Recently, I went on a six hour training ride starting in Oxford, passing through the Chiltern hills and returning to Oxford around rush hour. The ride had a bit of everything. Quiet idyllic country lanes with minimal traffic. Busy A roads with fast moving traffic, impatient drivers – even when the road was quiet, The congestion of the school run in Chitern villages as schools finished. But, overall the traffic conditions were not too bad. I chose fairly quiet roads and was able to concentrate on cycling rather than other road users. It was really quite enjoyable.
Time to wave. The idyll of cycling.
By 5pm I was returning home through the outskirts of Oxford, and the feeling suddenly changed.
I was no longer enjoying the peace and space of country lanes. This was rush hour in Oxford, and everyone was in a seeming panic to get home. Suddenly, you see, feel and hear cars impatiently trying to get home as quick as they can. There are cars rushing past, squeezing through tight gaps, cars pulling out, traffic jams, roads blocked. Your nerves definitely pick up on a different energy. It’s a nervous energy and filled with impatience. It’s no longer about enjoying the bike, but time to ride defensively and hope you can make it.
My route back home to Florence Park takes me through the outskirts of Blackbird Leys. There was a time in the 1980s, when Blackbird Leys was considered ‘The joy riding capital of England’ – every day, burnt out cars would be found on the estate after being driven around at breakneck speed. Thankfully, this reputation is no longer so deserved. Speed humps and more police checks thankfully took the brunt out of the ‘craze’ – although not before a young child was killed in a hit and run – an accident which remains unresolved today – despite several years of appeals for more witnesses.
Anyway, although it is much better, you still come across the aggressive young driver wishing to burn up some rubber and generally create a nuisance. If your protected by a metal box of a car, it’s a nuisance, but if you wear only lycra – you feel doubly vulnerable. Blackbird Leys is no different from the rest of Oxford. Even the last 0.5 miles had so much tension as I nervously edged my way home. I felt a sense of relief at finally getting back to base – and not just for the opprotunity to rest the tired legs!
Back to reality
Some how, I noticed the vibe of rush hour traffic much more after spending 5 hours in the relative calm and tranquillity of the Chiltern lanes. It was a shock to the system – perhaps when you are physically fatigued from 100 miles, you are more vulnerable.
Ironically, I recently wrote about how cycling can relieve stress – and despite the crazy rush hour traffic, I still believe it can. But, I just wish the roads were a little slower! 20 mph speed limits would make a big difference.