My legs are pistons, firing repeatedly in a hypnotic cadence, a relentless machine hell bent on speed. Churning the big cog over and over, I’m flying through London at a dangerous rate of knots.
The low sunlight reflects off a tower block in the distance, each of its windows flashing bursts of light like the flashbulbs of a press conference caught in slow motion as I roll past.
The man that introduced me to bikes had said that you should always keep your upper body relaxed when cycling. Sound advice but I wasn’t having any of it tonight. My forearms tensed and I pulled aggressively on the handlebars in front of me, egging myself onwards with gritted teeth.
Screaming down a hill towards a zebra crossing, a little boy stands on a scooter next to his mum beneath a ball that flashes orange . They’re on the other side of the road and not expecting me to stop but I do it anyway. The boy trundles across the black and white stripes dragging his toy. “Thank you”, he says sweetly without looking up. “Not a problem” I reply, appreciating a moment’s solace.
Standing up on the pedals the machine rolls steadily uphill and left through the gates. Richmond Park is a mecca for the capital cyclist but this was no fun run. I pulled up behind an older man on a racing bike, reveling in his slip stream I matched his pace with ease.
“One… two… three”, he rasped in a loud whisper to himself between downward strokes before accelerating and leaving me stranded, a yacht without a breeze.
Back under my own steam, I’m out of the park and into Fulham where the streets are lined with distractingly beautiful women. Looking at girls is a dangerous sport at the best of times – in more ways than one – but it’s pure lunacy when traveling at speed through traffic. Head down, I focus once again on the task at hand (until, that is, the next one walks by).
Caught out at traffic lights, I balance on my pedals, rocking rhythmically back and forth, and fix my eyes on the red light; prey watching predator, both of us waiting for the slightest indication that it’s time to move.
“It’s quicker when you know the way”, a lady at the junction informs her husband and I can’t help but agree with her as I dart left into the rabbit warren of South Kensington’s side streets. Weaving through double decker buses, I check my speedo as I pass the Royal Geographical Society – my old office – and see 1 hour, 4 minutes and 15 seconds on the screen. A personal best by 45 seconds but now is not the time to gloat, I still have to get past Knightsbridge, up the Strand and into Soho.
With an evident sense of poetry, as I near my destination, the roads become more congested, the traffic lights move from green to red, and darkness creeps in.
This realisation only serves to compound the mental state in which I’d left the house. I knew I would be running late, I knew it would be a great effort to make it in time but I just couldn’t help it. I hadn’t finished the book.
That was the title we’d be discussing at tonight’s club. As I lay down flat on my bedroom floor, greedily consuming the final chapter of the author’s masterpiece, each turn of the page edged the minute hand farther away from me.
This was not an important meeting, it was just a book club. No one would so much as glance at their watch when I rocked up 20 minutes late. Nothing greeted me but smiles and I didn’t miss so much as a hint of an insightful comment. There was no real urgency. I was rushing recklessly without need, constructing a steep sided mountain from the small mound of a molehill and I loved it.
Days go by without notice. People pass in the street without recognition. You drink your cup of coffee without realising you’ve done so and you arrive at work but can’t remember the drive. I’d cycled this route a thousand times and now I had an excuse to make it different. That isn’t a junction up ahead, it’s a check point. The burning sensation in my thighs speaks not of fatigue but of progress. This isn’t a commute, it’s a race to the death and I ain’t gonna lose!
Freewheeling onto the pavement, I can’t lock my bike up fast enough. I’m striding towards the cafe and scanning the crowded tables, the straps of my helmet flailing behind me from the hand in which its carried. I step through the doors to a huddled group and throw my bag to the floor with a grin.
“What did I miss?”