19 October 2010

Snappy title still being focus-grouped

You'd be surprised how many people have asked me How's the cycling going? Nevertheless, here's an update.

Just so you know the background, I used to be a really committed cyclist. I've cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, I'll have you know, and from Dieppe to Paris. But for some reason I stopped cycling about 15 or 20 years ago. As time went on, I began to think I'd never have the legs or the nerve to cycle, especially in London, again.

But I honestly think the streets are kinder for cyclists now. There's more traffic, certainly, and there aren't any quiet backstreets any more. What on earth do people find to do that keeps them driving along dozy residential avenues at all times of day? But there are more cycle lanes around, and even if they aren't always directly useful, they are an emblem that gives cyclists confidence and gives drivers a reminder. There's much more use of shared space with pedestrians, and a feeling that cyclists aren't actually a threat.

The best thing that's happened, speaking locally, is the Waterlink Way. It's a network of paths, tracks and cycle routes that lies alongside the Ravensbourne system. Just 100m from my house I can be on a path that can take me to Beckenham or Deptford in relatively car-free safety. The Ravensbourne system is one of the few London rivers to run on the surface, and it's been extensively remodelled in recent years to give it a more natural appearance.

North of Lewisham Station, redevelopment has been designed so that there are segregated cycle routes. This means that the route from Lewisham to Deptford, passing through Brookmill Park, is one of the nicest parts.

Yet it's not all perfect. My local Tesco's, for example, is the perfect cycling distance away, and if I wanted to pop out and get something in the evening, it would be ideal. But its cycle racks are tucked away in a dark corner, unsupervised. I'm not going to use those. On the other hand, if you're cycling you're more likely to use small local shops, where you can leave the bike outside for the few minutes you're inside. That's a good thing.

Every shopping parade in Lewisham seems to have good cycle racks outside. Petts Wood, though, where I was this morning, is rubbish for this.

Physically, it's still a challenge. Relatively gentle hills can defeat me, and these old muscles of mine are taking a long time to get the strength back. But it will happen.

And winter's coming. So far, autumn's been gentle, and I've been able to cycle a bit almost every day. In the wind and the rain of November, it might not be so great. 

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