Last summer I described how the loan of a practical, almost absurdly robust Swedish-built town bike opened my eyes to the joys of slower cycling, and mulled whether it might be time to give up the world of Lycra and high-speed, sweaty commutes.
Instead, I’ve decided to have the best of both worlds. Some days I still don the full gimp outfit and ride to work on the lightweight machine, showering when I get in.
But a few weeks ago I bought another bike, an undeniably practical (yet slightly lighter than the Swedish Pilen Lyx) secondhand Dutch-made Gazelle model, featuring such previously unknown delights as a full chainguard, hub gears, kick stand and country vicar-like sit-up-and-beg riding position. I’ve even added the trademark accessories for the cyclist who laughs in the face of rushing around – a wicker basket and a child seat.
This is the mount of choice for days when, for example, I have a meeting on the way into work or I know I’ll have to go out of the office for a story. Sturdy lock bungee-strapped to the rear rack and work bag nestling in the basket, I tootle along in my work clothes, barely raising the slightest of sweats yet still getting around considerably faster than on public transport.
Without wanting to get all Harry Hill, all this raises the obvious question – which one is better? The slightly mealy-mouthed answer is that it depends.
I still love bombing around the city (safely, courteously and legally, in case you were wondering). It’s good exercise and good fun. But, as I explained in the earlier article, it’s very liberating to not rush for every light, or feel offended if someone overtakes. It’s sometime just a case of what mood I wake up in that morning.
The point of this update, such as there is one, is to pass on my observations from a few more weeks in the slow lane. I’d be intrigued to know if others have different thoughts:
• This is purely a personal view, and I’m quite aware others think differently, but my feeling is that cycling slowly is, on balance, slightly less safe in a primarily bike lane-less city such as London. On my posh bike I keep up with a lot of the traffic. On the Dutch behemoth I can sometimes almost feel the impatience of drivers behind me, and they do seem more tempted to squeeze past when it’s not completely safe. Riding faster carries its own risks, of course, and it could just be habit that makes me feel this way.
• Slightly paradoxically, I also get the impression of receiving a slightly warmer welcome when riding in everyday clothes. Pedestrians smile more, and arguably seem more ready to believe that I will stop for them at a zebra crossing or red light. This could be because I just look like one of them who happens to be on a bike, rather than a vaguely alien species.
• You can still, with not too much effort, reach a decent pace on a ‘practical’ bike. Just don’t expect to keep it up on a hill. But it barely matters – you’ll probably catch up with the (law-abiding) speed merchants at the next red light.
• Men on carbon fibre road bikes really, really don’t like being overtaken by someone wearing a corduroy jacket.
• Ditto men on Bromptons. What is it with the foldie tribe? Why are they so competitive? Do they secretly fear others see their precious machines are jumped-up toys? (Note to Brompton owners: I don’t).
• Fundamentally, you remain the same cyclist at heart. I realised this the other day when I found myself considering whether I could upgrade my wicker basket for a better model.
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