Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

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I was going to title this post cycling in America but that would have been misleading. I’m not even cycling in San Francisco for real, as much as my cycling heart and trembling thighs would like to scale the beautiful hills of this lumpy city. I’m on holiday you see and so I’m on a hire bike taking on one of the most picture perfect postcard cycle rides of a metropolis the world has to offer. No, I cannot complain.

Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

How far is it, was the question my girlfriend should have asked but didn’t. The ride is eight miles and I was surprised to get away with such a ride on our holiday. Even then, she loved it despite a mini meltdown in the wind towards the end of the ride over the bridge.

I loved it of course. You really do appreciate the art deco detail and stylings when cycling along this engineering marvel.

Riding the famous bridge

My stomach feels fine. You?

My stomach feels fine. You?

As famous for its colour and architecture as for its suicides, the Golden Gate Bridge is a marvel of engineering. More than that it is beautiful. Especially when the rolling fog clings to its underbelly or shrouds its peaks in mystery.

The ride out to the bridge is nice and flat but for one small climb at the very start of the bridge. Don’t worry. Stick the hire bike in the granny gear and you can mount any climb in San Francisco.

At the top of the climb, there’s a highly recommended diversion down to Fort Point. A roll down this hill will give you some of the best vantage points and best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, and some crazy surfers waiting on waves oh so very close to the rocky shoreline. Seriously dude, I mean WTF.

The ride over the bridge is a pleasurable 1.7 miles (or 2.7km if you swing that way). There’s a little pedestrian dodging and a few over-serious gents on road bikes to avoid but the sheer length of the bridge gives you plenty of time to admire its sharp lines and steel cables, not to mention the fog and views of Alcatraz and downtown San Francisco.

Is it worth cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge?

A bridge to another world. Or Sausalito.

A bridge to another world. Or Sausalito.

Are you crazy? Yes. Beg, buy, borrow or steal a bike if you must, just do it. Besides, there’s not a lot else to do in San Francisco. Sorry San Fran, you’re just not my cup of tea. Or joe for that matter.

Tips for cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

  • Wear layers. It may be warm in the city sun but once you’re up on the foggy, windy bridge you’ll be thankful for the extra layer or two.
  • Stay for lunch in Sausalito. This little bay side town is quaint and there’s some good eating with waterside views. I’d recommend Salito’s Crab House and Prime Rib.
  • Return via the ferry. Buy your ticket before you sit down to lunch to avoid the queues. The ferry ride back has great views of Alcatraz and the city.
  • Look out for seals. Cute, if that’s your thing.
  • Take a detour to Fort Point for the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Get a cycle route map. Should you venture away from the bridge, this map handily shades the hills of the city according to the severity of the slope, meaning you can avoid or seek the famous hills as you please.
  • Go see the Bay Bridge. It gets lonely but is of equal stature to the golden child, see below.
  • Lock your bike in the city. San Francisco is home to more homeless people than any other city in the USA*. This you’ll know the minute you begin walking the streets. We saw a group of homeless folk in the Tenderloin admiring their haul from the day, lots of shiny bikes. This was no sportive we’d stumbled upon.

*America, land of the free, home of the brave but no place to be should your luck run short. The number of homeless people in this city should be a national embarrassment. I’m sorry USA, but I’m embarrassed for you as a human being. Still, at least we can comfort ourselves that the destitute will soon die and halve the number of people sleeping on the streets.

A word for the poor old Bay Bridge

Not the Golden Gate Bridge. Bay Bridge. Look at me, please look at me.

Not the Golden Gate Bridge. Bay Bridge. Look at me, please look at me.

Nobody rides the Bay Bridge, the ugly sister in a town revered for its golden princess. Formly known as the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, this grey bridge was built before its more illustrious rival, is longer, holds the record for being the world’s widest bridge, is beautifully lit at night by fancy LEDs and… Wait for it… And it takes you to Treasure Island. No kidding. And yet nobody loves the poor old Bay Bridge.

Renting a bicycle in San Francisco

Cycling the hills of San Francisco

Rent and hire. Just one of the many cycling Americanisms. Seat and saddle. Tire and tyre. Spandex and Lycra. Fenders and mudguards. Hex key and Allen key. Lance Armstrong hero and Lance Armstrong doper.

Sure, I could have gone to Fisherman’s Wharf and paid a small fortune to rent a bike but hey, I’m in San Francisco and I care about the world. And I’m tight. So I headed over to the non-for-profit cycle hire shop called The Bike Hut near Mission Bay.

A bit of a trek from my place, I’d recommend a bus, but this option is much cheaper and you’re helping young people into work. We were handed our bikes and told to pay upon our return. No deposit. We cycled off, a little worried for the trust fund being put aside for the young people hoping to find work. Maybe I’ve got a face you can trust.

Cycling in San Francisco

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Some observations. A great number of cyclists heave up the city’s 40 plus hills, a great sign of progress for American cycling. The diversity of riders is also very pleasing. Gone is the male dominated Lycra set of London, replaced with all comers, male and female, old and young.

Such scenes do make me worry for the so called cycling revolution in my home city, where cycling is perhaps more of a commuting necessity for those brave enough to take it on than a lifestyle choice. You can’t have a cycling revolution with such a small segment of society.

Amazingly the fixed gear / single speed bicycle appears in great abundance on the inclines of San Francisco. I’m guessing the single speed predominates simply because I ride fixed on the flats of London and I’m not sure a fixie is the wisest of choices in San Francisco. If you find a gear easy enough for the climb then good luck descending and vice versa.

Whilst some of the bike choices appear to be hipster posturing, a lot of the bikes have a very practical feel to them with wide tires and racks on the front and back. High five San Francisco, cycling is most definitely alive in the city. It was a pleasure riding you. Ahem.

Animals and cycling – The near misses

I win

I win

As anybody who’s ever watched an episode of You’ve Been Framed knows, animals are crazy. Our four legged friends are almost as much trouble as the oblivious pedestrian. We cyclists must be alert. Riding the city streets our eyes are everywhere. It is no exaggeration to say our lives can depend upon it. Potholes, pedestrians, drivers, other cyclists, poor road layouts, glass in the road, wet manhole covers, you name it, we need to avoid it.

Animals too must be added to that list. Come on, they’re fluffy and cute, you don’t want to hurt them now do you? Or scratch you brand new paintwork, more to the point. Here in the UK we must contend with many a moving target. Sheep, dogs, cats, cows, horses, hedgehogs, rabbits, bats, foxes, pigs, pheasants, deer, badgers, low flying birds, and in one strange encounter, a ferret*.

*I’d be interested to hear from non-UK readers. Our list of animal encounters seems rather docile to perhaps those in Australia or South Africa. Giraffe anyone? Amusingly, the Department for Transport in Australia has published advice for cyclists on its website called “Why magpies attack“.

Animal collisions on the bike

Get him boys

Get him boys

The question of animals and cycling hit the blog thanks to one of my two readers who is not my mother, PRSboy, who wrote in after his own near miss with a dog and asked for any animal related cycling thoughts or advice.

A good question. Scared, angry, dopey and sleepy, animals have a lot in common with cyclists. You have but a mere moment to make a decision and consider more factors than your average algebra student. The size of the critter. How wet are the roads? How fast am I going? Is there a car behind me? Which way will the blighter move? Can I bunny hop it? What will hurt more, crashing due to swerving or crashing due to impact with this hairy impudent thing? That’s a lot of thinking. Best to avoid early mornings when many animals are still roaming after a night of adventure.

So what to do? I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rules, your judgement depends greatly upon your speed. Where possible simply stop. Even if it’s a snarling dog snapping at your heels. Stop and stare the beast down, Crocodile Dundee style.

Hold your line and you’ll be fine

Good job this bike is made out of steel

Good job this bike is made out of steel

Of course, stopping is a luxury we don’t always have when speeding along only to be surprised by an animal leaping out of nowhere. Split second judgement time. Who will move out of the way of the other? Who flinches first? Hold you line or swerve? Such duels are somewhat akin to the game of ‘chicken’ popularised by petrol heads in Hollywood movies of a certain age. Who loses their nerve first? Who is quickest to react?

Chances are, nine times out of ten the animal’s survival instincts will kick in and the furball will do all of the avoiding for you. Hold your line and you’ll be fine™, which was indeed the course of action our dear reader took in his animal encounter in deep dark Wales. Such a cycling maxim holds true in many a circumstance, be it cycle racing, cornering or aiming during a crowded toilet break (sorry).

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”
Groucho Marx

The key when deciding whether to hold your line or not, is the ability to spot if the animal (or pedestrian for that matter) is going to be the exception to the above rule. There’s three criteria for this. How i) crazy ii) stupid or iii) unaware is the animal you face? In a split second you need to gamble with nothing but your instinct to guide you. Good luck if that choice comes at the end of a metric century ride.

In encounters with both pedestrians and animals I usually hold my line if they haven’t seen me. Shouting* can go one of two ways. If given enough time, the offending roadblock will hear you and move aside.

*I have no bicycle bell because a) it is easier, quicker and safer to shout than to change your grip on the handlebars and b) cycle bells sound so, well, petty.

Leave it too late to holler however and you’ll simply freeze the confused animal or pedestrian, who are then more likely to remain where they are, and then, upon seeing you swerve, will step directly into your path. And so the dance of deliberation begins. You know the one. When two people meet head-on in a corridor, when you go left, they go left, and so you then go right, and low and behold they follow. Bah. On foot you smile at one another, shrug your shoulders and question the ridiculousness of it all. On a bike you crash.

Crashing is not pretty for anyone. Squirrels jammed between wheel and forks is a bike cleaning job too far for most (reader beware – don’t click if easy offended). Bigger animals and it’s you jammed between a tree and a fence.

Get creative

Why did they tell me to weave?

Why did they tell me to weave?

There’s more animal avoidance tactics in your armoury than the simple stop, swerve or continue strategies. I for one admit to mooing and baaing at sheep and cows. Barking back at dogs is also one of my fortes. It takes practise to nail the perfect sarcastic bark as you ride past a howling dog going berserk on the other side of a massive fence. Ha, I win.

Should you find an animal giving chase, then simply speed up and pretend you’re on the Champs-Élysées. Too tired or slow for such manoeuvres? Hurl a banana at your pursuer, or sacrifice an energy gel or two to distract them perhaps, assuming of course you packed your jersey with the meat and gelatine flavour energy gel. Oh, that’ll be why dogs always chase me now I come to think of it.

Some folk say you should try to look as big as you can to intimidate the animal, which for a hill climbing whippet like me, just ain’t an option, not even when wearing winter layers and booties.

Close your eyes and pray

Sometimes, there’s simply nothing you can do when the animal in question has decided it doesn’t like you or that you’re simply in its way. Just pray your fast approaching fatalist is not a high flying buck as in the video below.

Cyclist chasing sheep

Writing this blog post, a couple of my own memorable animal-bike encounters came to mind. The first was in Wales, just like our dear reader. Hurtling down a lonesome country lane with my brother, two sheep ahead in the road, the lane oh so very narrow and fenced in on both sides.

Which way will the sheep move, we wondered, slowing down? Left or right? Neither it turned out and so we ended up gently rolling behind the two poor galloping and poop dropping sheep for about a mile until the poor things could turn off into an open gate. I hope they found their way back.

Dog cheering cyclist

My second memorable animal encounter was in France, at the base of Mount Ventoux. A huge dog, a massive Irish wolfhound, emerged from a wooded area and began bounding towards me.

Not only was the dog built like a horse, it was loud too even though there was no barking. The owner had tied an enormous cowbell around its neck as no doubt this hairy pooch had form for running off and chasing down Lycra clad whippets. Ding-dong rang the bell with every bounding stride. This is the nearest I am ever going to get to being cheered on by a fan, the bell applauding my every pedal turn as we winched our way up the base of the mountain.

If this had happened at the top of the mountain I may have assumed it had all been an hallucination due to fatigue but no, this was actually happening. Initially I panicked and thought the canine colossus was chasing me, but he/she soon settled down and seemed content to stay close by my side, each of us panting loudly as the road rose above us, our tongues out, each of us grinning like lunatics. Cycling brings many a special moment but this really stands out for me.

Dog by my side I overtook other cyclists who must have assumed the mutt was mine. Onlookers and car drivers gawked at us, the oddest couple on the mountain that day for sure (which is saying something when you see some of the folk climbing Ventoux). Sometimes the giant dog would get a little too close for comfort but I needn’t have worried for he/she knew the maxim and so held his/her line. I was disappointed when the dog left me a mile or so up the road and retreated back into the trees. Farewell old chap and thank you.

Animal madness

Nobody will ever know we ate them

Nobody will ever know we ate them

What about you? Share your tales of animal run-ins in the comments below. Who got the better of the other? And no, roadkill spotting doesn’t count…

Round numbers and cycling 100 miles

Bicycle trailerRiding 100 miles is quite a feat. That’s why the metric century was invented for those of you who don’t really, really love cycling. You can’t fool us Brits with this made up kilometre of yours, even if you can add 100 of them together. We know that’s a mere 62.1371192 miles. Also known as a warm-up here in the UK. Aye, we’re tough.

You never quite forget your first 100 mile ride. It is a special moment. Mine was a bizarre impromptu ride to Southend-on-Sea. No training. A bottle of Lucozade for sustenance. In jeans. I know, what a hero. My distinct lack of preparation is probably the reason why I’ll never forget the ride.

It still amazes me when I travel great distances on the bike, distances normally associated with a car, or even an aeroplane when I think about some of my big multi-day cycling adventures. The human body is an amazing thing. More so when wheels are added. Wheels are our wings. Flightless, the bike gives us the ability to soar up mountains and glide to the furthest reaches of the Earth.

Squaring up to round numbers

Highway agencies begin recommending average cadences

Highway agencies begin recommending average cadences

Why is the 100 mile ride so significant? We humans are transfixed by round numbers. Mid-life crises kick-in at 30 and 40 never 43 or 34. The height of a mountain is 1,000 metres and not 1,254. Research shows that 56 percent of petrol station pump sales end in .00, with an additional 7 percent ending in .01. Unlucky. Round number bias also stalks us when it comes to restaurant tipping, the anniversaries we celebrate and the many milestones we deem worthy of acknowledging.

Round numbers motivate us despite there being little additional reward between cycling 99.9 miles and 100 miles. Why? Maybe it’s the fact we have ten digits on our hands? One theory suggests round numbers are easier to divide. Or remember. Or is it that they give us the appearance of order? I have to admit I’m still waiting for all of the months to contain 30 days so I can stop confusing myself with silly mnemonic rhymes. And why is there no mnemonic to help us remember how to spell mnemonic?

Anyhow, back to the bike talk. Maybe one day I will extend my 96 mile training loop so I can claim inner goodness. Maybe. In the meantime I’m happy to fall short. I see no attraction in sewing a patch to my jersey sleeves a la the Rapha festive 500 challenge.

That said, 100 miles should feel special and not just a part of your training. Here’s to your first 100 mile cycle ride. Or 101. I’m not advocating you get off and walk when you hit your round number.

How easy is it to cycle 100 miles in a day?

Cycling long distances is not for the time poor. Or those of weak minds. Or wearing jeans. It requires attention, patience, time, planning and your every ounce of energy. So say some.

I think anybody can cycle 100 miles for that is the beauty of riding a bike. It’s easy. Given enough daylight I reckon anybody could achieve a 100 mile ride simply by jumping on the bike. Give yourself ten hours plus an hour or two for some food and bingo, you’re done. All you need to do is ride at 10 miles per hour for the day. Riding slower than 10 miles per hour for 10 hours would be more of an achievement than riding 100 miles. It really is that easy.

That’s not to belittle the achievement of riding 100 miles. Of course, if you want to ride 100 miles within a certain amount of time or to actually enjoy it then you’ll need to put some effort in. No matter what your fitness levels, 100 miles demands respect. Here then are the five stages of your first and, in my experience, every 100 mile ride.

1) Planning

What? 100 miles is a long way fuelled on prunes

What? 100 miles is a long way fuelled on prunes

Yes, you could simply jump on your bike and set off into the nearest sunset a la Clint Eastwood on his trusty horse. You’ll get there, eventually. You’ll also enjoy it a lot more if you plan your big day out. I’m not talking a military operation here, it really is simple.

Check the weather. Aim for a tailwind wherever possible, especially on the return leg if you’re planning a loop. Trust me, you don’t want to do this in reverse, thinking you’re a Pro for the first 50 miles before a sloth-like crawl home. Oh no, that is not fun. If rain is forecast choose the correct clothing. Or better still, postpone (my choice every time).

Food. Eat a good meal the night before, chow down on a hearty breakfast and take some energy packed goodies with you. Forget about gels and all that crap. Real food gets you through any other day and so it will get you through this ride too. Add to this water and you’re done. Climb into your superhero Lycra if you wish and off you go. As I said, easy.

2) Clipping in, off we go
Abound with nervous and excited energy, you clip in and set off on your odyssey. Legs stiff, I find it takes a good hour for the legs to loosen up. Yes, I know, I’m old. Don’t be tempted to raise your heartbeat too high too early. Enjoy the scenes. I usually set off at sunrise because a) I’m mad b) I love sunrises c) the roads are relatively car free and d) I like to get home and spend time doing something that’s not cycling, you know, like cleaning, watching TV, making sweet love to my girlfriend. These options still exist just so you know, life is not all ‘training’. Anyway, that sunrise. Enjoy it.

3) Half way
Before you know it, 50 miles have been and gone in a blur. Easy, right? Especially if you ignored my advice and sailed out with a tailwind. Unless you’re touring, now’s the moment where you spin the bike around and point your wheels towards home. This is also the moment when on occasion the wind seems to change direction and hit you with yet another headwind. This not so rare meteorological phenomenon is known as A Cyclist’s Very Long and Slow and Painful Day Out. Or A Right B*stard for short.

The return leg is where you need mental strength. Glass half full and all that. Never think, ‘Oh my god, I’m 50 miles from home’. If this thought hits your head then it’s quite likely you’re already tired. Break down the remaining 50 miles into smaller chunks. Start with 25, then ten, and then well, it’s just another couple of fives and a few ones. Now more than ever it’s important to keep eating and drinking. Oh and pedalling, don’t forget that either.

4) The final countdown
You’ll know the countdown has begun when you begin looking at your speedometer or GPS every 0.01 miles. The battle has begun. Legs tired, you’re mashing away on the granny ring. The merest of inclines becomes an intense duel for survival. Traffic lights are your enemy, for if you lose momentum you fear you’ll never be able to get the bike rolling again.

Should you have forgotten to continue eating and drinking you’ll also have to contend with the dreaded cycling bonk, your own personal appointment with the man with the hammer. The road stretches out into infinity, there is no end. The fight is no longer turning the pedals but resisting the temptation to dismount and curl up into a ball beside the road.

5) The recovery

The one is the walking stick you'll need when you get home

The one is the walking stick you’ll need when you get home

The great satisfaction of watching the odometer finally turn from 99.99 miles to 100.00 is soon forgotten. This being your first 100 mile cycle ride, it’s unlikely you’ll get home and celebrate. It’s more likely you’ll throw your bike against the nearest wall and either cram your mouth with food or simply fall onto the nearest horizontal surface and make some zeds. Don’t worry it gets easier.

“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky

The benefits of long distance cycling

  • Miles to the cyclists are like Viagra to the porn star. The more you do, the longer you go
  • You can refer to yourself as a Randonneur using a French accent if you wish (until someone informs you that a Randoneeur actually cycles at least 200km!)
  • Grow your slow twitch muscles. No, I’ve no idea what I’m talking about either
  • See the world. Literally, if you wish
  • Eat as much of what the hell you want upon your return
  • Bask in the glow of smug satisfaction
  • Find new routes
  • Escape the world, think on the bike, resolve your issues
  • Improve your health

The pains of long distance cycling

  • Chafing
  • Eating on the bike
  • Finding water in the middle of nowhere. Garages and garden taps are great. Or cemeteries if in France.
  • The bonk
  • Time lost and long days in the saddle
  • Saddle sores
  • Junk miles or over-stretching yourself
  • The inability to do anything but sleep or lie down when you return home
  • Distance is little indication of ability
  • The punctures that always seem to happen on mile 88 of 100 rather than on your 6 mile commute. Bah.
  • Preparing can be a bit of a faff

How to train for a 100 mile cycle ride

Nice of people to finally recognise my achievement

Nice of people to finally recognise my achievement

Tip number one: there is no magical formula. Increasing your stamina simply takes time. Build up slowly and add an extra 10 percent to your mileage each week. I usually ignore this basic training advice because I’m a hero stupid and I begin at 30 miles and add an extra 10 miles each week (there’s them damn round numbers again). It’s a bit of a stretch but means I can hit 100 miles within two months if so desired. I’d recommend taking it a little easier. Remember, rest is as important as the miles you put in.

Then what?

Cycled 100 miles and bored of it all? Beat your time. Establish an average. Change your cadence. Join a club. Hang up your cleats and go to the pub. Truth is there’s many a cycling goal for you to achieve in 2014. Yes, long distance cycling can be very dull if repeated week after week. Try some speed work. Or hill climbs. Find new routes. Better still, go on a cycle tour.

If you’re no longer enjoying the big rides, simply switch your attention to some shorter, faster loops. I find long distance cycling mentally unsustainable. After a few months I’m relieved to return to short, sharp 30-50 miles loops. Big respect to the audax riders who knock out a squillion miles on a regular basis. Or this chap who cycles 100 miles everyday. Ouch.

Your tips for cycling 100 miles?

Share your secrets to preparing and enduring or enjoying the big monster rides.

A road well travelled – Regular cycle routes

Boring cyclingWe’ve all got one. No, I’m not talking about the bike or the anecdote about the time you fell off your bike when using clipless pedals for the first time. I’m talking about the route we cycle more often not, a road well-travelled, a line on the map as familiar as an old pair of shoes or that cute girl / boy you see on the bus every Monday but never speak to even though you’re convinced they once winked at you.

Be it your same old training loop, your commute or the steady 100 mile route that tests you on any given Sunday. These are the routes inextricably mapped in our heads. You know them better than the first big scratch on your shiny new bike frame or the many snot stains streaking down the back of your winter gloves.

Compute the commute

The commute. Not even cycling can hide the fact that you’re cycling towards work and a prison that offers a limited day release. The route is as predictable as the water cooler small talk. You know every pothole, every dangerous junction, every Strava segment.

Riding the roads of your commute you see the future and can predict the exact spot where the white van man will pinch you close to the curb, the street where the taxi will u-turn with little warning and the corner where the pedestrian will step out in front of you without looking. Up ahead is the stretch of the street where you will put the hammer down and not far off are the traffic lights where you will rest and recover, your breath as heavy as your first bike.

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.”
John Steinbeck

Lampposts and street signs mark the many finishing lines. Your internal clock and cadence are synchronized to the timing of every traffic light and you know exactly how many pedal strokes it will take you to get from a to b.

You know the streets better than the postman. You have mapped the topography of even the flattest of roads. You are your own meteorologist, no gust can surprise you no matter what the season. You flirt with other cycle routes into work but this is the one you’re married to, the one you love and hate in equal measure. The romance has long since died but not the allure. This is love.

Hills of hate

Cycling up Hardknott Pass

Hardknott Pass is not a hill. It’s a b*stard. Fortunately not my local climb

Sometimes it seems I spend more time on certain hills than I do with my friends. Hello Swain’s Lane and Mott Street. Both haunt me. My best climbing times up each are easier to recall than the birth dates of loved ones, so too the gear ratio to climb them.

When I close my eyes I see the climbing line of the gradient and I see the percentages that denote my pain rather than their steepness. I hate these little bumps for unlike mountain climbers scaling up the heights of Everest, a cyclist can never conquer a hill. Never. You can always go faster. You can always hurt more.

Training loops

Not this road again

Not this road again

Life can often be compared to an endless loop. The same sights, the same effort, the same result. Yet riding a one mile loop 100 times is never going to be as satisfying as seeing 100 different miles. As a metro-cyclist in London, or Cycleur if you will, I’m cursed and blessed with training loops such as Regent’s and Richmond Park.

The former is a 2.7 mile loop of a royal park, as close to a circle as a cyclist gets outside of their nearest velodrome. Four sets of traffic lights exist purely to deny and frustrate those chasing personal bests. Many non-Londoners will think it dull to repeat laps of this popular cycling route, yet it is one of the few rides in the world where you are guaranteed a sighting of a giraffe. Thank you London zoo.

I’ve completed more laps of Regent’s Park than I care to remember, each a gruelling battle against the clock for I am not here to enjoy the ride. A lap of the park exists not only to inflict pain but to drive me quite literally around the bend. This loop is my outdoor turbo trainer. I do not need simulated videos to make me suffer. Not when I have a clock strapped to my handlebars.

Richmond Park is a different proposition. Giraffes are replaced by the very deer famous for being chased by a curious dog named Fenton. More beauty than my inner London ring, it’s a 30 mile round trip from my bed to the park gates, a surreal yet wondrous 5am ride through Soho and Piccadilly Circus on a Sunday morning, dodging the late night revellers who will feel just as bad as I in a few hours time.

Longer at 6.7 miles, Richmond Park comes complete with two hills when tackled anti-clockwise. Sawyer’s Hill is a testing yet gentle drag, followed by the more severe, short and sharp lung buster that aptly goes by the name Dark Hill. Three laps in under an hour is the challenge for many, a feat that requires breaking the speeding limit hence my early morning starts.

There’s few more satisfying sights as a London cyclist than arriving at Richmond Park, the sun peeking over the horizon, the sky orange, the park gates closed to cars, a light mist hanging over the grass, deer everywhere. It’s a rare yet wonderful feeling of being absolutely and utterly alone in a city of eight million.

The leg stretcher

A short sprint finish they said

A short sprint finish they said

Sunday rides. This is a chance to break free of the city and head for foreign green lands and single lane carriageways home to more horses than cars. Your metronome establishes a rhythm early and within three miles you know how long this route will take you to complete, pretty much to the second.

Time is marked not by your GPS but by the church clocks of the villages you pass through. The resting places of roadkill and the spots where you have fallen victim to a puncture are all memorised. So too the mental waypoints marking every outdoor tap on the route, not to mention the discrete spots that form your private bathrooms. The angle at which you lean into every corner is a science known only to you.

Within each route are those special segments, a super smooth stretch of tarmac, a series of bends you simply slice through or that wonderful road where you always seem to benefit from a tailwind. The route may be familiar, yet the hillier, usually windier, second half always comes as a surprise, so too your struggle. Such is your hunger, the smell of Sunday roast dinners from roadside pubs makes you salivate and dream of a life that doesn’t involve pedalling.

It is always a shock to return to the hustle and bustle of the city. Your ride has been such an epic journey you stroke your chin and are surprised not to find a week’s worth of stubble. You are a returning desert islander, your ship long since sunk, your treasures plundered. Bedraggled, rest awaits.

The route may be the same but every ride is different, be it the weather or simply how much you drank down the pub the night before. Either way, the outcome is always the same. You return home ready for sleep, the clock yet to strike noon.

Routine routes

They said these comedy sunglasses would cheer me up

They said these comedy sunglasses would cheer me up

Routine is a fine line between sanity and insanity. We can’t live with or without it. Even when seeking change, we are quick to settle into routine for it comforts us. Cycling is an escape from many a hardship but there’s no outsprinting routine. We could tour the world and cycle until the end of our days yet still succumb to the rhythm of familiarity and habit, for there can be no change without routine.