As I get into cycling and (hopefully) get better at it I thought I'd share how I get on here on my blog; I'm hoping to build up to longer routes but in the meantime they're shorter and if I could I'd avoid hills, though that's impossible in and around Blackheath and Greenwich! So where better to start than at the beginning, I'd been lusting after a step-through bike for a while and my research had even got as far as looking at the prices, choosing a colour and cycling potential bikes around the top of floor of Halfords scaring myself and anyone brave enough still to be on the shop floor at the same time.
From all that I knew that whatever bike I bought, it would have a basket. It was an essential for me, as someone who rarely leaves the house without her handbag I just couldn't contemplate cycling without keys, purse, iPhone and no doubt more. I've since discovered that lipstick, tissues, gloves and plastic bags are also essentials - and in case you're wondering the plastic bags act as rain covers for the leather saddle and handlebar grips. MOH thought my need for a wicker basket laughable but let's be honest he's keen enough to dump his stuff in my basket when we go out together, so it wasn't that daft an idea now was it?
At the start of the year MOH declared himself in the market for a new bike and I knew that if I was going to act on my research then now was the time. I took the plunge and ordered a Victoria Pendleton Ashwell. The deal I got included the basket so as I think I said at the time I actually bought the basket and got the bike included.
I had planned on ordering the matching Victoria Pendleton lights too but bizarrely and for reasons only known to goodness knows who, they don't fit the Victoria Pendleton Ashwell bike. Bonkers - so I have some equally as nice but much cheaper Halfords ones instead.
So with the bikes ordered and ready for collection we set off to our local Halfords in Charlton to collect them. MOH dressed in cycling leggings, cycling jacket and the like me in my normal clothes. MOH visibly shook his head in despair, oh well... Actually this sets the tone for our cycling ambitions too, as one of my Facebook friends commented MOH has gone for slick and speed, whereas I'd gone for Mary Poppins! I'm pleased I have such observant friends...
1. Cycling Home
So having collected the bikes now all we had to do was get them home. Charlton's on the river and Blackheath isn't, whatever way you look at it home is always up a great big stonking hill from the river. To avoid tackling this straight off, we headed along the Thames Path towards Greenwich but first I had a couple of circuits around the car park and then shortly afterwards this photo stop at the Thames Barrier.
The hill we attempted was Maze Hill and unsurprisingly it got the better of me, but apart from that it was a good cycle home and I made use of that basket too with a stop off at the greengrocers, during which MOH was given the task of looking after the bikes.
My bike didn't come with a kickstand, which was disappointing as for a shopper-style bike I'd have thought it would be a useful addition. The kickstand that Halfords had didn't fit either, so another disappointment. I think I've found one that might fit and I'm just waiting for that to be delivered.
2. To Docklands and back
I set MOH the challenge of finding us somewhere to cycle and nominated him as Route Master. I'm not sure he relished this challenge too much, as for years he's been cycling a variation on one or two routes. He knew this isn't something I'd be keen on so with a new route chosen, we headed off over to Docklands one Friday morning.
We cycled down into Greenwich - the easy bit as it's all downhill. MOH speeding ahead, me with my hands on the brakes - and headed towards the foot tunnel. Because of the one way system and the amount of traffic and number of pedestrians once we were out of Greenwich Park we wheeled our bikes to the foot tunnel, got them into the lift and then wheeled them through the tunnel, into the lift and out the other side.
Then it was onto the Thames Path and heading east around the Isle of Dogs before turning onto Marsh Wall and towards South Quay and Canary Wharf. We were stumped at one point by some major roadworks, but a friendly pedestrian (I know in London too!) pointed us towards a lift and an alternative route. Shortly after wheeling our bikes along the footpath by the roadworks and a bit more cycling we were back at the foot tunnel and so repeated our earlier journey to return back south of the river.
Feeling slightly peckish by now I was despatched into Greenwich Market to buy lunch, while MOH sat with our bikes by the Cutty Sark. Returning with a choice of enchiladas we sat watching the world go by eating our lunch - perfectly normal behaviour for the end of January. Then it was time for the hill. This time we tackled the one in Greenwich Park, I was on a roll so kept going and was doing ok until I lost momentum when I turned to see where MOH had got to. With that he breezed past me and I got off and walked the rest of the hill.
It was on this ride though that I noticed the difference between being a pedestrian and a cyclist, and that's that people talk to cyclists. And not just other cyclists either, pedestrians too - it's quite a weird phenomenon, it's nice but I'm just not used to it.
3. To Pilates and back
One of my grand ideas and reasons for buying a new bike was so I could cycle to Pilates. Well now I had the new bike I had to put that grand idea into practice. The Pilates studio in Lee isn't that far away, but it's a good thirty minute walk and much less in the car. I had no idea how long it'd take me by bike though, so there was only one thing for it - a test cycle!
I set out one sunny Monday morning and got there through the back roads of Blackheath in 13 minutes, which I was quite pleased with. Getting back home was different though, although I went a similar way home I discovered it was uphill too and so took me 23 minutes. But I cycled up the hills - just - so I must be making progress... I just wish whoever keeps moving my house so it's uphill would just stop!
Next I needed to do it for real and slot a Pilates class in-between the two cycles! I've done that twice now so it is officially part of my going-to-Pilates-routine. I notched up another first too by leaving my bike locked up and unattended during the class. We both survived - phew!
You may have read in last week's word of the week, that I collected a parcel on the way back from Pilates too. After the parcel was collected and inventively attached to my bike I set off for home and am pleased to say I managed the hill up the one-way system through Blackheath Village all the time with a number 54 double-decker bus on my tail too. I'm definitely making progress with those hills!
4. Thames Path and the Greenwich Millennium Village
Last Saturday we headed out again, starting by dropping MOH's old bike off for a service before he sells it. The plan was I'd cycle and he'd run.
It was like a scene out of Rocky, with him running alongside trying to keep a conversation up. If we'd stuck with the route we'd originally thought of he'd end up running 6 or 7k so once we'd passed the industrial chic section of the Thames Path (see right) and got to Greenwich Yacht Club we turned left and into territory unchartered.
We went alongside the Greenwich Ecology Park and crossed into the Millennium Village which was a nice place to ride. The paths were wide and landscaped and pretty empty. That's the thing about the Thames Path, in places it's pretty narrow and there's lots of ninety degree turns where you can't see who or what is coming, so this made a nice change.
There was no denying it though, there'd need to be a hill to get home so we headed over and up onto the pedestrian bridge over the A102 - and I cycled the whole way up. Wahoo!
MOH put on a burst of speed and was just a speck in the distance as I started at the bottom of the hill. Well, I made it up to number 91 and then I was defeated, the bus overtaking me didn't help and put me off my stride and so I walked up the steepest part of the hill. Halfway up there's a mini roundabout and the hill looked less steep so I gave it another go. I was back in the saddle and pedalling away, taking the admiring glances of people walking past who assumed I'd cycled the whole way up! And I did make it to the top, with shaky legs so despite the set back I am getting there. I just need to work on the hills a bit more!
I need to work on the hills - MOH has suggested using Greenwich Park as a training circuit, and as much as I'm loathed to admit it, I think he may be onto something.
In the last few weeks I've discovered lots of local cycle information and cycle groups, so this month I'm going to investigate more and aim to go along to one of the shorter rides with MOH. With some careful planning that may even be one of the ones that end up in the pub!
- I've been using a canvas bag inside my wicker basket, but I want something more pretty and functional as I'm often seen rummaging through the bag to find my phone to take a snap! I've researched some bike basket liners and my plan is to make myself something. We'll see how that goes, as I want some modifications on each of the ones I've seen!
Wish me luck!