About a month ago I was given a free bike. It had little in the way of useful tyres, a severely warped rear wheel and is painted cerise. However it was both free and steel-framed, both good for "customising". Two miles of cycling on a flat tyre got it home, ready for some fixing and before I knew it I was cycling to work, doing about 100 miles per week. This series of posts looks at the results of this.
The Good and the Bad
My route, apart from half a mile at each end, is all on the towpath of the Grand Union canal, going from. Morrisons Yiewsley to Tesco Bull's Bridge, where I turn onto the Paddington Branch and keep going until just after Sainsburys Alperton.
This means it's nearly all flat, so there's no hills to climb, which is good.
That also means there's no hills to go speeding down, which is bad.
The canal mostly looks the same, so it feels like it goes on forever. I recognise a lot more of the route these days, rather the the 4 and 8 mile marks of "massive bridge turn left" and "A40". However, this is still bad.
The towpath is mostly traffic free, which is good.
But many other cyclists don't move over when passing, letting me cycle through a bush, which is bad.
The surface is mostly smooth, including five miles of resurfacing they've been doing, which is good
But there's a mile or two which is mostly rocks, which is very bad.
And canalists are fairly friendly given they're in London, which is probably good.
In short, my routes fairly pleasant, but by no means perfect.
So why the trouble?
A while ago it took three hours to get home by train. This seemed ludicrous, so I Google Mapsed walking directions - 10 miles, three hours. Then I thought how long it normally took to get the train - about an hour, fifty minutes on a good day. Anyone can cycle at 10 mph, so why spend £5.60 a day to go no faster than cycling pace. All I needed was a bike.
Of course there are health benefits to cycling, but that's purely coincidental. Sure, my legs are getting bigger and I'm getting slimmer (didn't actually think that was possible), but if the pain my knees give me is anything to go by, I’ll have arthritis by 30.
To clarify, I wake up most mornings with my legs aching. If I went for a quick time the day before they really hurt. But most days I push through the pain and get back on the cerise beauty - if I was in a gym “feel the burn” and “push through” and the like would be bandied about, but the truth of the matter is that I want to save the money so I don’t go bankrupt in final year.
The Route in Detail
The route starts off with a cycle through West Drayton, speeding past the queues of cars, mostly in a safe manner. The cars don’t like this though, so fight back by driving in the cycle lanes and passing as close as possible without actually knocking me off. The pace is largely traffic dependant, and tends to be much quicker on the way back, where the few hills on my route work more in my favour
I then hit a three-four mile stretch of canal which hasn’t got a great surface, but could be worse. There are several narrow points and dodgy bridges which make passing other bikes hazardous, but other than this it’s not too bad. My still-groggy head tends to stop me going too fast for this bit, but 5.30 minutes per mile isn’t uncommon.
Over a big bridge by Tesco and I turn onto the Paddington Arm. As soon as I get onto the towpath I’m avoiding stones, bricks, sand and anything else that’s found it’s way into the track. 100 yards in there’s a gate where I tend to stop for water and a timecheck, before battling more rocks for a mile. Then there’s a short bit of respite as I hop onto a short side-road to avoid a large bank of swans before going back onto the towpath to scatter the large swarm of pigeons that live by the Uxbridge Road. On a bad day this can take almost 7 minutes, but if I’m confident in my tyres I’ve managed in at 5 minutes per mile before.
A further mile of slightly less terrible rocky track and I hit the newly resurfaced towpath. Tarmac covered with little stones makes for good pace, and takes me several miles, taking in some greener areas and a couple of marinas.
I hit the A40, scatter some more pigeons, and then hit a little bridge before the Greenford Visitor Moorings. This forms my second water stop, and has seen me do plenty of maintenance like pumping up tyres. After this there’s a very tempting pub.
The last three miles after that are a little more hit and miss, with generally good surfaces, but fairly unruly plantlife that makes passing tricky. By this point I can get down to 4 minutes per mile on a good day (which doesn’t seem that impressive when you consider Banister did it that fast on foot), my speed even reaching the upper teens. This tends to slow down my journey home significantly though...
A mile from work I see the big verdigris building in Alperton, letting me know I’m close, beckoning me on for that final push. There’s also a nearby Sainsburys to pick up lunch if need be. I then hit the road, cross the river Brent and get to Avo, ready for a (much needed) change of top, spray of deodorant and mug of sweet sweet java.