So I'm still loving my bike (despite the bruised knees) and I've even using my bike more than my car for local journeys which I think is great news. I'm shaving minutes of my return journey from Pilates too - when I started cycling that first return journey took me 23 minutes, now it takes me just 14 minutes to get home, so lots of personal bests are being smashed as I improve. At the end of last month's update I set myself some goals and well, I've worked on 2 out of 3 so that's not too bad. You may be thinking it's the hills that I've avoided, and as much as I'd like to living here I can't - in fact it's been making a multi-functional basket liner that I've done little about yet...
1. A group cycle from Greenwich to the Red House
We joined our first group cycle this month and despite living at the top of the hill in Blackheath, we cycled down into Greenwich to the meeting point at the Cutty Sark before heading back up the hill again with the rest of the group. Even with the head start I gave myself the rest of the group were soon overtaking me and I found myself walking up part of the hill alongside the back marker who very chivalrously insisted on staying with me... much to my embarrassment! Arriving almost back where we started we headed over the Heath in a convoy of about ten cyclists, and it was fairly soon that we discovered how different it is to cycle in a group. As well as the social side of it, motorists were also more considerate towards us - or perhaps they were just nervous! - with both directions of traffic stopping to allow us to cross the road almost without stopping pedalling. I was near the back though and desperate to keep up and be considered as part of the group, and thankfully the cars stayed stopped for me and my new friend the back marker too!
Our next discovery was partly the reason we joined the group cycle - and that was the hidden paths that as a motorist you're not aware of. We cycled along one that's close to our house and which follows the route of the A2 without being, well on the A2 or even in sight of it or its traffic fumes. Result.
A little further along the path we encountered these "bike restrictions" - I'm sure they're a good thing preventing children from whizzing straight into a busy road and preventing motorbikes using the shared pedestrian and cycle paths but of our group of ten very few of the bikes fitted through the "bike hole" - mine was nowhere close to fitting! Being in a group meant it was fairly easy to lift the bikes over the railings and continue on our journey. I went back the next day to get this picture and a helpful pedestrian offered to lift my bike over for me. That time though I was just there to get a photo so didn't take him up on his offer. There's no way though, that I'd be able to lift my bike over on my own, so that's not such a great thing.
We had a few more smaller hills to climb before we headed through Danson Park - another local place I'd not been to before - and onto the Red House. There we parked the bikes and quickly found the cafe while we waited for our tour of the house - you can read more about our visit here: William Morris' Red House - it's a beautiful place and I'm sure I'll visit my local NT property again soon.
After the tour we were all feeling a bit chilly, so we started our journey back heading around the lake at Danson Park and up into Welling so that one of the girls could pop into a charity shop and buy another layer to wear and then heading up through Oxleas Woods to Severndroog Castle. Yes more hills, by this time I had assumed back marker responsibilities as the original back marker had left before the tour of the house - I'm hoping that was nothing to do with my company! Reaching Severndroog - which is the highest point in South East London - we said our farewells to the group and headed back through the residential streets back home and to England's Six Nations rugby match!
By the time we reached home we'd clocked up 28.6km and a moving time of 2 hours 24 minutes, and we'd had a great day out!
So if you're thinking about joining a cycle group, but haven't I'd definitely recommend it, this is what we gained from this first cycle:
- Social: we met some local cyclists, all of which were happy to share experiences and mixed with us newbies.
- Group travel: motorists showed different behaviour to a large group of cyclists and it was nice to have people looking out for each other.
- Routes: we learnt some new non-main road routes as well as new cycle paths (including those which needed bikes lifted over!), and not just the route we took that day either.
- Culture: we got to see local places we'd only driven past before - Danson Park and The Red House - both of which we'll visit again, and I can see a cycle to Danson Park becoming a regular route.
2. Hill practice and a tree visit
I still need to improve cycling up hills, and I am getting better at it - I know this as I'm walking less! And I'm getting slightly less puffed out when I'm cycling too, but after setting myself a goal last month I knew that I'd need to do something about it as getting up those hills wasn't going to get any easier just by itself. So one Sunday afternoon I found myself cycling down and then back up the hill in Greenwich Park. Well I did it... eventually! Just not in one go - it took me 8 minutes (it takes MOH about 1/8th of this!) - and it's on this ride that I realised my gears weren't quite right!
I struggled to get it into first and second gear at all, so spent my time in third gear which was, as you'd expect hard work. I knew I'd got a "new bike check" booked with Halfords so I made a note to mention it then, and set off to go and look at my tree and see how it was faring.
By the time I got there it was starting to rain and I wondered if this cycling lark was really such a good idea! It really was as grey and uninspiring as the photos in my Meanwhile back at the tree... post show - they're not in black and white, but they look like they might be! And my bike insisted on having its photo taken with the tree, so who was I to refuse?
3. A Sunday of Foot Tunnels
Now that I'm getting more used to cycling the longer rides are more appealing; I've always been one that wants to cycle to get somewhere rather than just "go for a cycle" so when MOH suggested going North of the river and then finding our way to the Woolwich foot tunnel (which we'd not been through before) it appealed to my sense of adventure. And it turned out to be quite an adventure too!
While we were there we:
- had Bacon at the Bow Creek Cafe
- got a great view of the Gas Works (yes really!)
- learnt more about the history of Trinity Buoy Wharf and its redevelopment and saw a tree growing out of a taxi.
- saw The Faraday Effect. In a shed.
- and was adopted by another group of cyclists who were happy for us to tag along from Trinity Buoy Wharf to the Thames Barrier Park, where we saw some fantastic hedges in the shape of waves!
We left our adopted cycling group at the Thames Barrier Park as they headed into the cafe and headed over for a glimpse of the Thames Barrier before continuing and looking for the Woolwich Foot Tunnel so we could return safely to the best, and south side of the river. Throughout the day we also saw:
We got a bit lost looking for the Woolwich Foot Tunnel though, but we did discover that Sir Steve Redgrave has a bridge named after him and to celebrate this we cycled over it three times! It's where I took the runway shot above - we didn't get that lost that we ventured onto the runway, honest. The lock too was a bit of a discovery, I've a few more photos on that which I'll share another time.
Eventually though we found the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, right next to the Woolwich Ferry. In fact we found it just as we were giving up and going to have a boat ride home. Isn't that always the way?
So having found it, we headed through it - it's much like the one at Greenwich but slightly longer and a little bit narrower. It was also less busy as I'm sure not so many tourists make it this far. It's completely functional though and I'm sure we'll be using it again, especially as now we know where it is...
With our unplanned detours our phones were getting low on battery power so as we wanted to record our route (and stats) we headed a fairly direct route home and made it in time to synch our activities with the Strava website. This ride was 26.4 km with a moving time of 2 hours 21 minutes, so I think I must have worked off some of that bacon somewhere along the way.
4. All change in April
March was a good cycling month for me - I clocked up a total of 87 km over the month, which when I bought my bike back in January is something I'm not sure I'd have believed possible. I have, it must be said gone to and from Halfords quite a bit as it seems my bike and its gears aren't well. So much so that yesterday I agreed to changing my bike for a Pendleton Somersby, in fact that was a relatively easy decision to make - as only having fifth gear this weekend in Norfolk made it quite hard going, and believe me, Norfolk's not as flat as they say.
The harder decision was what colour. I'd never been a fan of the powder blue which they have on display, so that was definitely out; it also comes in mint green, white and cherry red. Of the three I was most tempted by cherry red, and of course that was the colour Halfords didn't have in stock, so not wanting to be without my bike for too long (what's happened to me?!) I plumped for the white & burgundy version. That's being set up for me today and hopefully should be ready for me to collect tomorrow, so it's all very exciting as I'll have another brand new bike, and a refund as this model was lower in price - wahoo!
I'll share more about my new bike in next month's Cycle Routes update.