Heading for the coda: (Milton Keynes - London) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

May 10, 2012

Heading for the coda: (Milton Keynes - London)

THERE WAS a good reason we didn't honour history and start and end our ride in London. Well, two reasons. The most obvious is that we no longer live there. The second is that London 50 years on is not as it was when we were 15. What were once outlying towns have become suburbs in all but name and roads which were tolerable in those days are now fast divided highways with no charity for cyclists.

I'd always planned to go home through London, though, because there is no other way without a lot more time on the road. There are just two ports on the southern English coast and I'd arrived by one and needed to leave by the other. Dover is diagonally across London from Milton Keynes.

My idea that I'd ride at least some of the distance before catching a train ended when I heard the wind whipping round the windows this morning. To be honest, I'd decided pretty much beforehand that today's riding would be limited to getting to one station and then away from another but the wind confirmed how wise I was. Not lazy, you'll notice; just wise.

I reorganised my panniers and set off behind Mike on an explorers' journey along the city's Redways, or bike paths. Milton Keynes was one of the first cities in Britain to lay a network of bike routes distinct from the road traffic and it has done well except for two points: that it is needlessly hilly and that nobody has yet thought to place enough signposts.

For Mike, who until recently remember had never ridden a bike in 50 years, this was as new as it was to me. It was an uncertain but in the end accurate journey we made across the city to the station, Mike riding ahead in a pith helmet and waving his pump forwards above his head to signal "Follow me, native bearer!"

I sat on the train next to a slip of a youth who told me he was training to be a lawyer but made amends by explaining he was a cyclist. He was going to London, with his bike, to catch a further train north to Scotland where he would ride an event of the sort that had overtaken us on Cheddar Gorge.

When I lived in London, there were few cyclists. I was embarrassed to ride to work and I cringed as I went up in the lift, dressed in what then passed for cycling clothes, amid stern faces poking from dark suits. I used to hope I would pass for a cleaner.

Now there are cyclists everywhere. Even the mayor rides a bike. During our ride, London re-elected Boris Johnson, who looks as though he has trouble mastering his hair, let alone a world capital. "My friends,"he said once, "as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters."

His advice to the electorate one year was: "Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3."

There are a lot more cyclists in London partly because Johnson started a bike-hire scheme of the sort pioneered in Paris. Bikes are parked beside the road and detached from their locks with the help of a credit card. Their colour, and their lettering, make it clear they are sponsored by Barclays Bank. The involvement must be seen with mixed feelings at bank headquarters. For, far from giving the bank any credit, Londoners refer to them as "Boris's Bikes."

Today's ride: 12 km (7 miles)
Total: 1,777 km (1,104 miles)

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