Cycling in Britain: Riding the White Wash

I absolutely adore aggressive city cycling. I am not talking about the usual getting from point A to point B, although that is the main objective for me. I am talking about a heart pounding, flat out effort across town running every red light you can findIMG_5230.JPG, even red lights that you do not have to go through. A balls to the wall sprint with your head band on to keep the sweat out of the eyes. Malicious pedals dragging on small dogs as you go the opposite direction on the side walks to avoid a particularly heavy chunk of road traffic. Simply, whatever it takes to beat your cousin going from South West London to central North in Camden. I have mentioned in the past my love of the Argentine system for making sure that this would not even be a contest. Well London is a little different and let me explain.

First of all the roads are dismally poor in this country. Maybe marginally better in the main city but in general, riding in Britain is like sliding your ass back and forth all the way across twenty football boots that are upside down. The majority of the time, the road damage is on the sides where a bike would naturally want to be forcing you to choose lines in the middle of the road which the car behind you might not approve of. Even though that car is only doing about two miles per hour faster than my break neck speed, all of a sudden he is ready to take his Rover well above the speed limit to make sure they pass me, straining and grinding gears with each tease of an open stretch of road that is presented to him. Now to be fair, there were some potholes in Argentina, but they were the sort that would rupture your spleen as you fell into it and you wouldn’t have to worry about it again because your bike would be too badly damaged. In England the problem is the fantastic consistency. There will be a neck jarring drain every twenty yards and always a poorly repaired hole with a new mound above it every fifty yards.

While sprinting across Buenos Aires, I did NOT see the following things which were a common site in London:

  • Drug deals. I am sure drugs are being used in BA but you would never know just by perusing the streets. This might be due to threat of sniper fire, I am not sure. But London is proud of their lackadaisical drug laws and boasts about it at every corner with hooded hooligans swapping bags and what have you.
  • Although the Argentines love their fast food, they do not hang out in front of the McDonalds like it was the cool thing to do at night. Almost every McD’s in London was heaving with youths scampering to chalk on the next kilogram or so as they prepare to make a surge past the United States as the most obese country in the world.
  • Really drunk people were hard to find in Buenos Aires. London is producing them in a factory somewhere. Short balding hair cut with lots of gel to stick hair up. Tight light colored jeans with black boots. A white or very light button up long sleeve shirt. That is standard issue for the men. Woman wear tight black leggings, a t-shirt material dress hanging just below their butt which is of an unknown shape due to the round pleats in the dress and the black leggings, and very high heel shoes that not many of them can walk on. Hair done very straight and very blonde with heavy dark eye make up. Often times you would see two girls or two guys walking down the streets but never an integrated mix. I had de ja vu with the amount of these pairs I saw walking on the streets as I was blowing the snot out of my nostrils.
  • I did not see evil drivers in Buenos Aires. This might have been attributed to a language barrier of sorts but I was never tooted at or yelled at apart from the guy who I slammed into his side mirror holding his arm hanging out the window to not fall over. It is no wonder the English tried conquering the world. They just hate anything that moves it seems. I have never seen so many people yell at a cyclist or honk at one and when you look at them, you could just see this person driving by, fist in the air, and the head just shaking around uncontrollably as if a giant fly just flew down their throat, screaming curse words at the top of their lungs even though no one else is in the car. I find that a really strange behaviour in humans.
  • I did not see a man walking his dog very politely being a complete dick head to cyclists in BA. This man, walking by myself and my two cousins, in a very polite tone, commends my bicycle and then goes on to say how we should be paying road taxes and how he absolutely hated cyclists. It caught me off guard and I was not prepared to respond with such a polite slandering. Just as he’s going on about road taxes, his dog takes a shit on the road, go figure.

I do not trust locking my bike in London. I have heard too many stories and seen too many skeletons lying around the city. I finish locking up my bike removing the seat bag, both wheels and locking them to the frame, removing my lights, the wheel skewers, seat, brakes, and anything else I could pry off. I stood there looking at my embarrassingly naked bike thinking, “The street rats will be scuttling out any moment now, ready to swarm over this thing like locusts stripping it of its paint and decency and selling it on the East end.” Nothing happened in the end, but I never had that fear anywhere else.

To give credit where it is due… London is a fantastic place for the regular cyclist. They go to great lengths to get people on bikes. Today I was at the SkyRide which is a 50k bike gathering to ride around the city and where bright green vests. It was mediocre fun but the point is that they are shutting down major veins of the city to give them to the bikes. Better yet is the Critical Mass in London on the last Friday of every month. Go to the Natioanl Theatre, waters edge, around 7pm and be prepared to be blown away. There might only be five thousand bikes but unlike the skyride, this is an “unorganized” event. (Even though that this happens every month, all around the world, all at the same time.) There is no leader, and there is no specified route. Everyone is uber friendly and if you bring Pepsi to share then everyone else will share with you their soft drinks. The ride takes you through the best parts of London and the whole time you are doused in light as a regular parade would be but these are the lights of the blocked vehicles all around us who are either honking in joy or honking in rage.You can go to the front of the critical mass peloton, go into a pub, drink a beer, take a piss, and get out and it will still be passing you. Absolutely fantastic and I recommend you going to one near you. Google your area and Critical Mass and you will find one. If you have ever called a bike “sexy” this is for you as you will see some of the more creative and amazing bikes on this planet at these events.

This weekend I also saw the final stage of the Tour of Britain come in to town right across from the London Eye. Incredible speeds these guys are doing. Chose a spot near the 150 meter marker under the big screen so I could see what was happening the rest of the race. Must be tough for parents to be a spectator at their kids cycling races if there is no jumbotron. After the race, I found a water bottle under a team car, I asked them if I could have it and we shared some words. I am not sure what language they spoke but they did warn me to not drink what was inside as they gave it to me smiling largely. Later that night as I was taking a sip, I wondered if they had peed in it and thrown it out the camper because there were no toilets. It was Purple and tasted slightly of Cranberry but you never know with these drug taking cyclists. I did swap a few words with the Irish road champion Nicholas Roach who spent most of the day in a break away which was caught with one lap to go. Basically I tried to get him to blame the other guy for not working. He claimed it was the wind.

So what happened in the end? I beat my cousin to the North side in a record setting twenty minutes in Saturday night traffic. But in true British fashion, I had to get in line at the ATM before I could go to the pub so he thought he won. Oh well.