Learning to ride in London (introduction #3)

After graduation in 1980, I went to live in London and stayed for the next twenty five years. For the first two of those I used public transport and walked (because it’s just so dangerous, you know) and then, inspired by someone I met at a party, I bought another bike. Since you ask, it was a Carlton Continental. I dug out my copy of Richards Bicycle Book and Richard gave me a serious pep talk about riding in traffic, so off I went. This was what happened:

I felt completely terrified for the first four weeks.
I felt slightly less scared for a further four weeks.
Then I felt ok.

At the beginning, I dismounted and pushed for every right hand turn and when crossing every major road. This was because I hadn’t ridden for two years and I’m a rather timid sort of person. I felt it quite possible that I would be spooked by a bus and spontaneously fall off.

After a short while this started to feel incredibly tedious and I began to stay on the bike when I performed manoeuvres.

By the end of a year I was doing quite advanced things like going round the Chiswick roundabout (as part of a trip from Hampstead to Brentford). Fear turned out to be quite a useful teacher. I tended to perch myself where I was absolutely sure I could be seen and give a LARGE hand signal. Decades later, reading cyclecraft, it turned out that I had independently evolved many of the recommended vehicular cycling techniques.

After three years I stopped cycling in London. Fear? No. Accident? No. Purchase of car? Get away with you! I stopped because of two things, I got a job that was too near my home to cycle to (really) and I took up playing the tenor saxophone. I know this sounds bananas, what with bakfiets and whatnot but I really couldn’t figure how to attach a rather large and heavy box safely to the bike. I didn’t know there were people who knew about how to do this. In any case I couldn’t have afforded to buy anything.

How did I get about instead? Apart from eighteen months in the late eighties where I commuted by bike from Kentish town to the city, and a year or so of car ownership, I walked everywhere.

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