Wednesday, 26 June 2013

There's leisurely cycling...and there's cycling to work

I'm amazed at how life is made up of many different dimensions. Is there anything, I wonder, that isn't in some way multi-faceted? Take cycling. For me and those who read this blog, cycling is, in the main, all about riding out early in the morning on a weekend to a destination some way off where tea can be sipped and cakes eaten. Where cereal bars and bacon sandwiches are enjoyed in the open air and where light-hearted conversation completes the experience before the ride home begins.

There's such a difference between riding for pleasure and riding for a purpose – like getting to work in the morning. Some time ago now I remember cycling to Camden Town from my home in Sutton, Surrey. That was a terrible experience. I remember being one of those idiots wearing a mask as I headed in to town, breathing in all the fumes and generally watching my back for mad drivers. I never did it every day and I recall leaving the office later just to avoid the rush hour traffic.
This shot taken in Warwick Wold Road. I'd just come through that tunnel
underneath the M25. It's on the outskirts of Merstham.

I'm not working in London at the moment, but in Surrey, so you might think that the journey to work would be better, but in reality, it's the same old thing. It's not so much about the location or the ride, it's about the inherent stress of relying upon the bike to get you to work, rather than a train or a bus or a car.

My ride to work is, in fact, very similar to my route to Merstham at weekends when we head for Hunger's End, the caff. But the difference is that I'm not riding that way for pleasure. I'm not riding at my leisure. The moment I leave the house, the tension is on; the hourglass has been turned over, the stopwatch is on and it's all about getting from A to B.

The tension builds up when you think about what could go wrong. The worst thing, bar an accident, being a puncture. That would slow you down, demoralise you, get you worried about whether you'll arrive on time – or not!

So I off I go, having tried my best to remember everything I'll need: a clean shirt, a towel, some soap, the padlock for padlocking the bike outside the leisure centre, a pair of trousers to wear...the list is endless. But I remembered everything and was happy as I weaved my way through the suburban side streets towards the A23. I'd like to have avoided the A23, but that meant some punishing hills that would slow me down so I had to risk lorries, buses and idiotic office workers on their way to the office.

Yes, it's the Warwick Wold Road!
I got into my stride and as soon as I was on the A23, all was fine. I felt as if I was in control as I raced towards Coulsdon Town, under the bridge and on towards the M23 turn-off and then the first big landmark (the only big landmark) of the journey – Merstham. But this wasn't a lazy Sunday morning. Andy wasn't with me, nor was Phil, and I didn't have any tea in my rucksack.

Suddenly, something was wrong. The bike wobbled and, once again, a rear wheel puncture. This time it was a nail, but I didn't know that until I reached the bike shop. Stressed, pissed off, and angry, I turned the bike upside down with a view to fixing the puncture. But I was harassed. I could hear the clock ticking. It was 0745hrs and I had planned to be in Redhill by 0800hrs. Not any more. I had to unpack my rucksack to locate the pump and then, having taken off the wheel and levered the tyre off the rim, I pulled out the inner tube and tried, in vain, to pump it up. I wouldn't pump up. Standing there for a split second, swearing to myself, I figured I had two choices: wheel the bike to the railway station, take it home and then get a train to the office. Or, walk the bike into Redhill, buy a new inner tube, possibly even get the puncture fixed in the shop and then walk to the leisure centre, take a shower and get into the office.

Looking down on the M25 from the Warwick Wold Road. This is a good
cycling route for our weekend rides, lads...but not for commuting.
First I went to the railway station. It was only a couple of quid to get a train into Redhill, but I'd have to wait for 30 minutes so I decided to walk, listening all the way to the sound of the deflated rear tyre squealing as I headed to work. I went straight to the bike shop where a new inner tube would cost me £5.99 and to have it fixed in the shop a further £10. "I'll take the inner tube," I said, remembering how, a week or two ago I forked out the best part of £200 for a new rear brake and various other things (all detailed in a recent post).

I then walked the bike to the leisure centre where I paid £2.15 for a shower. I had to unpack the rucksack to find the soap and the towel and then, after the shower, I changed into my suit trousers and a shirt and headed towards the office where I padlocked the bike and started work.

It had taken me two and a half hours to get from my house to the office. By train it takes just 45 minutes. Furthermore, I'd forked out the same money, roughly, as a return ticket so I hadn't gained at all, certainly not financially.

At lunchtime I fixed the puncture and then after an afternoon of working I changed out of my suit trousers and donned the moleskins again, leaving the red tee-shirt featuring Sheldon Cooper in the rucksack. I headed off for home going up Frenches Road from a short burst of A23 and into sleepy Merstham. I turned right where School Hill joins the Bletchingley Road and rode through the housing estate towards Warwick Wold Road.

The journey home isn't pleasant after a day in the office and a morning from hell just trying to get there. Fortunately the bike didn't let me down. The terrain was very hilly, especially White Hill Lane, which I think I've mentioned before. Before that, however, I had to cross the M25 both under and over.

White Hill Lane is truly punishing, but when you reach the top you're in Chaldon and that means you're in Caterham and that means you're almost home. I was tired out. All I wanted was for the ride to end, but it persisted and the hills kept coming. Nothing is worst that White Hill Lane, but Tithepit Shaw Lane, going up from Whyteleafe is pretty close. You really have to knuckle down for hills and that's what I did. Once it was over and I was sailing down Wentworth Road towards the Limpsfield Road, Sanderstead High Street, the Gruffy, Church Way and home, my temperament improved slightly, but I was so utterly relieved when I opened the garage door, padlocked the bike and entered the house, vowing never to cycle to work again – not for a very long time.

I was so tired I hit the sack around 2100hrs. But I had a broken night, probably because I'd overdone it with the tea during the day. I had trouble sleeping and woke up earlier today feeling worn out and heavy-lidded. All day I felt down and tired and grateful for the fact that my bike wasn't waiting for me to ride it home.

Give me leisurely cycling any day. Even the route from Redhill via White Hill Lane would be enjoyable if the end game was a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge and then no work until Monday.


  1. I have ridden to work. Its about 75km. I found that I pushed myself a bit hard, and the last 10km is in amongst heavy traffic. It was awful. I was tired, and found even simple things like clipping into the pedals difficult. and the traffic gives you no mercy.

    Give me a mtn bike ride ona trail anyway.

  2. 75km round trip, you mean? That must have taken some time. My ride's only 22 miles round trip, 11 there, 11 back, but, give or take, you're talking just under an hour, in traffic. It's the hassle I don't like, the riding against the clock. Although, I had it sussed: left the house at 7am, but at 0745hrs had the puncture, then I had a 30-minute walk to work, plus the shower...I was 30 mins late. Not good.

  3. Wow! That must have been something. Were you still fit to work when you got there? You must have been dead on your feet when you got home! Like me! Just returned home from Abu Dhabi. Hope all is well.