James Daley: Cyclotherapy

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The Independent Online

I've changed the route that I cycle to work over the past few weeks – first because after four years of riding the same way, I was ready for some new scenery, but also because I'm sure it helps make me a better cyclist. While you might think knowing your route back to front is the best way to stay safe, there's a school of thought which says the better you know your way, the more complacent you become. If you've been riding around the same blind corner in the backstreets of Stockwell for several years, and you've never once come across another vehicle, then you're less likely to be paying attention on the day when something does appear. I always try to remind myself that it only takes one bad collision with a car to put me in a wheelchair or worse.

The good news is that my new route is much better all round – more picturesque, much faster and, perhaps most surprising of all to me, safer than my old one. For the past four years, I've always stuck to the backstreet cycle routes, avoiding the main roads in the hope that I'd cross paths with as few cars as possible.

But my new journey along the Thames embankment – one of the busiest roads in London – actually feels much less treacherous. While most cars admittedly travel way too fast along there, the road is much wider than most London streets, so there's plenty of room for vehicles to give me a wide berth as they fly by. On my old route, I'd all too often get muscled off the road by an aggressive driver trying to squeeze past me on a narrow street.

Better still, unlike my old route, you can really get into a rhythm along the embankment, knocking off a mile or two at a time without having to stop. For the first time in London, I even regularly find myself limited by my single-speed bike. Although I've got enough energy, as well as enough space on the road, to go faster, I simply can't turn my legs quick enough.

This has become a particular problem on the way home from work, when much of my route seems to turn into a cycle racetrack. Between 6pm and 8pm, there are literally hundreds of cyclists making the trek home from east to west along the river, many of whom (me included, I should confess) act as though you've laid down a personal challenge if you dare to overtake them. I made it from Canary Wharf to my home in Wandsworth in 35 minutes last week – 10 minutes faster than I used to manage on my old route – mainly due to a race that I had from Blackfriars to Battersea (if I'd had gears, it wouldn't have been a contest!).

Although I'm sure that the better weather has played a part – as well as the faster roads – changing my route to work has definitely put some real pleasure back into my commute over the past few weeks. Although I love my bike, the journey to work can become a bit of a slog when you've been doing it for years. But for now at least, I've found some renewed enthusiasm.

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