This was the big one that I’d be somewhat dreading more than the journey to work – the journey back. Barnet is one of the higher points in London so there’s a lot more uphill on the way back than there is on the way in, with the exception of a notable couple of downhill runs. Add to that the fact that it was the back end of the week, I wasn’t at my freshest and it was threatening to rain. The main incentive was that the forecast for Friday was considerably worse and I preferred the risk of rain to my other two options: getting utterly soaked on Friday or, more likely; leaving Bob at H2 until Monday.
It wasn’t a terribly auspicous start when I walked out of H2 and pulled out my phone to start up the “Map My Ride” app. As I did so a couple of drops of rain fell onto the screen – great! Nonetheless I decided to just go for it.
I soon got a bit of a shock as I rode through central London, making my way towards Islington among the sort of heavy traffic you’d expect in the rush hour – I felt incredibly comfortable on Bob. Not just physical comfort – but confident with it. The junction where I’d previously had issues with starting on my trial run, a similar thing happened with a slow starting car in front, but this time it didn’t bother me in the least. My start / stop / start was as smooth as I could have wished for. The same went throughout the journey – it was as if something had just clicked into place and suddenly this was just my normal mode of riding. I’m certainly not saying that I can’t get better with practice, but today was definitely the day when it all felt like it was slipping into a different gear – a smoother one.
Smoothness was the way that most of the ride went as it turned out. There was the occasional smattering of rain and the constant threat of a heavier precipitation, but threat it remained without ever quite materialising into something more solid…and wet.
There are certain points on the way home that I simply don’t like – let’s start with the junction at Archway. It’s about three lanes wide, expanding to five past the first set of lights before it splits again into two roads – one going up past the Whittington Hospital, and the other curving away to the right, then immediately left and up the hill to Highgate. Naturally it’s this second option that I need to follow and it’s a nasty one. Between the two sets of lights I can either get in lane and run the gauntlet of drivers crossing lanes or getting frustrated at being behind a cyclist; alternatively I can stay to the left and either wait for a break in the traffic to move across, or just go through the cars that are stuck in a jam – by no means unknown. Today I’d decided just to hop off and use the pedestrian crossing rather than risking a junction that I simply didn’t feel safe on. Not necessary as it turned out. The volume of traffic and impatience of some meant that there was a bit of a jam, but plenty of space for me to navigate through safely with Bob. Through the second set of lights and then follow the road around to start the ride up the hill towards Highgate Station.
The great thing about going up Highgate Hill on the High Road is the bus lane that runs all the way up it, sheltering cyclists from the main traffic most of the way to the top. The main drawback is not so much how steep it is – just how long it seems to go on. When I did my trial run I was all very gung ho and determined to pedal my way to the top. Today I decided to revert to what I used to do when I first started cycling to my workplace in Islington – I pushed Bob up the first part of the climb until the pavement ran out before hopping on and cycling the rest of the way. It may have been a bit slower, but this was about me getting home in reasonable condition rather than trying to break any land speed records.
It was a good decision. I soon caught up with one cyclist who’d passed me while I was walking up. The same person passed me again at the top of the hill when I took one look at the traffic between the two sets of lights either side of Highgate Station. It’s only a couple of hundred yards, but the road was jam packed and my experience is that this is one stretch of road where frustrated motorists on their way home in the evening start to do stupid things and race for gaps that aren’t there – often because there’s a cyclist in the way and they’re not looking properly! Again, hopping off and pushing Bob along the pavement was the order of the day before using the pedestrian crossing at the second set of lights before rejoining the road beyond for the downhill run towards East Finchley.
This also worked out really well. I’d set off downhill not too far behind the last lot of traffic to go through and there was now a decent gap before any more vehicles would be following me. It’s a decent run down the hill with another dodgy junction at the bottom – at least it is if you’ve got vehicles wanting to get past you. It involves a sharp left turn where traffic coming up from East Finchley can also join, so two lanes immediately becomes four for a short stretch. This quickly divides again with a couple of lanes going off to the left while the other two peel off to the right where they join more lanes in the run up to another juntion. As a cyclist heading towards East Finchley you suddenly find yourself in the middle of five lanes on a stretch of road that appears to be designed to enhance traffic flow – ie, let motor vehicles come through at a fair old speed and then accelerate out of the corners, often crossing lanes as they go! None of the options for a cyclist are ideal. Today was about as ideal as it gets as there was no traffic coming up behind me and I was able to cruise through at a decent speed, catching up again with the cyclist who’d passed me up by the traffic lights at Highgate.
The next place for traffic jams is East Finchley, and again I decided on walking past the cars and joining the road again after the next junction, after which my journey was pretty smooth and I pedalled, incident free, all the way home.
So, how long did it take me? Well, yes it was longer than usual at 1 hour 26 minutes when on my upright bike I was regularly doing 10-15 minutes faster. Having said that, when I first started cycling to Islington the journey back typically took 10-15 minutes longer. I reckon I’m more at that stage on Bob and reckon that over the next few weeks my strength and speed should both build up with practice.
How did I feel at the end of the ride? Result!!!!
Total miles on Bob to-date? 158 – or damn near 40 miles per week since picking him up from London Recumbents. Not bad going.