When Chris suggested a night ride into London I have to admit I was a little sceptical, I'd never done a night ride before and I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it. I was itching to try out my new fancy pedals so I went for it. I'd bought these new pedals and shoes called SPD's which your feet lock into and are meant to make cycling easier. The man in the cycle shop advised me to practice a lot leaning up against a wall to perfect the unlocking your feet technique. Foolishly, and I can't emphasise that enough after riding up and down my road several times, after managing the technique but coming nowhere close to mastering it, I set off to meet Chris at Romford.
I'm ashamed to admit my first falling off came sooner than I thought- 300 yards from my house at the junction with the main road. I had to stop quickly to allow a van to pass and ended up on the pavement, still very much attached to the pedals much to the amusement of a passing car full of boy racers.
I couldn't even make it to Benfleet station without another pedal mishap, although this one was more annoying and embarrassing than painful. I stopped outside a shop and leaned against the wall, and and just couldn't disconnect from the pedals. It took me a full ten minutes to free my feet.I got to Romford without further incident via Upminster and the 1970's train that runs between the two.
I met up with Chris outside the station and we headed off, south at first via Dagenham and Barking. This was not the prettiest area and roads were quite busy. Somewhere in Barking I had another pedal related accident. Roads were quite busy and we were approaching a set of traffic lights. I forgot to 'clip out' of the pedals and of course the lights abruptly changed to red. I couldn't clip out either foot and with the back of the car in front rapidly approaching I hit the adjacent pavement hard, with my left hand taking the full impact of the fall. It hurt like hell as did my pride, especially when a passing woman stopped to check if I was OK.
After dusting myself down we carried on through the rest of Barking to the Cycle SuperHighways, a Ken Livingstone project designed to aid cycling into the capital. We kept to the vivid blue paths where they existed through Beckton, getting constantly frustrated by the inexplicable disapearance of the blue cycle paths. We stopped at a petrol station in Newham for a mars bar where Chris tried to loosen off my pedals and I noticed some blood seeping through my trousers from a previously unnoticed wound...The Cycle Superhighway thankfully departed the A13 and we headed south, trundling through East India Dock and Canning Town into the start of Canary Wharf and the Docklands area.
We were soon in Wapping and the location where the Only Fools and Horses episode He ain't Heavy He's My Brother was filmed. Suddenly, standing there looking at the now converted Docklands warehouses, everything Uncle Albert said in that episode made sense. You could just imagine workers unloading goods onto the dockside,ships coming and going and the hustle and bustle of a trade belonging to another era. The London docks had to close as the world developed and the shipping trade used bigger ports upriver, but standing here amongst all the trendy multi million pound apartments that the docks were converted into was quite thought provoking.
Then we rolled into Wapping with impressive views of Canary Wharf skyscrapers next to us.
We stopped off at London's oldest Dockside pub, The Prospect of Whitby. It was a charming old pub and we stopped for a quick drink. We sat outside with glorious views of the Thames and enjoyed the unseasonably warm evening weather. I'd never have thought it possible to sit outside anywhere and be comfortable in February.
We then moved on a short way further along into Wapping to a pub Chris knew of that I was looking forward to, The Captain Kidd pub. It was a microbrewery which meant no mass produced beers like Stella or Guiness, only beer produced by the Samuel Smith brewery themselves. Captain Kidd himself of course was a famous pirate, executed near here in 1701.It was a lovely atmospheric old pub and very cheap indeed.
Nearing the end of the ride now we approached St Katherines Dock that I insisted we ride through, Chris had to fend off a potentially inflammatory moment with a large group of Asian youths with an attitude problem, all he did was say " alright" as we passed them at a gate to the Thames Path. It passed without incident but being totally outnumbered.
We stopped off for a some spectacular night shots of Tower Bridge. Chris, having worked in this area for years wasn't as impressed as I was but it has to be said, Tower Bridge at night is one of the most spectacular sights in the world. I can only apologise for spoiling the view below...
Just to do it justice, here's one without a sweaty cyclist in the foreground.
With only St Katherine's Dock left that I insisted we cycle though, Chris and I went our separate ways at 2245, me to Fenchurch Street and Chris to Liverpool Street. I had enjoyed a thoroughly different ride and let's be honest, it made a change from Kent!
Total milage: 22.
Footnote: An x-ray today showed nothing broken...