Finding the Zen on two wheels
I love Greenwich Park! If I want a nice and relaxing place to go, it is one of my top destinations in London. There is something in its huge trees, and open spaces that has a relaxing effect on me. And it is located at the meridian 0, basically in the center of the globe, how cool is that?
It was Monday morning and I had this unbearable urge to move my legs in circles, feel the wind against my face and burn some sugar from my blood. Not sure where to go I headed to this beloved park. One of the best things of riding to Greenwich Park is that in order to see the beautiful view from the Royal Observatory, facing the Royal Naval Museusm, you got to climb a little hill. There are not many hills in London, and now I am even happy when I got to climb one. The effort you need to put, the concentration and above all, is that everything that goes up, needs to go down!
So let me go just one last time!
One of the cornerstones of my bike riding philosophy is that using no hands is not a crime. It wasn't easy to develop this skill, but once I did, there was no turning back from it. The freedom, the complete control, total attention and pure joy! Once you get used to it, the bike feels almost like a part of you.
First you gather speed, it makes your life easier. Then you find your balance, keep your back straight, take your hands off the bar, keep pedaling. There you go! No hands is not a crime!
When I moved to London some friends gave me a warning: "In London we have six months of winter and six months of bad weather". I didn't believe in it at first, after all I arrived here in the middle of July, during the only two weeks of straight sunny days of the year. I would tell everyone: "Lovely weather! I can't understand why people complain so much about it!" Little did I know. As the weeks went by, I started realising the whole bad weather thing. British weather is a treacherous thing, it gives you a completely blue sky (usually when you're preparing to get out), so you think "it won't rain, oit won't be cold, I don't need this jacket, forget the umbrellas". But you just need to leave home that the sky will turn grey, the wind will let you freezing and rain will come pouring exactly when you don't have a jacket or an umbrella.
It was one of those days when you don't even get the patch blue sky to give you hope, so I stayed the whole day studying statistics and ecological modelling at home. I was supposed to meet with a friend later in the evening, and I got really close to call him and cancel everything so I could hide under the duvet for the rest of my day. But in this moment of doubt, I recalled the Velominati rule #9: If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period. Usually I am not a big fan of rules, and most of these Velominati rules are crap about how to dress, behave and shave your legs, but some offer great insights. The #9 is one of the latter.
So there I was, clad into my rainny gear, cycling uphill in the rain and asking myself why I didn't take the train when I suddenly reached the mathematical realisation:
London = bad weather
Bad weather + bikes = Badass
GorillaZen(London) + Hollie the black beast = FUNKY BADASS APE
And this thought kept me happy through the rest of the ride!
Nothing gets you more excited than a new adventure. Even more if you're doing it in two wheels. I have counted many miles under my tyres, but truth to be told, I had never left home and went to another city on my bike. An good and old friend from Brazil is visiting England with the whole family, and their first stop was in St. Albans. When I saw where it was, I thought it would be a great opportunity to train for a longer journey, see a different place in England and meet with some friends from home.
Strava has a route from London to the Chilterns that passes close to St. Albans, so I decided to use it as a base and change it according to my needs. The only problem with Strava Local routes is that Strava don't offer turn by turn directions through your phone and you can't import it to GoogleMaps to use theirs. The only solution is to create a new version of the route on GoogleMaps, using multiple way points. Of course it is much harder and annoying than I thought at first, and in order to make it work, I had to split it into 2 parts: going there and coming back. The night before I was so buzzed that I couldn't sleep and I stayed up until much later than I wanted, tweaking the route and sending it to my email and phone (of course as I would figure out later, I did not send the second part to my phone, nor to my email).
I woke up at 6 am and started the day with a reinforced breakfast. Sugars were good, 8.1, so I was able to eat well. Yogurt with bananas, strawberries, oats, goji berries and chia seeds. A big mug of coffee and I was ready to get ready. I separated everything I needed, put my clothes on and left home.
It was not hard to get out of London, but some parts of the way were a bit tricky, such as a big climb on A1 from lower to upper Holloway, that by sheer luck, I was sheltered by a friendly bus driver that waited patiently for me to get to the top hill, or in any big roundabout that you are not sure where to get out. I went through some busy lanes, almost got ran over a couple of times, angered some drivers, but there is no easy way getting out of London by bike.
After you actually get out of London into the suburbs, it is all joy. Not many cars, roads with lots of trees on both sides and a freedom and clear mind that you can only get ridng when you don't need to be worried about not getting hit by some crazy driver!
One of the best things of long rides is how you overcome any discomfort and gets focused on the riding it self. It is like freeing your mind of any worries, problems and even pain. The begining of the ride may be hard and tiresome, but after the first kilometers, nothing hurts or bothers you anymore. This also makes you appreciate more your surroundings and smells, the sunshine and the heat it brings.
It took me around 2 hours to get to St. Albans, and I went from busy lanes to the quiet countryside, to wheat fields to a small town, with beuatiful rows of houses. And when I finally arrived where my friend was staying, I felt like a champion!
After spending the day visiting some of the touristic actractions of the city, includin two incredible churchs, St. Michael Church and St Albans Cathedral, we ate a well deserved lunch and it was time to go back home. In fact, I was ansious to get back on my bike and start the journey back home!
Got all my gear again, refilled my water and off I went. In a classic case of me being me, I forgot the second half of the route, and without time or patience to create a route back cased on Strava's route, I decided to believe in google and went with its suggested route. In the end it was a lovely bike ride, going through several dedicated bike lanes, and arriving in London through the A1010 in rush hour. The best thing of this was to go past so many cars stopped in the traffic jam with a big smile! The joy of being in movement! After 83.9 km I was back home!
Hopeton Overton Brown (18/04/1960) a.k.a Scientist is a jamaican producer, famous for his sick dub mixes of reggae tunes in the 80's. He was one of the pioneers of dub, and a protegé of the legendary King Tubby with whom he learned his craft. His albums have some of the best names ever: Scientist wins the world cup, Scientis Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires, Heavyweight Dub Champion.
He made a concert in London a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn't go. To my surprise he was playing again last sunday and this time I wouldn't miss it! It was also a great opportunity to go for a night ride! Usually London is not the best place for night rides, as most of the year is cold and humid, but last night the weather was perfect: 25C, clear sky and empty roads. It wasn't hard to convince my GF Ollie to get her new bike, Ody, and ride with me.
The concert happened at the Fox & Firkin, a cool pub in Lewisham that always have some live music to cheer up the place. It has a really nice selection of beers and a nice backyard garden. From my place, it is a 13km ride, going through iconic places such as Tower Bridge, and dear places like Deptford, where we lived for a few months in 2016. It was an easy ride, with not many places to get lost. There is something about going out with my bike instead of taking public transport that makes me enjoy everything much more. Maybe is the fact that I don't spend money, or that I burn some sugar, allowing me to eat a bit more... Or maybe is just the freedom of it all!
The concert was great. A big mixing desk on stage and a sidekick releasing the tracks from a laptop for him. The Scientist looked as if he was just an ordinary guy, no shiny outfit nor anything. But when he was mixing it live, what a talent! It is amazing how he transformed each tune in an unique experience. Bass. Drum n' bass. Throw in some keyboards, a nice melody. Bass. Drums. Space travel soundtrack. The music was evolving there, in front of you! The MC's were great, but they would talk all the time. I think you need a balance, let the crowd listen to the bass, the drums, let the music build up, and then you sing. It is the Heavyweight Dub Champion after all.
Coming back from Lewisham was easy, and the temperature, perfect. Going out with the bike is an amazing thing! No need to wait for a bus, or the underground. You leave the time you want and you're already on the move! The only problem was when some stupid driver went really close to us in full speed, honking while overtaking us. That's why, no matter what, you need to keep vigilant while riding through the roads!
What can be better than not getting one red light on the commute back home?
I love riding through the traffic in the city. All the cars, movement, the mess of pedestrians, bikes, bus... Some people are afraid of taking it head on, but I love this buzz. The only thing that bothers me are the red lights. You stop, lose your tempo, wait an eternity and then you take off just to stop again 100m ahead. But some days you just get the city rithym right, and it seems like all the lights are turning green when you get close to them! Oh, the green wave is upon us! What could be better than this?
A study found out that cyclist form strong emotional attachment with their surroundings and bikes. This is no surprise to me. My bike take me places much quicker than my feet. In the first weeks after buying my bike, I saw more of London than in 3 years in this city. And unlike cars, bikes gives you an awareness of where you are and what are you doing that just makes you appreciate the whole ride.
Since I got back to London in the beginning of ’17, I started spending more and more time cycling through the city. But something wasn’t quite right. I would end my rides with my elbows and shoulders in pain. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my Claude Butler bike was too big for me. It was time to start a quest for a new bike. What may sound simple, proves to be much harder in reality.
I started researching which bike I would like (some great articles here, there and everywhere). I was sure I’d like a road bike, that it had to be comfortable and if I was to create a deep emotional bond with my bike, it needed a soul! Nowadays you can find so much information online that the task can be herculean! But as I am used to have tons of papers to read for my PhD, this was no novelty. I dashed through hundreds of articles and got to the conclusion that, in the end, it's the bike that chooses you and not the other way around.
On one of these searches, I stumbled upon Mango bikes website (www.mangobikes.com). They are a small British bike company, focused in single speed bikes, but a couple of years ago they released what they believe is their finest and fastest bike so far: The mango Point R. It comes with an aluminium frame, carbon forks and a lotsof other details but above all, it is a stunning bike and it was considered the best budget bike of 2016. What else in PhD scholarship life could I ask for? My plan was to go to their showroom and buy a new bike, but when I contacted them, they could only deliver it at the beginning of July. I was willing to wait, but in the mean time I decided to look for one secondhand bike . I started searching on gumtree, Facebook marketplace, ebay… until I found this beauty for sale. Emil used to commute by bike, but a couple of months ago he changed jobs and stopped using the bike, so he was selling it. Half of the price I’d pay for a new one… So I went to check it. Arriving there, the bike was exactly what I was looking for: beautiful and it rode like a beast! Quickly we closed the deal, and I was ready to go for my opening ride on my new bike! The only thing missing now is a name for it!
Check my opening ride with my new bike on strava
My name is Tiago and I'm from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I came to the UK in 2014 to do a PhD in Biological Science at Queen Mary University of London. My research tries to explain how turning a big forest into small islands of forest changes foodwebs. I've spent the greater part of the last two years travelling back and forth to Brazil. This has been the site of my research fieldwork where I have been sampling bats in the Atlantic forest. During my last fieldwork season, I spent lots of time daydreaming of what I would do after finishing my PhD. For some reason one of the most recurring images was of me going to Japan & travelling the country by bike.
In Rio I used my bike to go everywhere. It was always the best transport option and a great tool to control my Type 1 diabetes which I was diagnosed with at the age of 12. It was also a great escape, a moment where all worries disappear and you enter in that zen, meditative space, where all the solutions just seem to appear in front of you. I always enjoyed this state, and the fact that on a bike I didn't need to move myself really fast, but I could still be quick.
When I moved to London I wanted to get a bike right away. I borrowed one from a friend and on the first ride I crossed a red line, was stopped by the police and got fined. I ended up not using a bike for most of my time in London thereafter. As I was always going back to Brazil, it didn't appeal much to me the idea of buying a bike that I'd need to sell after just a few months.
Since I got back to London, the PhD has been very demanding, and if you don't push yourself to go out and move, you end up reading papers and working on the computer the whole time. I've gained back all the weight I had lost on fieldwork, I was becoming increasingly moody, restless, experiencing sleeping disturbances and my sugars were riding a rollercoaster. I needed to control my sugars again and channel all that energy into something positive. The solution was clear: it was time to get back on two wheels.
I bought a second hand road bike and started riding my bike to university. It took only two rides to ignite my love for cycling again. Suddenly I was making all these plans of going for longer rides, travelling to new cities, across to other countries all by bike. Did I tell you about my dream of going to Japan and getting a bike? Well, I'm doing it. But first things first: I will finish my PhD, I will train and I will learn how to maintain & repair my bike.