Cycling in South London

As I suspected I have been forced to venture out of my new flat. And not, as I anticipated, because food ran out or boredom got the better of me – a darker force is against me – work.

As you may recall one of the many reasons I lamented leaving my wonderful bolthole in Shoreditch was because my commute to work was a mere 5 minute cycle ride from start to finish (including exiting the flat, calling the lift, riding the lift, attaching D-Lock to lamppost, purchasing skinny latte, hiking upstairs to desk) – well that is not the case anymore. I shouldn’t really complain too much as my total journey is now only about 25 minutes (without the luxury of latte buying time) but still – it is the pack of cyclists that I now have to share the road with that I resent the most.

As you can no doubt imagine, cycling in Shoreditch is a fairly leisurely affair. Skinny jeans really inhibit the pace at which you can pump your legs, and dark Raybans don’t particularly go hand in hand with bullet like speeds. So like the Peter Pan of Shoreditch, out of the estate I would go, second art gallery to the right, and then straight on until the Live East Die Young poster (opposite which I would park my wheels) – a wonderful start to any working day.

Cycling from South of the river is an entirely different undertaking. The cool kids on the Kennington-City cycle route proudly sport padded lycra shorts, bullet shaped helmets, coloured Oakleys, high visibility vests (I know neon’s in vogue at the moment, but somehow I don’t think the fashion gods would approve), fingerless gloves, and the crowning element, only for the most hardcore of south-of-the-river-cyclists: headphones. I find this extremely confusing and contradictory. All the other elements of the outfit present an unabashed ode to safety: lovers of the Highway Code who are simultaneously demons of the type of speed that can only be created by their own lycra-clad thighs. But the headphones present an element of danger, a ‘No Fear’ attitude, a two fingers up to any motorists that dare jeopardise their smooth route into town, saying “I don’t need to hear you approaching, my disco beats will protect me from your metal coated, petrol pumping, killing machine”.

The South London cyclists travel in large, impenetrable packs. The strongest members up front, forging a route, intimidating oncoming cars, making sure they keep in their own lane, and not dare spill into the exclusive cycle lanes which the rest of their herd dominate behind them. The weaker members of the pack, not wanting to be picked off by any hungry bendy-buses, focus on keeping up, jumping any lights that may have inconveniently turned red, consequently separating them from their precious gang.

Having been cycling the Kennington – City route for almost three weeks now, I am not entirely sure which cycle group I best fit in to. Although my bike’s previous owner was a 92 year old man, it definitely could not be described as retro or in any way cool, I generally don’t wear petrol wet leggings and most definitely don’t have an A-Symmetrical haircut, so I don’t think I sit very comfortably in the Shoreditch cyclist crowd. However, I also do not wear lycra, don’t have a bike that anyone would ever consider expending effort in stealing, and far from being a member of the pack, I can let you into a closely guarded secret of mine: the pack actually scares me.

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