On the buses (trains and tubes)

View from Tate Modern

View from Tate Modern

London isn’t a place I’ve visited too much. In fact I haven’t been for decades. That isn’t because I don’t like it. It’s more the case of the expense involved than anything else. Boarding a train last Sunday I felt good about it. The bustle of a big city can be alluring, especially when it’s the nation’s capital that you are heading for.

Michele visits frequently. She now has a beautiful Granddaughter as well as a lovely daughter and her partner. Living just off the south bank means that their home is a great place to base ourselves for a few days of doting and sightseeing and I was excited about all the incredible buildings that had sprouted up since my last visit many moons ago.

Train travel is easy. Pre-book a seat, sit back, and watch the scenery pass by at a speed that’s unimaginable to somebody who makes most journeys by bicycle. It was just a couple of hours until we stepped off the train into the melee that is Paddington station. I even got to meet the great bear himself in the form of the bronze statue that adorns the concourse. Photo opportunities were thwarted by a couple sitting in front of the statue but I made a promise to return on the way home and headed for the tube.

Next came the tube. I’ve always liked these underground trains. They appeal to my boyish nature and still feel like incredible pieces of engineering. I love the way they shake you from side to side as they wobble their way through the tunnels, deep under the busy streets above, and I love the steps both down and up that take you there even though we were tempted by a lift at one point.

Stopping only to purchase an Oyster card, something that didn’t exist last time I was here, the journey to the end of the line at the Elephant and Castle passed quickly. Being a Sunday the tube was quiet and seats a plenty, something I hadn’t experienced previously when I always seemed to arrive in the maddest part of the day.

Old and new side by side

Old and new side by side

Out into the sunlight, the storm that as forecast hadn’t got this far yet as it was dragging its heels over Devon somewhere It was time to catch a bus. Oyster card at the ready we jumped on and it all felt so much less of a hassle than the continuous ticket purchasing of days gone by. Michele knows this route like the back of her hand and that left me to relax and enjoy the scenery as we made our way away from the city centre.

Arriving at our destination we had just a few yards to walk to Michele’s daughters house, a newly purchased town house with far too many steps. How come my legs felt so tired anyway? I hadn’t done anything but sit down and look out of windows. Making my way to the top of the house the first time seemed exhausting, after another four or five excursions my legs gave in to it, just like they do when I cycle.

Next morning we were back on the buses and heading for Holborn where we ould find Bikefix the purpose of our visit was to talk trikes.  Bikefix stock a wide variety of recumbent bikes and trikes from ICE and HPVelotechnik, a German company who are a major player across Europe and now in the USA. The tiny shop is tucked away in a traffic calmed street and almost the first question we were asked was “sure, do you want to try them out.” Neither Michele or I were ready for this but grinned accordingly as the owner lowered the HP Velotechnik Scorpion from the ceiling where it lives.

Storage space is at a premium in this tiny shop and it’s still packed with bikes. Recumbents, folders, and trikes from a wide variety of manufacturers adorn the walls, racks, and in this case ceiling. Taking the Scorpion outside we set about adjusting it and the owner then took down the ICE Sprint to test alongside it.

The Scorpion wore full suspension and the Sprint rear suspension. They are designed with different purposes, the Scorpion having a full shock absorber and the ICE Sprint’s rear suspension being an elastomer to absorb road shock. It wouldn’t be fair to compare the suspension systems against each other but the elastomer wins on simplicity whilst the sprung shock will always absorb big hits better at the expense of complexity.

I then proceeded to head of down the road in central London. In all fairness theses were quiet streets by city standards but I still had to navigate the main road on one corner of my square route. The Scorpion had a hard-shell seat and I really liked this. It gives more support and doesn’t give under pedal pressure, something that would maybe be useful once you get your legs in shape for recumbent riding. As I hadn’t done that yet I always picked a lower gear than I normally would and lay back to enjoy the ride. I did, immensely and made several trips around the block playing with the gears and set up of bars until it felt just perfect.

Not adjusted for me but still fun :) The ICE Sprint

Not adjusted for me but still fun 🙂 The ICE Sprint

Despite being low and with my feet higher than on the ICE Adventure I rode last week it felt as intuitive and right as the ICE trikes. Readjusting the trike for Michele she set off. Impressed with the tighter turning circle of the Scorpion she returned saying she preferred it to the Sprint. To her it had more zip, an unquantifiable something that just felt right. After riding the Sprint I have to say that I felt the same way. It wasnt the suspension but the Scorpion felt more urgent to both of us. Could it be the aluminium chassis is just a little stiffer?

Back in the shop the owner showed great interest in my project and wanted to look up my writing and books. As we talked he casually said that there was a Bikefix ride in 2014. The plan is simple. The ride may begin in London or elsewhere and end with all the riders meeting in Fez in Morocco. It’s up to each rider to plan their own route. They can use trains, buses, or planes  if they wish to or can just ride the whole way. The ride is in October when the temperatures drop to a bearable level. Take a look on their website for more information at www.bikefix.co.uk.

Well you can imagine how excited I got at that thought. I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco and have never felt strong enough mentally to even consider it. Who knows maybe one day soon I will. I felt good at the fact that thinking about it made me excited rather than petrified at the idea.

In a world governed by image and large industrial manufacturers it was a breath of fresh air to visit Bikefix and the niche in which it fits. Bike shops were all like this once and they rely on excellent service and reputation to survive among the big players like Evans. They offer something different and can perhaps only survive in cities like London where there are enough people to keep them going.

Our next stop was on the way home and equally enthralling. Druid Cycles is in Druid Street, Bermondsey and is quite different. Started in 2009 and now relocated under an archway in Druid Street this cycle shop is a community interest shop. It has five full-time employees and they repair and restore cycles encouraging sustainable life-styles and longevity of use through repair rather than throwing a cycle away and buying another because the chain broke or some minor thing need repairing (yes it does happen).

Freshly painted new sign for Druids Cycles

Freshly painted new sign for Druids Cycles

They train people in all aspects of restoration including Cycle mechanics, Artwork, Airbrush art, and metalworking. It’s a brilliant shop and our time spent talking to the sole person working during our visit was a bonus. There is something therapeutic about restoring something to its former glory. Bringing a classic cycle back to pristine takes much skill and dedication, especially as Druids don’t just replace parts that are worn. If they can they save the existing parts and repair them. The leather saddles they sell are recovered saddles and the leather comes from old leather sofas that get dumped across London. How cool is that?

Tuesday saw us walking down to Tower Bridge from where we would saunter along the south bank taking in the sights as we went. One of the things I love about London is the fact that everything in the centre is within walking distance if you choose to take a stroll. From Tower bridge you have wonderful vistas across what I think is one of the most attractive skylines in the world. Old and new all squashed together in a haphazard but pleasing manner. So many new buildings have grown up since my last visit and my head wanted to spin around to take it all in.

I wasn’t alone and it seemed as though every nationality, race, and creed were all out enjoying the cool sunshine along the south bank. Like so many others before me I took photographs, lots of them. I wanted a keepsake from my visit and there was so much to see. Some dislike the number of new buildings that are growing all over the City. For me they show it’s both alive and modern and older building like St Paul’s aren’t detracted from by the presence of The Shard or the Gherkin. They are just as magnificent as they always have been.

The Shard

The Shard

From a distance you could be forgiven for thinking that there are so many buildings that there couldn’t possibly be any room for roads, but you would be very wrong. Another of the things I love about our capitals centre and south bank are the myriad of lanes that you can explore and poke around in. And that wa what we did as we slowly made our way to th e Tate Modern.

A short detour across the Millenium Bridge took us to St Paul’s and we wandered around the Fleet Street area before heading back the Tate for refreshment and cake. The Millenium Bridge is a wonderful piece of engineering, even more so now it’s stopped wobbling. To be able to wander in the capital and not have to look out for traffic is one of its greatest offerings to my mind and I was continually surprised at the number of walking and cycle routes that have been developed. It may be a long way behind its European neighbours but London is changing and that can be seen by the number of people riding around on Boris Bikes and the ever-growing number of commuters on cycles.

Our tired legs took us to the top of the Tate Modern where we rested our weary limbs in large and very comfortable leather sofas while indulging in the aforementioned cake and coffee. The view across the roofs of the city was impressive and I could have nodded off quite easily in the warmth as I took it all in.

Deciding to visit the Paul Klee exhibition we wouldn’t be disappointed. Considered one of the great twentieth century artist I found myself absorbed by his work. It was all represented here, from his earliest work all the way through to his death in 1939 as the Nazis marched into Europe.  I found myself drawn into some of his work spending many minutes staring at single pieces. It was as though I began to look at a two-dimensional picture which transformed into something three-dimensional before my eyes. The more I looked the more I saw and the detail, as well as the obvious skill in the production of it, was truly astounding.

I’m no great art lover or critic but I enjoyed the opportunity to view this huge collection that was spread through sixteen galleries. As we left I began to wonder what it would be like to devote the whole of your life to one thing, forever developing ideas and seeing where they might lead you. What must it be like to remain on a single path where you use your experiences of life in such a creative manner? We can only wonder and enjoy the products of such minds.

We meant to  take a bus back from the Tate but once we began walking it seemed like the right thing to be doing. By the time we reached home I was tired and ready to drop. Nothing prepares you for the onslaught of our capital city and nothing can. As Michele’s granddaughter discovers her legs mine felt as though they might just drop off. London is an exciting and exhausting place to be and I was quite happy to travel back to sleepy Devon and relax in my home once more after a great couple of days.

Tate Modern

Tate Modern

On Thursday next week (14/11)  I’m travelling to Bristol to give a talk at the Roll for the Soul cafe. It’s a non-for-profit community bike cafe and has only recently opened. The aim of the cafe is to become the centre for all things cycling in Bristol and I’m excited about going there. My talk is at 7pm and will cover four years of Riding2Recovery. If you’re in the area pop in and say hello it should be a great evening.

Until next time 🙂

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