Thursday, 31 January 2013

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 14: WHERE I RIDE






I do actually ride my bike(s), you know. I have even conspired to form a number of specific routes. There’s the one that takes me into Richmond, along Sheen Road through Sheen itself, to Putney Bridge by way of Barnes, across the river, then left down Fulham Palace Road at the end of which I cut through Hammersmith and join Chiswick High Road and then head back home via Kew. It’s about a 13 mile journey but can be easily extended by taking a diversion through the heart of Fulham and then across to High Street Kensington. Without the deviation I will stop for coffee somewhere in Chiswick. When the detour features I take my coffee at Nero (which has pictures on the walls of people drinking coffee for you to look at while you're drinking coffee) next to Boots Chemist on Kensington High Street – for some reason I like it there.
          I have formed another course which takes me in the opposite direction, away from the city: through Twickenham, out along Staines Road, down towards Hampton and Thames Ditton, stopping off in Kingston before heading home via Ham and Richmond. I prefer to traverse this route when the weather is more agreeable, for its suburban backdrop doesn't suffer overcast conditions gladly. I have devised other courses but they tend to be variations on the aforementioned routes. For example, the Chiswick Circuit may bypass Putney entirely and makes its way towards Hammersmith by slicing through Barnes Common and taking Castelnau Road (a.k.a. the A306) towards Hammersmith Bridge. I can’t imagine that this saves much more than half of a mile and Castelnau Road is such a bore of an avenue that I don’t know why I even occasionally bother with this collinear bypass.
In the run-in to Christmas I established a new route of approximately 17 miles and with a few tough climbs thrown in. I haven’t based any these circuits on specific cycling requirements, and they’re more likely to be determined by something else I have to do or, more specifically, somewhere I want to go. I think the Wimbledon Circuit was originally informed by the presence of a Debenhams and a TK Maxx there, but you really shouldn't read too much into that.
So the Wimbledon beat forces me up Richmond Hill, back down through the other side of Richmond Park, then around Wimbledon Common by way of the A3, before joining Coombe Lane, passing through Raynes Park and then on to Wimbledon. The first time I rode this circuit I stopped for coffee on Wimbledon Bridge, where all the big shops are, before starting out towards Putney and joining Upper Richmond Road/Sheen Road and then on into Richmond itself. The second time I stopped off in Wimbledon Village, at the Starbucks up there, then took a detour passed the All England Tennis Club, ended up in Wandsworth, picked up Putney Bridge Road and made my way back towards Richmond (it had been a particularly cold day, but very stable – not bad conditions for cycling once you get going). As a whole, I like the Wimbledon Circuit but there is an aspect to it I'm not so fond of: the stage where I have to follow the A3 – or Robin Hood Way, as it’s also known – around Wimbledon Common to reach Wimbledon Proper. It isn't a question of distance, I just think there must probably be a more pleasant route through Wimbledon Common that avoids the tedium of cycling alongside the A3.

Just the other day I was quite in the mood for riding the Wimbledon Circuit and thought I might have another crack at finding a way through the Common, having abandoned my previous attempt on account of the freezing conditions and the confusing abundance of paths. But after studying Google Maps I was sure I’d identified the passage I needed to follow.
I hadn't – couldn't possibly have. Wimbledon Common is an undulating tract, with a Golf Club and everything. The wooded areas are surprisingly thick and there’s no accommodation for racing bicycles: even mountain bikes are prohibited on some of the trails. 
To build strength I try not to change gear too much, but some of the downhill dashes through Richmond Park necessitate I shift up to avoid spinning out. So it had been on the approach to Kingston Gate. I don’t know if it’s the nature of down-tube shifters, but some of my gear changes have been pretty rough. And this is part of the appeal of bikes like the Pinarello, where the gear shifters are integrated into the brake levers, and my recent apostasy with regard to the Carlos might have something to do with this. But my head tells me it’s a question of technique and of practise. Besides, down-tube shifters have an aesthetic appeal.
            By the time I reached the edge of Wimbledon Park I was keen to breach the Common, even if I had to dismount and walk it – which I did. I ended up carrying my bike across sodden, mire-like conditions, finding some succour on the open heath occupying the Common’s interior, but was still unable to then cycle due to the stubborn snow and the signs telling me not to. The cold-snap had lost its grip upon the rest of the Capital – even Richmond Park was enjoying the thaw – but the heart of Wimbledon Common had some catching up to do.
            I got a bit lost but found an exit onto West Place and the open expanse of common that surrounds Rushmere Pond. I recalled enough of the topography from Google Maps to then find my way to the Starbucks in Wimbledon Village and took my coffee earlier than I would normally do.
Wimbledon Village is an odd place. It’s like you’re on the top of the world up there. It rests on a sort of plateau, and I find myself physically aware of the fact. I like the feeling of isolation this gives, of being cut off from the rest of London. If I lived alone and wanted to disengage myself from other people then it would be a good place to dig in. I imagine those flats that occupy the floors up above the shops are different to those that lie in London’s lower lying recesses. I would expect the light to flood in and to feel close to the elements, with a view over the city from my back window. One might even become rather forlorn.





Whether or not investing in a water resistant cycling jacket is the right thing to do, I judge it to be entirely necessary. An open, regular ¾ length coat is vulnerable to water spray coming up the rear and making a mess of it, whereas an elasticated hem will merely contrive to leave one’s derriere exposed to take the flak instead. The cycling jacket adds extra length at the back to deal with this – sort of like a synthetic mullet – and it’s made from material that can cope. But whereas cycling jerseys can be tailored to leave a less serious impression, the jackets often read like a statement of intent. For practical purposes, they’re usually cut in the most reflective of fabrics: fluorescent yellow, silver, white, red. The Italian manufacturer Castelli does some nice jackets in black and/or grey, and I like their red scorpion motif that adorns them, but they’re normally quite expensive. Rapha – a British firm – do a very nice looking all black coat, but that costs £240 – way over my budget.
It was whilst scouting some of the on-line retailers that I discovered the Mavic Sprint in 'bolt blue' – an ‘everyday rain jacket with storm proven features’. Its RRP was £115.00, depending on where you read about it, but Ribble Cycles were selling limited sizes for £51.26. (£98.99 seems to be the going rate in actual fact, although that’s still listed as a reduction. £110 is cited as the RRP on the 2012 design, only available in two-tone black/green or white/black.) There appeared to be issues with the sizing, though – an inescapable reality when looking to order on-line – and, just as it was with the Solo jersey, the reviewers of this product were of the opinion that you should order a size up. However, the Mavic Size Chart implied that they were fully aware of these international vagaries, and the labels reflected that: an International Medium would be counter-labelled as a German/UK/American Small, and even as a Japanese Large. But no, the English reviewers reckoned you had to go up a size based on the German/UK/American designation. Again, the size chart revealed the existence of a German/UK/American XS and XXS, so I thought…  I thought I didn't fancy taking my chances and took a tour of all the cycling shops in my expanded area to find somewhere that stocked Mavic apparel, found a dealer not far from me, could see where the reviewers were coming from but reckoned that a German/UK/American Small would probably be about right. This was just as well because Ribble didn't stock a German/UK/USA medium – this was end-of-line kit, after all.
It was worth the bother because the Mavic Sprint is as nice an anorak as I've come across. I particularly liked what the Guardian had to say about it when they reviewed the product back in late 2009:
‘You wouldn't necessarily choose to wear it down the pub, but nor would you stick out too much if you did.’
I’d choose to wear it down the pub, assuming it was raining, although that’s entirely contingent on it being “bolt blue”. I'm not sure what shade of blue ‘bolt’ really is, or how the (French) manufacturer, Mavic, chanced upon the phrase – was it a play on the idiom ‘a bolt from the blue’ perhaps? Anyway, the jacket is a shade reminiscent (no pun intended) of those old Peter Storm anoraks they made in the 1970s and 80s, and anyone of a certain age might appreciate the cachet. This means that if I choose to wear it with a pair of slim fitting black cords and some broken in desert boots I might vaguely resemble a member of a late 1980s indie-pop band, such as The Pastels. It’s not entirely why I bought it – I bought it because it was the least cycling-looking cycling jacket I could find of any quality at that price – but it’s nice to at least have the option.
            I think I like Mavic too. They’re more normally associated with the manufacture of wheels than they are apparel, but I like the sound of their name and I like the way it’s type-set. Best of all I like the little square sub-insignia they attach to their clothes: a black ‘M for Mavic’ set upon a yellow background, which contrasts very pleasingly against the bolt blue.





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