Seven types of London cyclist – which one are you?

17 Nov

This post is for everyone who cycles in London, because if I’ve learnt one thing doing so it’s that there are certain types of cyclist  – and you need to learn who owns the road.

Speed racer1) Speed Commuter (you know the type)

Bike: £3000 S5 Cervelo

Cycling attire: Clad head to toe in full sponsored club kit, invariably wearing sunglasses despite the grey skies, usually carrying a bottle of high five energy drink mounted on his expensive carbon frame. On the way up Box Hill – yes.  Trying to get through Vauxhall roundabout in one piece – no.

Cycling style: Shoots off before the lights have even turned yellow and sprints like Wiggo at the end of a Tour de France time trial. For all of two minutes, that is, before he’s stopped at the next traffic light.  (I say ‘he’ as it is rare to encounter a Speed Commuter of the female variety.)

Miranda Upright Ambler2) The Upright Ambler (opposite of the Speed Commuter)

Bike: £100 second hand Dutch bike from the Brick Lane Market.

Cycling attire: Generally female, sporting a wicker basket on the front of her upright bike containing handbag, papers, dog, flowers etc. Often clad in sensible shoes and helmet. Tends to look like she belongs in the Netherlands. Has a bell.

Cycling style: The Upright Ambler is in no rush and will sit patiently behind the bus or motorbike, blocking the way with her basket in case anyone wanted to squeeze through. I quite like the Upright Ambler, though. She brings an aura of calm amongst the frantic, noisy traffic. And I’m dead jealous of her basket.

Single Speeder3) Single Speeders

Bike: Specialized Langster – looks second hand but has had a decent chunk of cash thrown at it.

Cycling attire: Single Speeders are mostly found in the east. They don’t need to worry about wearing lycra to avoid their trousers getting shredded in the gears, because their jeans are all but skintight anyway. If they’re wearing a helmet – often they’re not – it’s a trendy rounded steel coloured one sitting atop of thick rimmed glasses. They’ll probably have a satchel on their bike, coloured socks and plimsoll shoes.

Cycling style: Tuned in. Single Speeders look pretty friendly, but you’re wasting your time trying to talk  to them – they’re oblivious beyond the Indi music in their headphones.

High vis4) Super High Vis

Bike: Specialized Allez – entry level road bike on sale at Evans. c £400.

Cycling attire: We’re talking ankle and wrist reflector bands, flashing lights everywhere, bright yellow gloves and full fluro clothing.  I massively back all efforts to make London safer for cyclists  but sometimes this level of hi vis could end up causing, rather than avoiding, a crash.

Cycling style: Cautious.

Boris Bikers5) Boris Bikers (I’m sorry, but these are the worst kind)

Bike: The beast that is a rented Barclays Bike. £2 an hour.

Cycling attire:  Boris Bikers are an occasional cyclist so they have no helmets, in appropriate clothing and oversized bags bulging out of the undersized basket.

Cycling style: Often European and on the right (wrong) side of the road. Probably lost so making abrupt movements to change direction or hovering hesitantly in your way. Total liability. Don’t get me wrong, I do think Boris Bikes are a fantastic initative.  I just think they should come with some kind of safe cycling info, like a radar fitted into the bike with a loudspeaker that blares whenever they’re on the wrong side of the road/pavement/precariously close to a bus/taxi/other cyclist. Actually, I think I have got Boris’s email somewhere…

Brompton rider6) Brompton Bike Riders

Bike: M3L Timeless Classic – because they really will use it forever. A pricy £1200.

Cycling attire: An odd mix of office or day wear, mixed with some cycling apparel as they aren’t quite immune to the lure of lycra and high vis. Their outfits say ‘Hey, isn’t it convenient that I can hop off my bike and simply fold it up before I pop into the office. I don’t need to bother with all the extra bike kit.’ (Oh, except for my fluro waterproof over the top of my shirt. And the cycle clips for my suit trousers so they don’t catch. And the special bag on the front of the bike where I put my laptop and my newspaper).

Cycling style: In training. Because did you know, there is actually a Brompton world championships held every year in Oxford (and my good friend Vicky Taylor held sixth place in the female rankings for quite some time – more from her later).

Parent Child bike7) Parent with Child

Bike: Solid ride with precarious child seat (and possibly trailor) attached. Halfords finest.

Cycling attire: Anything. I’m too nervous to notice. I’m sorry, but the sight of a small child gazing out of a safety seat on the back of Mum or Dad’s bike just makes me so anxious. I get horror images of the bike falling over, or a bus coming to close to outstretched toddler’s hand… ahh. I admire them for their green, fit way of commuting but I still think if it was me I’d have a carseat in jeep, avoiding rush hour where possible.

Cycling style:  Careful. They are carrying the world’s most precious cargo.

There are, of course, plenty of ‘normal’ types who cycle to work (like me and probably most of you). We wear an appropriate level of lycra without being overkill, want to get there on time but aren’t agressive at the lights, know our road rules, make ourselves seen without being a beacon and keep a careful distance from other vehicles. But unfortunately, we’re not enough of a spectacle to make this post.

So cyclists – who am I missing?


Who says you actually need to ride somewhere to have fun?

14 Nov

Team FT at CyclebeatSometimes, pedalling your heart out while going absolutely nowhere is all you need.

So I discovered today when a team of five colleagues from the Financial Times took part in Cyclebeat’s City Bike Battle. This was a 40 minute spin class with a difference: firstly, it raised funds for the brilliant charity Hope HIV, which supports children in communities ground down by poverty and AIDS, and secondly, it was a competition. A giant leaderboard – The Beatboard – at the front of the class ranked each team throughout, calculating average energy output and speed. I’m not even sure what the prize was, but I damn well wanted to win it. Team FT hadn’t turned up looking resplendent in lycra for nothing.

If you’ve ever done a spin class you’ll know that cycling on a stationary bike in a dark, hot room while the trainer barks instructions to lead the peloton or sprint to the top of the mountain requires 1)  immense imagination and 2) serious determination to keep returning. But – having the ability to see just how far, fast and efficiently you’re cycling (while going Team FT at Cyclebeatnowhere) and how you rank against the other cyclists adds a whole new dimension. Discovery number two of the day: cycling stats are addictive. Not the distance and elevation kind, but the energy output and power kind. During the class you can see your individual stats on your bike screen and how you rank against others on The Beatboard. Afterwards you’re emailed full stats which of course you immediately share and compare. The result? Some healthy competition with yourself and other teams to get faster, stronger and more powerful. Ace.

Cyclebeat has a brilliant setup. We had to have two women on each team – ladies, good excuse to get involved! I had four rejections before finding another willing female for our team (thank you Hannah Bishop). You can hire cycle shoes with the right kind of cleats (SPD, not Shimano like mine) and the studio has lovely new bikes, great facilities and fun instructors. They’re currently running an intro
offer of £20 for 20 days and I for one will be giving it a go. Suddenly the fact that the imminent bracingly cold winter will require indoor Victorious Team FTcycling only, is somehow quite appealing.

Oh, and did Team FT win? Well yes, we were the top of our class. We’re not worrying about the two teams that were faster than us in the session before, because you can’t beat an invisible opponent and anyway, we’ve still got a spot on the podium… As Hannah said, “Putting the ‘I’ in ‘FT’ – F.I.T.”. Too damn right.


Cool kids wear lids: the world’s first flat-folding helmet

5 Nov

Morpher Helmet

How many times have you wished you could stuff your helmet in your bag rather than carrying it around while your bike is locked up? Many times? Me too.

Which is why I was delighted to hear about the Morpher Helmet, a lightweight creation that folds flat to fit in your handbag or laptop bag.

As well as being convenient and functional, there’s an important safety message. The helmet was designed by British Inventor of the Year Jeff Woolfe OBE, whose helmet saved his life in a horrific cycling accident some years ago. Inspired to make cycling safer following this experience, Woolfe created the Morpher Helmet to encourage all cyclists to wear a helmet. Woolfe has some frightening stats: despite the fact that more than 90% of cycling fatalities happen to riders who aren’t wearing a helmet, 93% of cyclists on hire bikes and 26% of people on their own bike don’t wear one.

Despite being just a prototype, the Morpher Helmet has already won three innovation awards.  It’s patented worldwide, exceeds all relevant safety standards and  made from recyclable materials. The flat design will allow people to buy from vending machines near bicycle hire docks. Initially aimed at cyclists, it will later be made for other sports including skiers, skaters, snow boarders, hockey players and horse riders. See more in this video.

Impressed? The team are now inviting people to get involved, help fund the project and be one of the first to own a Morpher helmet, which they hope will go on sale early next year. You can find out more on their website and support from as little as £5.

The joy of a new bike shed

21 Oct

Imagine my joy when, on returning from last week’s work conference, I came home to find this wonderful creation in my back yard:Bike shed

Up until now our bikes have either been stored in the living room (unsightly) or outside in the garden (out of the way but with the increasing risk of cold and wet damage as winter approaches). But now, thanks to the brilliant work of The Boyfriend, they have their own little hut in the garden.

The carpenters have cleverly cut the wood to allow existing trees to grow in and through the shed, so it blends right in. I was especially grateful today as it’s been chucking it down with rain all day (a sign of things to come) but when I got my bike out she was completely dry. Excellent!

Bike shed

There was one small issue in that the shed is a tad short, so when I come home this evening the shed had been upgraded with handy hooks… Well done Boyfriend and happy hanging bikes.

Hanging bikes


Free service and bike check? Don’t mind if I do…

9 Oct

photo 3My bike has been lucky enough to visit the brilliant people at Have Bike twice in the last month – once at a pop up at Battersea Power Station and then yesterday at the Financial Times, where I work.

Have Bike are a portable bike safety and servicing organisation that visit different locations and workplaces across London, providing free bike checks. They gave my bike a once over yesterday and returned her freshly oiled with tightened brakes and a cleaner frame, tyres thoroughly checked for glass and wear and some cable ties to streamline askew cords. She rides a dream.

I’ve also got a handy service sheet which tells me what work she’ll need shortly. New rear brake pads, new chain to avoid wearing the cassette, likely new wheel rims after this winter. The best part is they’ll be visiting the FT once a month from now on, so if I do decide to replace these parts all I have to do is cycle to work and leave my bike with them while I tackle my emails. The full service does cost, but there’s no faffing taking the bike to and from the shop. Hurrah!

Have Bike also often team up with the Metropolitan Police, who can tag your bike so it’s registered and easier to track in case of theft. They may also sit you in a huge heavy goods vehicle so you can see what it’s like as the driver and how little visibility you have of the (comparatively little) people on bikes below.  I’ll certainly be hanging well back behind trucks from now on.

If you’d like to organise Have Bike at your office, drop them a line to find out more. Thanks Have Bike team!


LadyCycle in Canada: Caro’s 200km ride across British Columbia

25 Sep

Our latest blog is an international edition from Canada. The brilliant Caro St John, despite never having ridden any significant distance in her life, has decided to cycle across Canada. She recently completed a huge training milestone: a 200km ride across British Columbia in support of the BC Lung Association. Not only did Caro put in the hard yards of training throughout summer, she completed the ride, raised $570 Canadian dollars for the charity and is now more focused than ever on her goal of cycling across the country. Here’s her story:

Caro St John 200km ride“My housemate Kate and I have been training for this weekend all summer: a 200km ride over two days through the beautiful Fraser Valley near Vancouver. It was my first ever ‘big’ bike ride and the motivation for doing it (apart from being a great cause!) was to encourage myself to actually ride my bike and start training for my long-term aim: biking across Canada. Considering I hadn’t ridden a bike for seven years the sudden desire to do so was a bit of a shock. I needed to know there was some potential I might actually do it. This summer and this weekend’s ride have taught me that I definitely can. What’s more – I actually like being on my bike!

It was the perfect location: rolling hills, luscious farmland and majestic mountains in the background. More importantly, it didn’t rain. Despite the beautiful surroundings the ride was hard work and the support from BC Lung Association, who the ride was in aid of, was fantastic. They carried our bags, had support cars cheering the whole way and organised breaks every 25km with food, drinks and water. The regular stops definitely make the distance much more manageable.

We finished 100km on day one and camped overnight. It wasn’t the best sleep ever and I was pretty grumpy the next morning (not that this is unusual for those of you who know me in the morning). Getting back on the bike wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, especially as by then I had a rather tender backside. Note to self: listen to those who suggest you wear padded shorts – they know what they are talking about! But the second day began with a huge downhill (one we hadn’t quite made it to the top of at the end of day one) and once I was riding round the stunning Cultus Lake, I was happy to be going again. Our second day was definitely faster. Somehow the hills didn’t seem quite so hard, although that may have been due to the intense desire of just wanting to finish the damn ride.

There were lots of friendly regulars who have been doing the ride for the past few years – some for 16 years in a row. One amazing lady was over 70 and definitely a key motivator. Everyone rode at their own pace, some stopping to take in the local sites and others pausing for beers along the way (we definitely joined that group). On the second day the third rest stop is at a winery where you can taste wine (we did) and buy some to get sent to the end (we did that too).

Despite the distractions we finished the ride in our aim of under seven hours including breaks, so were very pleased with ourselves. I can’t thank Kate enough for one: finding out about the ride, two: encouraging me to sign up to it (a glass of wine is all it took!) and three: being my key motivator throughout the summer. I doubt very much whether I would have done this without her.

Now however, I would definitely do it again. Next time I will conquer that final hill on the first day and know I can do it. My plan is to ride this motivational wave, which will get harder as autumn, then winter, rain and snow start to settle in… But there is always next spring (my favourite season in Vancouver) and summer to get going again, which after the ego boost of completing this ride will be a much easier journey”.

Ride100 race report: reflections of an amateur 100 mile cyclist

18 Aug

The brilliant Nicola Milburn was among several thousand women who took part in the recent Ride100 event, a 100 mile cycle from London to Surrey and back, ending on The Mall. Nic was good enough to share her experience of the day below and it’s enough to inspire anyone to take part next year. In case you’re tempted, the ballot is now open…

Reflections of an amateur 100 mile cyclist
by Nicola Milburn

Nicola Milburn Ride 100It was quite by chance I completed the inaugural Prudential Ride 100 cycle sportive. In all honesty I’d done no specific training for it – apart from a quick recce of Box Hill and my usual commute to work which is max 2 hours cycling total a day. Instead I was enjoying the Summer playing tennis on the once-lush green grass courts at my club, not really giving the ride much thought when suddenly the Big Day arrived.

Sensibly, my work colleague had been meticulously planning her training whilst I just kept saying it’ll be ok, it can’t be that tough – but in the back of my mind I knew I’d never cycled for 100 miles in one day before… so I did wonder how hard I’d actually find it to complete.

Getting to the start I treated as the gentle warm up ride.  I couldn’t help giggling to myself as at 5.15am we passed a fair few people heading home from their night out…I had been tucked up in bed by 9.30pm!

I remember arriving at the Olympic stadium and feeling the excitement – even at 6am. It definitely had a London Marathon-type atmosphere although I have to say there is a lot more “all the gear (and no idea..)” in the cycling world…so much lycra and carbon fibre… really, I wondered, is all this stuff really necessary?

Waiting to be penned in to start I was wearing my black bin liner just like I do at the start of a running race to keep warm…but this time I was the only one sporting the look ….I’m still not sure why, as it works and others around me were definitely shivering.  I hope I’ll have set a trend by next year’s RideLondon!

7.22am and I was off with my first goal in mind of Hampton Court at 25 miles – ¼ of the way there. Unfortunately, I soon felt like I was dragging along and it felt tougher than expected – until I worked out I had an early slow puncture. So I stopped, pumped it up and tried to ignore it but had to concede defeat at the 37mile drink station and get it repaired properly.

Looking around me whilst I waited, I observed lots of mainly male cycle groups with the odd girl or two thrown in and those were definitely the serious cyclist girls.  This might have been the time to lose confidence that I’d complete the challenge as others looked so task-orientated and prepared – but I challenged myself to keep the faith and keep giving it a whirl and just see what happened.

Puncture repaired and fate led me to bump into my tennis partner and her group of friends cycling as a team so I promptly joined them. I felt so much happier – it’s a long old way to ride solo and with only your own thoughts to keep you going.  This gang is a highly competitive group of semi-retired women hockey players (oops – that makes them sound so old – like me they’re only in their 30s!) who were joined for the ride by one equally as competitive man. Without doubt these girls (and guy) were my life-savers as they made the journey so much more fun and took away the next 25miles as we chatted away.

Suddenly without realising it, we each fell silent in anticipation of the 3 monster Surrey hills – Newlands Corner, Leith Hill and Box Hill.  Dare I say it – but the hills were good!  Yes, it’s true, I actually like hills strangely enough and I feel beasting them on the upward slope is one of my strengths.  It’s the downhills that do for me – I felt much more daunted and cautious on the descent as lots of amateur cyclists going flat out down the Surrey lanes reeks of danger to me!  Fortunately we only saw one nasty accident – and the guy was being well attended to.  These things do make you conscious of the need to be extra vigilant of others on the road around you.

Once the hills were completed still with my newly-adopted team we had just 30 miles left to Buckingham Palace.  Split that into 2 x 15 and mentally I felt it was doable – so off we went. Legs were feeling not too bad, but bottom seriously sore and my taste buds were crying out for something savoury rather than energy drinks and flap jack I’d brought along for the ride (literally).

This is where being part of a team really helped as we each just took it in turns to pull the group along and the crowds of cyclists had really dispersed by now (so I felt safer!).  At this point you felt the amazing support from the villagers in Surrey who were really vocal – lots of cheering and clanging of cowbells. It was great to get such encouragement and massively helps keep you going – thank you Surrey!

Unfortunately, the small hills started to feel like big hills and even a hill-lover can have had her fill!  I was really looking forward to hitting Wimbledon, the 90 mile mark, as I knew I’d be on very familiar ground and not far from home.

We hit the final hill of the route up to Wimbledon Village but it felt as bad as Box Hill though thankfully not half as long. All safely reached the top and now mentally we knew there were only a few miles to the end. We squeezed our last burst of energy as we headed along Embankment, up Whitehall and down the Mall.

Cycling The Mall was a truly great feeling: big smiles and little clench of the fist and I’d done it! Got my medal and had time for photos and mutual congratulations to the team around me. Relief and pride in the achievement washed over us all.

I’m not sure what the official women to men ratio was on the inaugural Prudential RideLondon but we (that is me and my newly adopted team) were definitely one of the only mainly women groups.  We finished (after several stops including punctures) in a respectable sub-7hr time.

On reflection, I can’t recommend cycling in a group highly enough – and particularly on a long ride like that.  Numbers just help keep morale high and adds to the enjoyment. Cycling certainly doesn’t have the impact on your body that running does (so you recover much more quickly from riding 100miles than running 26.2).  In fact I only have one slight regret – and perhaps it’s perverse – but I almost feel as though I’d have appreciated the achievement more if I’d got myself together to train for it properly in advance.

Nic ride 100 1

All in all I’d say if you are thinking about it, do it, and quick before next year’s ballot closes. I’ve already entered – and I’ve promised myself to train for it next time!