When a policeman on duty yells at you like a sergeant-major on a parade ground:
“OI! YOU!! OFF THE ROAD!!”
………….you actually get off the road a bit sharpish, even if you’re riding a Boris bike and have been mistakenly got involved in some sort of military parade through London.
We didn’t mean to go showboating on closed roads in front of tourists packed ten deep on the pavements of the Mall, honest guv.
It was supposed to be a pleasant, if somewhat random, Saturday morning Boris bike tootle to Hyde Park from Covent Garden. Picked up some bikes near the back of Covent Garden, down to the Strand and round abouts, then a swap at Trafalgar Square, along Pall Mall (I think) and then stopped to hear a super regimental band playing in a yard at St James’s Palace.
Traffic had been halted and there were people standing listening to the band play The World In Union, which was very apt as we had tickets to the big England v Wales Rugby World Cup match at Twickenham that evening.
Unexpectedly, the band marched out of the yard and along the road, so we hopped back on the bikes – honestly, the saddles of Boris bikes are like luxuriously upholstered like *sofas* – and followed on behind two police horses.
I wasn’t expecting to turn right on to the Mall. Or for it to be closed off to everything but the procession, the police horses and.. er… us.
It was a rather self-conscious slow pedal, suppressing giggles and probably blushing a bit, studiously avoiding riding too close to the horse in front or through fresh horse muck.
I wasn’t sure why everyone had turned out or why we were following the band or where we were going but with police controlling the crowds on the pavement, we didn’t have much option but to keep going, smirking and feeling a bit surreal.
If there was an occasion which demanded an ostentatious Peter Sagan wheelie, this was it. If I could’ve, I would’ve but in the real world I was riding a two-tonne (hyperbole alert) Boris bike with my handbag in the basket on the front and anyway, who am I kidding? The only wheelie I’ve ever pulled was a three-incher.
The only other time I’ve cycled in front of an audience was at a stage of the Tour de France in Brittany, where early in the day, we’d found a deserted spot on a hillside to pull the car over in readiness for the race coming through later. We got the bikes out and cycled into the nearest village to get some breakfast and buy stuff for a picnic lunch.
French villages are never less than appealing, so it was nearly two hours later that we set off again for the car along a road which was busy with people walking to see the race. When we turned on to the bottom of the hill, it was now closed to traffic and busy with Tour supporters and officials.
We had to cycle up the hill laden with carrier bags clanking with wine and baguettes, saucisson and fromage to cheers from a loud and friendly crowd which was clearly cycling-starved. “Allez Les Anglaises!! ” will live with me for a long time.
Anyway, as I said when a policeman yells for you to get off the road, you kind of do, without hesitation, deviation or repetition and in much less than just a minute.
But as I got off and pulled my bike in tight to the kerb, and Captain Sensible followed suit, the policeman shouted again.
“OI!!! NOT YOU…. THE PEDESTRIANS!! YOU!! CARRY ON!”
By now, there was traffic behind us so we were heading it all up at the lights before we resisted the temptation to follow the band into the front yard of Buckingham Palace and instead nipped off down Buckingham Palace road.
Don’t ask where we rode after that but somehow we docked the bikes at Hyde Park within 30 minutes and took out another couple to have a ride around the park, including a refreshment stop at the cafe on the Serpentine where the herons are as tame as the ducks and the geese.
I don’t care what people say about London but it still has enormous charm for me when I’m on a bike or on foot. Being in a car is a nightmare but the slower forms of transport are ideal on summy warm autumn days.
The Santander Cycles app for mobiles was very good. You can plan a journey and it gives you easy, moderate or fast routes and tells in real time how many bikes are available at each docking station. It cost me £2 to register for the day and that was it! Because we docked the bikes within 30 minutes each time there was no further charge.
One downside was the ten minute wait before you could get the next bike out. The other downside was that it was impossible to follow the route on the map when cycling but I read that someone has invented a useful little widget for the handlebars which would give you simple ‘sat nav’ style directions for turnings Blu-toothed to the app on the phone in your pocket. It’s being crowd-funded at the moment so there’s hope that it will be in production next year.
The Santander Cycle scheme goes out as far as Hammersmith now, which is great and takes in Putney but I think there’s scope to extend it even further. It would be fab to ride out to Kew Gardens and Syon House. Maybe one day.