How a thermal vest became one of my priorities

Round the corner from our house is a road-sign declaring "Changed Priorities in Parkholme Road". It has been there for some years now, but still lifts my spirits: an image springs to mind of the inhabitants of Parkholme Road relaxing in their gardens on a summer afternoon, sipping a glass of Zinfandel and saying to one another, "Work, money - I've come to realise how much the pursuit of these things distorted my life".

This is one of the most important aspects of cycling: it changes your priorities. On a bike, the journey starts to matter more than the destination. In a city, of course, a bike is usually faster than a car; but you start attaching more importance to taking time, taking the scenic route. Apart from anything else, there's so much more scenery to see - as Tim Hilton pointed out in his cycling memoir, One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers, cyclists are at the right elevation to peek over walls and hedges (I guess horse-riders have the advantage, but try keeping a horse in your hall).

Drivers, on the other hand, are lower down and, out of traffic, move too fast to notice anything properly - in traffic, not only is there less to notice, they're too busy watching the car in front to pay attention. At least, I hope they are.

Walkers have the time to look at things properly, but they just don't cover the ground. Cycling, you get the best of both worlds. All the parts of London I know really well - where I can navigate the back alleys and the one-way systems, and I actually know the street-names - are the parts I've got to know on a bike. It should be compulsory for taxi-drivers to do the Knowledge on bikes instead of those annoying mopeds. Apart from improving their navigational skills, think how much more agreeable cabbies would be if they were fitter and stronger, and if, having been on the receiving end, they no longer regarded cyclists as vermin.

Cycling has certainly shifted my own priorities radically this last couple of weeks. I've stopped combing websites to slaver over quasi-pornographic images of gorgeous, pouting custom-made bikes, and realised that what I crave above all is a thermal vest and long johns. Right on time, the latest issue of London Cyclist, organ of the London Cycling Campaign, plops on to the mat. Alongside a couple of items that merit further investigation in future weeks is a piece by Matt Seaton with some useful tips on how to keep cycling through the winter.

One that he doesn't include, but which I've found to be extremely effective, is writing a weekly cycling column with your photo at the top (not that I ever asked for the photo). Having received several e-mails now from readers who are clearly far purer, more committed and more knowledgeable cyclists than I can ever hope to be, I am horror-struck at the thought of being spotted in a car, or, worse, a bendy bus. In consequence, I've forced myself out on two wheels even when weather conditions have resembled some of the nastier sequences in Touching the Void.

Still, this will make me a better person, and it only occurs to me that I might get recognised because the column has been getting such a good response. I have felt youth and hope fade over the long years that I've been writing for this paper; and in all that time, I haven't had as many e-mails from readers as I got after a single cycling column.

Another way in which my priorities have been shifted by cycling is that I have come to realise afresh what I really always knew: that when it comes to keeping lit up at night, a dynamo beats disposable batteries every time.

I settled for cheaper LED lights when I built my bike, with a battery-life that was theoretically measured in decades. Last week, predictably, I ended up on the other side of London at 10pm with a dead front light. Until I find the right dynamo, I'm having to ensure that I have a spare set of batteries in every coat that I'm likely to wear. As always, your advice on this illuminating subject would be welcome.

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