-equipped carbon bicycles to go down the shops or get to work. But the prices of electronic groupsets are coming down as their popularity increases, which means, like all kinds of consumer goods, it is probably only a matter of time before they make it into the mainstream. So maybe we could one day see an ordinary commuter bike that a thief couldn’t easily sell on because the bit that makes it fully operable is in the pocket of the owner. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Hostility on Kensington High Street

October 25, 2013

Rim brakes versus disc brakes. Electronic gears versus mechanical. Froome versus Wiggins. Sometimes, when the entrenched opinions and fierce debates of competitive cycling get too much, I long for a time when cycling was, for me, simply a means of getting about. Surely I would encounter fewer angry exchanges of deeply-held views if I went back to simply being a commuter. Then I disabuse myself of this notion by venturing into the realm of cycling advocacy and cycle safety. A spleen has not truly been vented, it seems, until it is tackling the merits of, say, a shared-use pathway.

Unusually, I found a cycling advocacy blog last week that actually made me laugh, albeit unintentionally. It goes by the wholly unbiased and open-minded title Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad, and the post that gave me a chortle was about the proposed Cycle Superhighway.

It seems council officials are resisting Transport for London’s plan to build a two-lane segregated bike route along Kensington High Street because it would reduce traffic flow to one lane on part of the road and supposedly create an obstacle for pedestrians wanting to catch buses. These could be valid reasons, or they might be excuses from intransigent councillors, perhaps refusing to be ordered about by a much larger body. What’s interesting, though, is Two Wheels’ insistence that Kensington High Street is a “hostile” design for cyclists, and that the Superhighway is the best way to remedy it.

“Kensington High Street is a shopping street,” Two Wheels Good fumes, “not a distributor road, so why on earth should it have two lanes of motor traffic in each direction?!” Well, I’ve lived a few minutes away for almost 14 years, and I’ve found it one of the more pleasant main roads in Zone 1 to cycle on, partly because of its width and relatively low traffic levels. And isn’t it precisely because it is a shopping street with slower-moving traffic that makes a dedicated two-way cycle lane unnecessary?

What amused me is that as I was thinking this, Two Wheels made my point for me with a series of photographs.

kensington high street empty road

“It would be difficult to come up with something more hostile to cycling if you tried,” the blog states, even though the photos clearly show the opposite: the road is wide, there are lots of empty spaces, and cyclists are easily negotiating their way around parked vehicles.

kensington high street cab ahead

kensington high street passing cab

kensington high street walking bikes

“Also important to note is the two separate cases of Barclays Cycle Hire users that felt the road, in it’s [sic] current layout, was too dangerous to use and wheeled/cycled on the pavement instead.” It’s also important to note that he didn’t appear to actually ask them why. Maybe they just like cycling on the pavement. The trio walking their bikes may be tourists. They could’ve been lost. Or maybe they just got bored of cycling around.

Who knows? Certainly not Two Wheels Good. It seems to me that he just doesn’t like the road because it doesn’t have a segregated path and nothing will change his opinion. So yes, there is hostility on Kensington High Street. But its presence is behind the camera, not in front of it.

Why cycling has to encounter a Tea Party moment

August 23, 2013

As an informed, intelligent bicycleperson, you probably know that road tax is the common term for Vehicle Excise Duty, and that it is based on emissions. This wasn’t always the case: human-powered cars which the likes of Fred Flintstone and his neighbour Barney Rubble propelled with their lower bodies were once subject to Vehicle Exercise Duty (if you can’t manage a boom-tish at this point, a Hanna-Barbera-esque lick on the bongos will do). But in these more enlightened times, cyclists are exempt. Bicycles don’t produce any emissions, which is why they are not subject to VED.

With laborious regularity, ‘road tax’ is unfairly played as the trump card in criticisms levelled at cyclists (a friend filmed the above clip featuring a driver giving the usual spiel to a rider in the Oval last week) so it was heartening to witness the rare sight of a mainstream news outlet setting out the facts of VED last week. But the BBC’s feature didn’t make an effort to distinguish motorists who referred to VED as road tax – the majority in the reporter’s small, quick poll – from those who also use the term to falsely assert their primacy over cyclists. My instinct is that the latter are, shall we say, a very niche group, despite (or maybe because of) the volume and righteous fury of their objections.

Imagine a drunk trying to take a swing at you in a pub because his beer is taxed and your orange juice isn’t; that, in essence, is the weak logic of the ‘I pay road tax’ brigade. So why, then, does the article go on to claim that road tax, as a notion of paying for roads and establishing who has the greater right to be on them, is “a powerful political idea”? Let the market set the cost of labour – now that’s a powerful political idea. Or decide wages through collective bargaining – that’s a conflicting one. Political ideas motivate, animate, agitate. You can pour billions of pounds into a political idea or watch people take to the streets in protest against one. But ‘road tax’ is not a political idea; it is just a lazy fantasy for those who want change but don’t fancy doing the heavy lifting.

In wider politics, Britain has already had two Tea Party moments recently – first with the BNP, then Ukip – and in both cases the parties exposed their supposed populism for naked hatred and general cluelessness. I think it’s about time cycling came up against a Tea Party. Irascible motorists of the world, unite! Stop hiding behind the non-existent ‘road tax’ argument – if you don’t want me on the road because you think I’m an inconvenience, or there are too many of us, then just say it. And will you discover, to your great surprise, just how unpopular you and your views actually are.

A short guide to shortcuts

June 6, 2013

I’m not a red light evader, but I am certainly a red light avoider. Increasingly, I’ve been choosing roads that allow me to circumvent traffic lights, those sometime enemies of constant pedaling motion. It’s all perfectly legal, officer, and now I’m about to tell you about these roads, should you also wish to avoid getting momentarily held up on your bicycle while riding around London. There’s no need to thank me.

Putney Bridge
A road engineer or similar expert might be able to explain why there are two successive sets of traffic lights within a few feet of each other at the southern end of Putney Bridge. Law-abiding cyclists such as myself simply see them as a pointless delay. So if, like me, you’re trying get to London Dynamo’s ever-popular Parkride on time, simply get into the bus lane on the left, which isn’t governed by the first set of lights, then move to the right once you’re past them. If you’re lucky, the second set of lights will be green, and you can whoosh round the corner straight into Lower Richmond Road. But remember: this isn’t a race, so whoosh responsibly.

Upper Richmond Road and Sheen Lane
You’ve just completed another successful workout in Richmond Park, and you wish to reward yourself with a scenic pootle along the river as you make your way home. This could involve leaving the park by Sheen Gate and following Sheen Lane until you are deposited at the busy junction on Upper Richmond Road. So forget that. Instead, when you’re halfway down Sheen Lane, take a right onto Richmond Park Road, which will lead you to Pearson Performance.

Pearson Performance

Hop across Upper Richmond Road to get to the pedestrianised area just outside the shop, carry on down Milton Road, take a left at the end and you’re back on Sheen Lane. Much more pleasant, and quicker, than wading through traffic at the main junction. Also, for added smug value, remind yourself that motor vehicles can’t perform this shortcut.

Lonsdale Road and St Hilda’s Road
This is a simple way to avoid the traffic lights at the southern approach to Hammersmith Bridge. On Lonsdale Road, simply go left at St Hilda’s Road, which is the last turning before the lights…

Lonsdale Road and St Hilda's Road

…then take a right at Glentham Road and carry on until you reach the bridge.

Exiting Glentham Road

My friend and neighbour Dr Nick Dove pointed this one out to me. Proof, if proof were needed, that you should always heed a doctor’s advice (although I must stress he’s not actually a medical doctor).

Victoria Embankment and Castle Baynard Street
My final tip doesn’t actually involve any lights, red or otherwise, but I’m throwing it in as a bonus entry on this list chiefly because of its uniqueness. Castle Baynard Street is a short tunnel in central London which is usually completely empty. In this photo you can see the traffic bunching as the Blackfriars Underpass begins to jam up…

Blackfriars Underpass

…while Castle Baynard Street, which runs parallel to it and is right next door, is almost totally clear.

Great Baynard Street

So when you’re heading east along the Victoria Embankment, take a left at Puddle Dock instead of entering the underpass and then immediately turn right. You are now on Castle Baynard Street, which will take you just past the exit of the underpass. Of course, you can creep between the two lanes of stationary motor vehicles in the underpass, but it’s not going to be as quick as Castle Baynard, and you’ll almost certainly have to cross the double white lines, which is wrong and evil. It’s your choice.

I hope all of this has been of some use. Happy shortcutting!

Westfield is great, and it’s even better by bike

May 17, 2013

Do you want to know a secret? Shopping at Westfield is an immensely satisfying experience. No, really it is! Everything you could conceivably need is in one place, you’re protected from the elements, and you never have to wait at a pedestrian crossing to get to a shop a few feet away. There’s an Apple store, which is a godsend if you live locally and your Apple device goes up the spout, and the range of food outlets is pretty good too. Basically, it’s the retail experience you’ve always wanted, but you might not have realised it yet.

Shopping is like sex: if you’re not enjoying it, then you’re not doing it properly. And the commonest error most Westfield detesters make is going there at its busiest time. Anywhere can be annoying when it’s packed, and while I can’t make the crowds magically disappear for you, I can give you a couple of tips. The first is: go by bike. That way you’ll avoid queuing to get in the car park. My second tip is the divulging of another secret: inside the Westfield complex there is a bike parking area which is more secure than the one outside, but it isn’t mentioned on the centre’s website and it isn’t signposted anywhere. I only stumbled upon it because I am incredibly nosy.

To find it, ride along the bus lane that passes by Shepherd’s Bush Tube station.

Westfield bus lane

About halfway along, you’ll see the entrance to the valet parking service.

Westfield valet parking entrance

Go in, and head straight past the barrier.

Westfield valet parking barrier

Then, when you see a sign for the carwash, dismount.

Westfield valet parking carwash sign

Walk around the sign, and voilà!

Westfield valet parking bike area

You have reached the hidden bike parking area which is within sight of the carwash’s office…

Westfield valet parking bike area office

…and barely anyone knows about it. Apart from, it seems, the employees of a certain fashion retailer. I know this because there is a sign denoting the company uses the facility…

Westfield valet parking bike area net-a-porter sign

…although you should observe that it doesn’t say the area is exclusively for their usage. And besides, it’s an internet retailer. They want you to stay at home and shop instead of literally getting on your bike and going to your local gargantuan retail park. Think of it as a victory for fitness and claim your parking space, like this cyclist did.

Westfield valet parking rude word on bike

(He or she is being a little harsh on themselves. The bike wasn’t that bad.)

Happy shopping!

CycleSurgery isn’t like other bike shops

February 8, 2013

“That’s for running, not cycling. There is a difference.”

Oh dear. The large, blokey manager of CycleSurgery in Shepherd’s Bush is staring at the tub of energy drink I’m holding. It’s a small bucket of Torq. Natural Orange flavour, since you ask. I give him a meek smile, which nevertheless conveys I am ill-equipped to engage in any science-based chat, and scurry to the counter.

Every so often I pop into a CycleSurgery store to buy Natural Orange flavour Torq, or indeed one of Torq’s many other delicious varieties, because most other bike shops don’t stock them. And technically, neither does CycleSurgery: Torq is kept in the Runners Need section, which operates as a separate business – hence the store manager’s friendly yet emphatic advice to this naive cyclist who has seemingly wandered into the wrong part of the shop. I could’ve got away with it if I’d only taken off my helmet and left my bicycle outside. And not worn a pair of shorts with “quickerbybike” written across the arse area.

CycleSurgery Fulham stairway

It’s an unusual encounter, but not a surprising one, because I’ve found that CycleSurgery stores are odd environments anyway. The bijou Fulham Road branch, where a helpful lady sold me a nifty USB rechargeable front light called Moon Comet this week, has a steep-ish steel staircase (see above) which is difficult enough to negotiate when you’re clattering down it in your cleats, and presumably even more so if you’re taking your bike down to the basement workshop. At the Lower Thames Street shop, I have to pay for my Torq minibucket at the Runners Need till, then go to the main till if I’m buying other stuff, which is a bit like shopping at Foyles in the 1980s. But it’s the Shepherd’s Bush store which fascinates me the most, because it has a glass cabinet where, like a museum exhibit reminding us of a crueller and altogether unbelievable age, a pair of unsellable Lance Armstrong-branded Oakleys stares out at you. The Jawbone of a terrible dinosaur.

Oakley Armstrong Jawbone

CycleSurgerys have been springing up everywhere lately. They have a whopping range of stuff, stocking everything from kids’ bikes to the type of helmets that adorn the bonces of Team Sky, and their website has a handy function which tells you which store has your desired item in stock. They should be identikit stores like any other chain, but each one I’ve used has its idiosyncratic touches, which I find endearing, despite the minor frustrations. Just don’t go in there to buy the ‘wrong’ type of powdered drink without doing your homework.

Maybe, for the benefit of all us CycleSurgery shoppers, I should write a blogpost examining which energy drinks are better suited to cycling. And call it Performance Enhancing Glugs.

The Putney Experience

November 23, 2012

Putney. It’s a happening little suburb in south-west London. It’s got a cinema. It’s got a shopping centre. It’s got cafes and bars. It’s even got a Waitrose, where you can buy mince pies that smell like a Christmas tree. And at the top of the high street, on the corner of Putney Bridge and Lower Richmond Road, it has a neglected retail unit which, bafflingly given its prominence, has been unoccupied for at least a decade. But do not shed a tear for this lonely runt, because its façade has been spruced up to promote an amorphous concept which the burghers of SW15 have termed “the Putney experience”.

By studying this repurposed shop window, we can see what The Putney Experience amounts to: groups of rowers and competitive bicyclepeople, the latter apparently racing in flared trousers.

It’s a cause for rejoicing that cyclists now seem to be considered a vital part of Putney life, even though the representation of our clothing isn’t entirely accurate. But I’m not quite sure how Joe Public is meant to react. Maybe a visitor to the area will think to himself, “Well, I was going to watch a film, have a latte in the Caffè Nero down the road and then pick up a box of those Heston Blumenthal mince pies, but screw it – this is Putney, and I shall now experience its Putneyness to the full by becoming a competitive cyclist on this very day, even though I am not appropriately equipped in the trouser area.”

Maybe that will happen. I kind of doubt it, though. But if it does, I’ll be ready to welcome them into The Putney Experience.