Saturday 2nd June – trying the commuting run

The plan for today had been to head out to Knebworth on the train and follow a route which would take me around Stevenage. Luckily I didn’t try this, for reasons which will become apparent. What happened instead is that I got up, looked out of the window and decided that I didn’t fancy cycling 35 miles in a steady, miserable drizzle.  However I could handle an hour of it, knowing there was the prospect of a hot shower at the end of the journey – ie, exactly what I could get if I did the commute to central London and H2 Bike Run where I leave my bike.

For those not familiar with it, H2 Bike Run is heaven for somebody like me who commutes to central London by bike but has nowhere to leave it other than the street.  It provides secure indoor parking for bikes, not to mention a personal  locker, showers with shower gel and shampoo, and towels.  Did I mention the onsite bike mechanics? All I need to do is turn up, park my bike, shower, change and stroll the last part of the journey to work refreshed and fully awake. So on a miserable Saturday morning, that’s where I decided to head – after all I did buy Bob with a view to commuting.

The journey in went pretty much as I expected – fairly smooth, not too nerve wracking, and I handled the road from East Finchley up to Highgate without much of a problem, although it was somewhat quieter than most weekday mornings!

Oddly enough the fun started when I arrived at H2 Bike Run. Would Bob fit into the bike racks? Well I couldn’t see why not as he’s no longer than a normal bike. Wrong!  I went to put him in a ground floor rack first. Oops! While Bob is lower then most bikes overall, his handlebars come up a bit higher and were catching on the overhead racks.  Oh well, never mind, I’ll put him on one of those.  I pulled the rack out and down, started to put Bob in – it was fine…until the last few inches. Bob’s unusually low mudguards were jamming in the rack.  He didn’t fit here either.  A couple of choice words flirted through my mind as I unloaded him and wondered what I was going to do.  Being a member of something like. H2 Bike Run would be a bit pointless if I couldn’t lock Bob up there.  Fortunately Lee, one of the bike mechanics was there and saw my dilemma.  “Have you tried one of the wall mounted racks?” he suggested.  I hadn’t, I did, and thankfully Bob did fit – although he’s not exactly lightweight and getting him onto one of these racks isn’t my idea of fun! Still, with a little practice? Time will tell.

After a welcome shower and change, time for some food. I’m not used to Soho cafe prices, nor do I hope to become so – not at eight pounds for omlette and chips with a cup of tea. Still, the food was welcome and it gave me somewhere to refuel and relax before attempting the journey home.

My concern about commuting on Bob have always been much more about the return journey which is why what happened next was especially unfortunate. Initially I was fine leaving H2 Bike Run, navigating my way through the streets of Soho without any problem. Then I got onto Wardour Street and the junction where it crosses Oxford Street. I was in a small queue of traffic when the lights changed. The driver in front started off, but then suddenly stopped again leaving me breaking suddenly in mid push-off. Equally suddenly he shot off leaving me unbalanced and without my pedal in the right place to give me enough push to carry on. With an obviously impatient driver behind me I pulled over to the side and let him pass, revving his engine to make a point as he did so. Not the sort of thing to boost one’s confidence.

The next few miles went fine bar for an increasing sense of tiredness and the hint of a headache starting. I couldn’t understand where the tiredness was coming from – it was only 12.5 miles in and I’d had both food and a rest. Still, I persevered and decided not to get the train back from King’s Cross.

What I hadn’t allowed for was that it was now getting on towards lunch and the traffic was increasingly resembling that of the rush hour, only faster. So much for picking a quiet time! And then I got to the bottom of Highgate Hill, the biggest and longest climb on my way home and with a pretty awful junction to navigate just to get onto it. I had been prepared to get off Bob and use the pedestrian crossings if need be but a break in the traffic enabled me to navigate through the junction cleanly. Now for the hill itself.

With my legs complaining at the bottom I was half inclined to push Bob part of the way up on the pavement as I used to do when I first started commuting on a bike a few years ago. The other half however had just finished reading Graham Obree’s autobiography and didn’t want to give in to something as trivial as my legs demanding a rest! The result is that somehow I did manage to cycle all the way to the top, and realised when I got there quite how badly I needed a rest. It’s just as well for me that one of my oldest friends just happens to live around the corner from Highgate station, and happened to be in, and interested to.see Bob. What a great excuse for a break!

Half an hour later I set off on the last leg, feeling increasingly lousy, but consoling myself with the thought that I could always get the train from East Finchley. For a second time on the way back I fouled up pushing off on Bob and resorted to the pavement and use of the pedestrian crossing. As I pedalled on, reminding myself that I’d got the train as a fallback, I shot straight past the station. It was only someway down the road that I realised what I’d done and decided to simply complete the journey on Bob.

As I got more tired I also got more tense, and with that comes poorer steering. Not dangerously so, but enough for me to notice…and get more tense about. So now I was battling tension as well as exhaustion. Perhaps not too surprisingly I found myself in difficulties pushing off for a third time whilst in slow heavy traffic in North Finchley. Back to pushing Bob on the pavement for a short distance.

Eventually I did get home – exhausted, wrung out, drained and with a headache. As my wife pointed out to me, exactly the symptoms that had kept our youngest daughter off school only a couple of days ago, and my wife not too long before that.

Reflections – the return journey did my confidence no favours whatsoever. But I do need to bear in mind that I was increasingly ill on the way back. Also, it was a successful ride and at 25 miles the most I’ve done in one day on Bob. I’m sure that with a bit more practice pushing off will just become second nature. The simple fact is that I’ve now successfully done my commute on Bob – and with only an hour or so of rest between outbound and return journeys. All I need to do is get better and then?…try again!

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