Velorution in London
by Iqbal Ahmed
Many people around the world have taken up cycling during the pandemic. It has been a very positive change. I wanted to buy a bicycle for my son and invited him to accompany me to a bike shop. When we entered the shop, we found it completely empty of bikes. The shop assistant informed me that I could order one online, it would be delivered to the shop and then they would assemble it. I had no choice but to go home and purchase it online.
I see designated cycling lanes these days in many parts of London where there were none before. The Olympic Games, held in London in 2012, gave a boost to cycling in the town but it has taken a pandemic to make roads truly cycle-friendly. Even so, reaching your destination can be problematic.
I had an appointment recently for a routine examination at an out-of-town hospital. The examination had been put on hold for many months during the first wave of the coronavirus. I received a call from the hospital informing me that I should go there for a Covid-19 test three days before my scheduled appointment. If I travelled there by public transport, it would mean taking four different buses. So I decided to cycle to the hospital, which is located beyond Enfield Town. I was unfamiliar with the area and searched for the cycling route on my phone. Google has got a mind of its own and the search engine took me to a cycling path along the busy North Circular Road. I followed the route for a few miles until I felt bothered by the heavy traffic on this busy road and asked a man standing by the roadside if he knew of an alternative route. He said that I should turn back and after half a mile make a right turn – that road would take me straight to Enfield Town. After cycling for a while, I stopped to ask a couple of pedestrians if I was going in the right direction. One of them told me that the hospital was far off and gave me an askew look as if to say, ‘Surely you aren’t cycling all the way there?’ But I had
allowed enough time to get there by bike. The other person advised me to follow the bike lane to Enfield Town.
Although I hadn’t been to Enfield before, I was well-acquainted with its name before I moved to London. ‘Royal Enfield’ is the name of a motorbike that was popular in Kashmir during my childhood. In fact, the Royal Enfield factory was located in Redditch but they adopted the name of Enfield in Middlesex as their brand name after winning a supply contract for their precision parts from the Royal Small Arms Factory of Enfield.
It is easier to ride on a designated cycling route like a blinkered horse than on a general road with cars and trucks speeding by. Cycling along the bike lane, it didn’t take me long to get to Enfield Town. An elderly couple gave me elaborate directions from there to the hospital. The hospital was eerily quiet and it was three days later, when I went there again and saw a long queue outside, that I realized it must have been a Saturday when I visited for the first time.
I wanted to ride along the same cycling route on my way back home but I lost my way in Enfield Town and asked a lady standing at the door of a house for directions. While she was speaking, a man behind her tried to point the way to me and she told him off, asserting that she was quite capable of giving directions. He rolled his eyes and went back into the house.
The new cycling lanes in London are a very welcome sight for me. I had cycled to East London a few days before via Holloway Road and when I reached Highbury Corner, I was delighted to see a separate cycle lane around this busy roundabout which I had previously found difficult to negotiate. It isn’t uncommon in London to see a white-painted bike chained to a fence or a pillar where a cyclist has died in a road accident.