Archive for the 'Cycling in London' Category

Blackfriars Galactica: the hole saga

April 15, 2012

You know how it is with punctures: you go for ages without getting any articles on the blighters, then three come along at once. During the past seven days, the Inner Ring has considered a giddy, technology-led future of sealants and tubeless tyres, while London Cyclist kept it old school by revealing that he prefers the age-old method of patching his inner tube at the roadside. And now I, too, have had a visit from the Puncture Fairy – an occurrence which, like the activities of her kinder, more popular cousin the Tooth Fairy, took place in the middle of the night – so it is now my turn to muse on the activities of that mischievous little sprite.

The visitation took place late on Wednesday night when I flatted in the Blackfriars Underpass. This is notable for the simple reason that, thanks to my hardy Continentals, I hardly ever puncture going in to or coming back from town. But when I do, it’s invariably in the frigging Blackfriars Underpass. This has happened three times. Three! Why should this be? Well, the westbound section is sometimes closed at night for maintenance work, so I suspect a small amount of workmen’s detritus is responsible for turning it into my personal puncture blackspot – particularly as the previous flat I had was caused by a nail the size of my index finger which made a terrible CLANKCLANK-CLANKCLANK-CLANKCLANK sound as it spun against the stays.

Which is a shame, because the westbound tunnel is one of my favourite places to ride at night.

It reminds me of the landing bay in the old version of Battlestar Galactica – a coldly welcoming maw of white light waiting in the darkness – and once inside, you’re magically freed from the tyranny of air resistance. It’s an anti-wind tunnel, and no matter how knackered I am, I’m often unable to resist walloping the bike through the flat section with enough gusto to cruise up the short uphill exit.

But the unexpected outcome of the underpass periodically becoming a partial building site and puncture-attracting annoyance is that I’ve discovered an amazing little substitute which reroutes my journey by guiding me north to Queen Victoria Street. It’s called Skinners Lane, and you can find it by going up the wide, shared-use pavement opposite the approach to Southwark Bridge and turning left.

I’m sure there are plenty of narrow streets in London that look like they haven’t been resurfaced since the days when Penny Farthings roamed the land. But a cobbled road that is less likely to cause a puncture than the nearest stretch of tarmac? I think I’ve stumbled upon the Bizarro Paris-Roubaix…

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South Kensington: a land of contrasts

March 19, 2012

This post is about a few things I see on my bicycle ride into town. No, no – wait! Come back! It won’t be that dull! Or at least I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t.

Firstly, I would like to introduce you to a prime candidate for Trades Descriptions: Invisible Menders of Knightsbridge.

For a start, it’s in South Kensington, not Knightsbridge. And, as you may have noticed from the orange and brown frontage, the shop is not invisible. I mean, honestly – how could they have got away with this for so long? It’s a complete misnomer on every conceivable level.

In another sense, though, Invisible Menders is invisible, because after stopping hundreds of times at the traffic lights on the junction of Old Brompton Street and Gloucester Road, I have yet to see anyone startled by the façade or the yellowing signs with their jaunty, cursive typeface. It just sits there, unremarked-upon, a wonderful incongruity that must be around half-a-century old.

By contrast, just a few pedal-strokes away, Exhibition Road has begun making quite an exhibition of itself.

Look! No curbs! No tarmac! And no-one travelling at more than 20mph! Personally, I like the grand social statement it’s making: humans, regardless of whether they walk, cycle or use a motor vehicle, can all share the same space safely. And the chap on the left is so comfortable with these new surroundings he has squatted down to fondle his companion’s leg. An extraordinary scene, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The road planners of Kensington and Chelsea have also pedestrianised the junction of Old Brompton Road and Pelham Street, which is right outside the entrance to South Kensington station.

What you can see in that photo is a cab driver taking care not to hit two pedestrians. What you can’t see, because it happened about a minute before I took the picture, is me turning left into the junction with a big grin on my face because I no longer have to shout “WAKE UP” at someone walking blithely into my path without looking right. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know why removing a curb makes people more aware that they are stepping into traffic, but in my experience, it works.

So there you have it: one inconspicuous old novelty, and two conspicuous new ones. And I take hope from what the former could say about the latter: if you fulfill a purpose quietly, invisibly, then you’ll be around in 50 years, too.