Diary of a New Cyclist Pt 9 — A Love Letter to the Quiet Route
Back in my pre-pandemic life, and before I was a cyclist, I would often find myself sat on the top deck of the bus, staring out the window, admiring the daredevil cyclists ducking and weaving between traffic below. Often I would watch them whizz past me, disappearing out of sight. The bus I rode on, meanwhile, sat stationary, caught behind the seemingly endless brake-lights of London traffic.
At the time it seemed impossible that one day I might join them. That instead of looking longingly from the top of the bus, I would be the one on the bike. But as the pandemic hit and a local low traffic neighbourhood made all my cycling dreams come true, I started to think I might be wrong. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.
I’m not the person ducking and weaving between buses and heavy traffic because most of the time, on the roads I cycle on, there isn’t much traffic to be seen. That’s because, most of the time, you’ll find me on the quiet route.
For those of you who don’t cycle (yet), the quiet route is basically what it sounds like: a route offered by Citymapper which takes you down the backstreets, quiet residential roads and protected cycle lanes where you’re unlikely to come into contact with heavy traffic. In short: it’s a beginner cyclist’s dream. It won’t offer you the fastest, most efficient, or most direct route to your destination — but most of the time it will offer you the safest. But that’s not why I love it.
I love the quiet route because it is all about discovery, curiosity and adventure. It is on the quiet route that you’ll find the hidden coffee shops, supermarkets and small businesses that make up the heart of neighbourhoods. It’s there that you’ll discover the pocket parks, secret gardens and guerilla green spaces tenderly cared for by local residents. It’s on the quiet route that you’ll get a feel for a neighbourhood, that you’ll find yourself gradually imagining a life for yourself in a part of town you never knew existed. One day, you’ll slow to a stop by an old terraced house that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for and resolve to move to Kennington.
Before I was a cyclist I thought the best part of riding a bike was never getting stuck in traffic. I thought I’d be the kind of cyclist who calculated the fastest route to my destination and sped off, keen to get there as quickly as possible. But what I failed to understand is that when you’re a cyclist, a journey isn’t something to be endured — it’s something to be enjoyed. You’re not desperate to find the fastest way for it to be over. Instead, it’s something you savour — and all of a sudden a ten or fifteen minute delay doesn’t feel like such a bad thing — how can it when it’s spent taking a lazy lap around Bonnington Square while you wait for the local cafe to finish making your coffee?
Don’t get me wrong — cyclists deserve direct, efficient and traffic-free routes to their destinations without having to go out of their way to find them. And in the city of my dreams, it’s not just the backstreets that are pleasant places to move about in. But for now, in the London that we live in, you won’t look out of a bus window and see me speeding past. Instead, I’ll be a few streets away, paused at an intersection, thinking to myself “I wonder what’s down there?”. And as my curiosity gets the better of me, I’ll be taking another detour, off to discover another part of my city to fall in love with.