The affordability, the exercise, the mood-enhancement, the convenience - there are many reasons why people take up cycling again after a lengthy break. 'Training for a triathlon' is not usually one of them. But that's how Alice Archer - who originates from the Blackpool area and moved to London after university - got back on the saddle, and rediscovered cycling's many benefits...
You get a whole different perspective on London when you're contemplating it while perched on top of two rotating wheels.
Over the past few months I've learnt many new things about my beloved adopted city. Firstly, it has a lot of canals. Secondly, people do sometimes give you that Lake District-style, “hail-fellow-traveller” nod of acknowledgement. And, thirdly, it can actually be quite a relaxing place to get around, even in rush hour.
It all started two months ago when, inspired by the battling Brownlee brothers and the need to rectify some post-wedding overeating, I signed up to do a triathlon.
It was a bold move, as I had neither a bike nor the inclination to run. But I have since embraced the challenge wholeheartedly, and have developed a smug expertise on the technical things that only us triathletes know about – like open water performance swimming goggles, tri-bars, energy gels and Camelbaks.
Most importantly, though, I have been re-acquainted with an old friend of mine – the bicycle.
I'd dabbled in cycling before. At university it was the standard way to get around. And it was cheap. Then, during a short stint living in a cycle-friendly part of London, I would ride my way through the quiet, narrow streets of Islington, on my way to and from town where I work. But since moving east, having the Bow Flyover and the A12 to contend with has meant that – and I am ashamed to say this – the bike has been left to rust in the shed.
Until now! I borrowed a shiny, cared-for bike from my mother-in-law (it's a mountain bike, but it does the trick) and have spent the last few months discovering new places, new routes and a surprising number of friends who are up for a weekend ride.
And it's great. Canals have become a regular feature. They're not as scary as roads, and fewer stops and starts mean they're great for training. They can also be quite beautiful, in that industrial kind of way, especially when experienced in the mornings. On Regent's Canal, you feel a sort of solidarity with the other cyclists, as though you're all part of a secret club, watching the city as it stirs and wakes up. There's something very calming about seeing smoke rising from canal boats as someone makes a cup of tea to start their day.
I've also learnt that cycling can easily be slotted into your day without too much disruption, and can actually be extremely sociable. Just a few weekends ago, I enjoyed a day out on the bikes for a friend's birthday. We met up in Angel for a coffee, then hired 'Boris Bikes' to ride around North and East London, stopping off anywhere we thought looked nice in the sun. We docked in at Broadway Market for a picnic and Prosecco in London Fields, before hopping back on and heading up to Hoxton Square for more of the same.
Eventually we had to be sensible and leave the bikes behind, but the whole day's hire had only cost us a mere quid each, and we felt much better for having interspersed the eating, lying in the sun, and the sparkling wine with a bit of exercise.
So, as the big race approaches, I will fit in a few more rides, get the energy gels stocked up and pray for nice weather on the day. After that, who knows? I might even buy myself a new bike.