Cycling

Why I didn't take the train

Switching out a familiar public transport route with a non motorised option might take longer, but it offers exercise and a new perspective of a similar journey and it’s probably cheaper, too. Last week I decided to travel the 50 miles between home and a woodland campout on a running bike instead of taking the train, and despite being gloriously unfit, here’s how it went.

“It would be easier to take the train.” I thought, as I changed a punctured tyre on a Burley Nomad trailer that hasn’t seen much action since we shared a 2000 mile journey between Liverpool and Nice six years ago. The chariot that supported me and pulled the trailer back then is again hooked up to do the donkey work, a bright orange ElliptiGO that lets the rider run without impacting on the joints. This, I figured, was perfect for my current physical state, best described as 'round in the middle’.

Adding a 50 mile ride to an already physical stay in the wood (where felling dead trees and chopping wood are order of the day and has previously left me beat!) worried me a little.

The two ruptured discs in my lower back are once again showing their weakness. It hurts to sneeze. My right ankle has been twinging since I failed gloriously in safely stepping off a wall in Thailand last November. And my mind hasn’t been in the best of places these last few months.

All are reasons for why I’m not feeling very healthy.

All are reasons for why I haven’t exercised much this year.

All are reasons why I’ve decided to break the cycle with a little adventure. Usually it would take two and a half hours by public transport to get too the YesWoods in southern Oxfordshire.

The public transport route to the YesWoods. Convoluted to say the least.

The public transport route to the YesWoods. Convoluted to say the least.

Today I’m going to swap DLR > Underground > Train > Train > Bus > Walk for an ElliptiGO and a trailer with around 30kg of woodland tools and camping gear.

I’m not much looking forward to the aches and pains afterwards and somehow, I’m struggling to imagine arriving at the woods on the ElliptiGO. It feels like a long, long way off.

But some simple maths eases the worries. If I can average 10 miles an hour it’ll only take 5 hours of riding to get there, so even with a couple of cake stops I’ll be there in plenty of time for the 6:30pm meet-up I’ve scheduled with those members of the YesTribe who will join me for a camp in the woods tonight.

And of course, the money I’m saving on public transport can go towards food. And today I can eat as much as I like!

Once the trailer is loaded and my first steps had taken me away from the marina, there was no going back. I left at 6:58am wondering if the heavy trailer would mean I’d have to get off and walk the hills and got my answer after 300 metres, a run-up to a short bank hill interrupted by an impatient cyclist who cut in front and blocked my acceleration up and over the Rotherhithe Tunnel walkway. I had to giggle, hadn’t even been riding for a minute and I was already pushing this thing uphill.

An hour later, thanks to the Super Cycle Highway network, I was in Putney with 10 miles under the belt. 5 miles later I crossed the Thames at Richmond and gently hobbled into an entrepreneur’s cafe called Hobby & Co, grateful for coffee, a bagel and that all important charging point. Note: a three year-old phone’s battery will last for perhaps two hours when recording a GPS route, which makes for a convenient excuse to stop!

Refreshed, I bundled on for the least enjoyable ten miles of the route, a wiggle through cycle-unfriendly suburbs, traffic lights, bumpy pavements and lots of wiggly road crossovers which require care when pulling a trailer. Through Hounslow, past Heathrow, over the M25 and into the countryside, satisfied with a human powered escape from the city.

Would definitely not have seen this on the train! The royal garden at Fifield with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s heads sculptured in giant size!

Would definitely not have seen this on the train! The royal garden at Fifield with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s heads sculptured in giant size!

The battery was back in the red after thirty miles, and a Harvester Pub in Windsor tempted me in with a two-course meal deal. Over halfway now, and that always feels good. I could still walk and the old back hadn’t seized up, so back onto the ElliptiGO with Henley in the sights, a Thameside town that I knew was just 5 miles from the woods.

The Komoot route plan, showing way types and surfaces - thankfully, mostly paved and asphalt

The Komoot route plan, showing way types and surfaces - thankfully, mostly paved and asphalt

All the while I’ve been navigating with the Komoot app, which is a dream for planning ahead of a ride like this, and can then record the basics when you’re on the road, offering navigation advice as you go which reduces the stops. Komoot highlights expected elevation and also, and this bit is deeply satisfying, the surface types one should expect.

A steady uphill on the approach to Henley was mitigated by the Velolife Cafe and Bicycle Workshop, which offered an energy blast in the form of Mochachino and chocolate brownie (have bike, will eat cake) and a small mountain of bike themed books. Always nice to see Joff Sommerfield and Mark Beaumont’s round-the-world rides getting some attention. And also puts into perspective my current venture, if they can go around the world, I’ve got 50 miles in my locker!

A final push to the highest point of the route and then a delightful 28 mile an hour “wheeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!” downhill to the Thames at Henley. A quick check of Instagram and there’s a message from my old friend Ben Keene who lives in town, and his invite for a cuppa came at the perfect time. As soon as the door shut behind us the rain started to welly down, which always makes crumpets and peanut butter taste extra good.

I remembered Ben’s wise words - “then you’ll go down this great little path” - as I laboured on foot, pushing the ElliptiGO through the undergrowth on a muddy, tree-rooted track that was too narrow for my trailer. Two dog walkers advised that “you don’t want to take the road around the golf course, it’ll add a mile onto your journey” after I’d told them I’d ridden from London, and then I rode around the golf course and made it to The Unicorn Pub just in time for fish and chips, a drink and a wander into the woods with some new friends.

The route map and final tour stats on Komoot. 5 hours 39 riding time, 51.3 miles distance, 9.1 mile per hour average, 1,250 ft of climbing and 950ft descent.


Let’s talk about money

If I’d travelled by public transport this would have been the outlay:

DLR & Underground from Limehouse to Ealing Broadway: £2.80
Train: Ealing Broadway to Reading: £16.70
Bus: Reading to the Unicorn Pub: £3.50
Lunch: A £5 sandwich
Total: £28

And in reality, although the journey took considerably longer, it cost £6.01 less

Breakfast in Richmond: £7.70
Two-Course lunch in Windsor: £8.99
Cake and Coffee Stop @ Velolife Bicycle Workshop: £5.30
Tea and crumpets with friends: £priceless
Total: £21.99

The stats

So, was the exercise and extra time worth it?

Of course it was. A day away from the computer is always good for the soul, as are the unexpected views, the guilt-free refuelling stops and the satisfaction of passing the Heathrow/ M25/Henley milestones without the help of anyone else.

The body aches a little more but I needed to remind myself that I could do this kind of thing, and it’s the first step to getting fit again in time for a much longer ride later in the year.

It’s almost hard to imagine that two and half hours on the train is within a day’s reach of riding a bike (or some form of non motorised transport) and there’s something wonderfully healthy about widening my bubble, seeing that journey with a different, sweatier pair of eyes, and feeling like a celebration is due at the end of a journey.

Next time you have the time to play with, why not ride your commute or the route out to the next YesTribe wild camp? I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.

The Tandem: Divorce bike or the ultimate bonding experience?

The Tandem: Divorce bike or the ultimate bonding experience?

They say that you can’t know the strength of a relationship until you work together, live together and travel together. But I’d like to add a byline to the ‘travel section’ in the line above, because there is no test of a friendship quite like a tandem bike.