I don’t commute very often; or rather, I don’t commute by bike very often really, about once a week and then only recently. It’s something I’m intending to keep at though even if it’s needed a bit of a readjustment of my riding.
My route takes me from Bookham, down the Lower Road to Leatherhead and from there on the cycle path to Pixham Lane where I pick up the A25 to Reigate and Redhill. All tarmac based which was why I was so keen to get my freak bike built up. On the whole, that bike is pretty well suited to the job although the stem is a bit over-long and I could do with flat bars too. Just for the look.
Having done it a few times now I’ve started to notice a few things. First, starting out putting miles in on busy roads took quite a bit of getting used to. The A25 really is no place for the faint-hearted, in fact come darker evenings I’ll probably switch to off-roading along the North Downs Way.
Yesterday I counted 86 vehicles passed me between Pixham Lane and the roundabout at Betchworth. That’s 86 vehicles going in my direction over about 12 minutes or so at 7:20 in the morning which if you think about it is a pretty big number. Especially as they were travelling much faster than me. Cue musings on how nice things would be if they were all on push-bikes.
What I noticed wasn’t just the number of vehicles on the road but the noise that came with them. My bike was humming quietly along but the cacophony from the cars and trucks was something else. Not a pleasant experience but not one I’d be keen to drown out with iPod sounds either. You really start to use your ears much more, listening out for oncoming vehicles and trying to build a kind of sixth-sense of awareness around you.
It’s not just the traffic you notice though. With the flat-iron heat of the last few days the feeling of being out early on a summer morning with just the lightest of cycling clothing is worth the effort of getting up early all on its own. What a feeling of freedom! Coming back in the evening the heat was another matter, especially coming up off the tarmac – it was terrific! I could literally feel the burn for a change with the roiling heat rising up to meet me and by the time I got home after a good effort of a ride my face was properly glowing. And drenched in sweat.
Another thing I’ve noticed is my pedalling action on the road. Normally I don’t give it much thought but with the steady cadence it becomes more apparant what’s going on. Rather than mash the pedals I’ve tried much more to smooth out my pedal action, pulling back much harder than I would normally. Over a 14 mile ride of constant pedalling (I try to avoid free-wheeling on the road) I think it really helps improve your leg strength, or so I hope.
I’ve noticed too that my left foot turns out slightly, a legacy from years of school commuting where the non-driveside crank on my bike had a distinct bend in it after—ahem—a collision with an immovable object. I never got it fixed but the results seem to have stuck with me it seems. I might adjust my cleats to see if this helps.
What I haven’t been able to fathom so far though is the number of riders I see along the A24 between Leatherhead and Dorking who seem to ignore the excellent cycle paths provided for them. On many occasions driving I’ve seen riders putting themselves at some risk by actually riding in the road itself – one rider I see even does this in the depths of winter.
It’s not that cyclists are barred from using A-roads but this seems daft. It’s a fast dual carriageway where people tend not to expect cyclists to be and I’ve seen many occasions when drivers have pulled out expectedly to avoid riders. Personally I think the riders are mad as in this instance (as opposed to my recent run-in) there’s excellent cycle path facilities a safe distance from the busy traffic.
For the same reason I refuse to ride up Young Street, preferring instead to ride into Leatherhead and through the town centre, yet I do occasionally see riders creeping up the hill to Bookham while traffic flashes past at 70mph. Having the right to ride something doesn’t always make it sensible to do so if you ask me. It’s like people who say that if a car pulls out from a side road into oncoming traffic it’s the person joining the traffic who’s at fault. True, but it doesn’t help if you’re dead does it?
So there you go, just a few thoughts on commuting. It’s always good to break habits and getting out of the car and onto the bike occasionally is quite refreshing.