Simon Usborne: 'I've started doing something that draws disapproving glances: I now cycle wearing headphones


Sunday 23 October 2011 03:36

A full month after I reached the summit of Mont Ventoux to cross the finish line in the Etape du Tour, the machine that was my companion during eight hours of sweat and toil has languished, like a neglected zoo animal, in its box at the end of my bed. Sometimes I think I can hear it crying at night, desperate to see sunlight and asphalt again. It's a shameful way to treat a bike that performed so perfectly on the day – a bit like Usain Bolt tossing his still-steaming spikes into a grubby backpack in Beijing and forgetting about them (or something).

Anyway, my Trek will breathe again tomorrow, when I hope to be riding in sunny Oxfordshire. But in the meantime I've been relying on my other bike and the daily commute to keep the legs turning and the love handles at bay. And what a joy it's been – for two reasons. First, no traffic. Because my route from south-east London to Kensington takes me through leafy Dulwich, home to probably the world's highest concentration of school mums in big cars, summer on the roads is like an extended bank holiday.

Last week I also started doing something that has already drawn disapproving glances. I haven't ditched my helmet after last week's deliberation but I have started wearing headphones. And it's brilliant. Before you scold me for being flagrantly reckless I should point out that I'm not tearing over Albert Bridge with Slipknot on full volume but after the recent purchase of an iPhone I have started downloading podcasts.

So, I'm writing this at home having just listened to a gripping documentary from Chicago Public Radio about Hemant Lakhani, the hapless British "terrorist" jailed for 47 years in 2005 for trying to sell a fake missile in a deal cooked up by the FBI (listen to it at This week I've also listened to Mark Kermode's film reviews, and, appropriately, an interview with Victoria Pendleton.

With just one voice filling my ears I can still hear approaching lorries and car horns. And while I might miss a few words when I'm concentrating at tricky junctions, I don't think my podcasts have blunted my wits. Best of all, I've revived seven hours a week of dead time at a stroke. Still, maybe I'll think again when those mums rock up in Dulwich, dispensing nervous charges from Porsche Cayennes for their first day at big school. Lethal.

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