As CTC prepares for Cycle to Work day, campaigner Sam Jones blogs on how he started cycling to work 8 years ago and the delights of his ride today.
I started cycle commuting when I moved back to London for work in 2007. Down in the west country I had had access to the excellent Scooter to Work scheme, and by applying my learning from the Compulsory Basic Training to the busy London streets I found the experience altogether less terrifying than when I had tried cycling previously in the metropolis during my uni days.
One sunny Sunday on two wheels saw me hooked, particularly as my journey time was cut in half and the pounds, while vanishing from the waistline, didn’t disappear so fast as they once had from the bank balance. Cycling opened up London for me, and as a tool for social engagement rivalled my mobile or Facebook, as it meant I was no longer at the mercy of public transport and could go where I willed when I wanted.
Fast forward 8 years, and I’ve left the urban sprawl for the green of Guildford. My usual commute at 4 miles with only 2 traffic lights, 2 roundabouts, residential routes and a large segregated section is mostly a dream. If there is one thing missing from my route into work, it is other cyclists, who only seem to emerge in the evenings as they head to the hills.
At the moment, as I hit the road, I’m wrapped up in a nose to tail traffic snarled up by temporary traffic lights for some roadworks. It’s a nasty bit of infrastructure at the best of times, with the cycle lane designed to spit the cyclist out into a narrow lane of speeding traffic, so I usually avoid that and take the lane instead. Today though, with the cars all stuck, I glide past and even get a thumbs up from an overly enthusiastic car sharer!
I scoot round the rat run lurking behind Sutherland Memorial Park. With school out the road is wonderfully quiet, and I zip round past the church onto a shared use cycle lane which will keep me separate from traffic for the mile until Jacob’s Well. Here my route can diverge, as if I’ve the time, good weather and the right bike I can head off road and bump along off road through a nature reserve and end up in the Slyfield Industrial estate.
I keep to the shared use cycle path though, and try to avoid the enthusiastic undergrowth of nettles and brambles seeking to claim more than its fair share of the path. Every time I bundle along this route to myself I keep on promising to return to do a spot of guerrilla gardening and prune back the wayward vegetation…one day I will keep that promise.
The shared path ends in Jacob’s Well, and then it’s usually a relatively quiet road ride till I hit Woking Rd. This usually means over taking cars give me plenty of space, but this morning an Audi estate seems to think overtaking at speed and fairly close is the better…fortunately that’s a rare experience but alas not altogether unexpected.
Woking Rd is the main tributary into Slyfield Industrial estate and is inevitably busy, jammed and occasionally populated with HGVs looking to turn left. My life is worth more than 10 seconds time gained on the way to work, so I always wait patiently (and occasionally spluttering from the fumes) to let them move off – or if I’m in front that I’m far forward enough that both the driver and I can see each other.
It’s only a short stretch of busy road, and then I’m heading up the only slope of the day Oak Tree Drive, which is graced with great views of the Surrey hills and Guildford’s 20th century cathedral, into Bellfields estate. Shamefully, this is probably the most dangerous bit of my ride. Narrow ill-kept residential streets blossom with parked cars and late commuters and school run parents speed along 15mph lanes. It’s not the roundabout of London’s Elephant and Castle by any means, but you do need to “keep your wits about you”!
I can judge my timing to work by the direction of trains travelling under the narrow railway bridge I use, and then it’s the slalom weave between the access barriers and less than a minute ride into CTC main office, where secure parking, a hot shower (should I need it) and most importantly the second cup of tea of the morning wait!