For the five years that I’ve been commuting in London, I’ve been missing out — and I didn’t realise until today.
Catching the bus from Elephant and Castle, the tube from Manor House, the overground from Hammersmith, the Thameslink from Herne Hill. Every commuting choice I’ve made up until today has been the wrong one.
In case you hadn’t guessed already, today was the day I cycled my commute to Farringdon solo for the very first time. Taking the backstreets around Kennington and Elephant and Castle, and then riding the gorgeous segregated cycleway all the way north across Blackfriars Bridge and into the centre of the city. I’ve never known power like it.
Even last week this was a feat I thought myself incapable of, but humans, it seems, are full of surprises.
So for those of you out there, telling yourself you couldn’t possibly commute to your work by bike: if I can, you can. And if that doesn’t convince you, here’s an incomplete list of all the things you miss out on if you commute by car or public transport instead of by bike.
- The feel of the sunshine on your face
- The salty smell of the Thames
- Saying “it’s a hot one, isn’t it?” to the woman in the leopard print dress fanning herself as she waits to cross a backstreet in Walworth
- Counting Squirrels
- The minutes saved when you get a clear run of green lights
- The momentary comraderie when you fall in step with a group of other cyclists
- Smiling at dogs
- Laughing at yourself when you get overtaken by four other cyclists in a handful of minutes, one of whom looked a lot like your grandma
- Skipping the gym
- Wondering if the birdsong you can hear is coming from your podcast or that plane tree
- The sweet reward of downing the water in your backpack as soon as you arrive at your destination
- The relief when you give your legs a break from pedaling on a downhill
- The squeak of your breaks falling into perfect sync with the music in the car driving alongside you
- Smiling at people at pedestrian crossings and having them smile back
- Racing a child on a scooter (and losing)
- Feeling like you have agency over your journey
- Thinking “that looks like a nice cafe, I should go there one day” and realising there’s no reason that day can’t be today, stopping, and getting a delicious oat milk latte
- Feeling strong
- Taking a moment to look up at the sky and notice what a beautiful pattern the clouds are making
- The feeling of the wind on your face
- Being able to leave when ever you want without having to wait for a bus or a train or a tube to be ready for you
- Chatting with other cyclists at red lights
- Telling dogs in the backseats of passing cars that they’re a Good Boy
- Feeling grateful for the pedestrian who asks if you’re okay when you have a not insignificant wobble taking a sharp corner
- Exploring parts of your city you’ve never seen before
- Changing your mind about your destination halfway through your journey
- The feeling of relief when the pigeon gets out of the way of your front wheel just in time
- Noticing just how many different kinds of people are cycling in London these days
Now, tell me, what did I miss?