It will be wonderful, a Crossrail for the bike. But until that glad day comes, cyclists have to work out another way west – and it is not obvious.
I did the Harrow Road underpass and roundabout, and was navigating slowly in the estates between Trellick Tower and White City when the heavens opened. I was drenched, freezing, and there was no sign of anything like a cycle path to the west, and I am afraid I almost gave up. I was on the verge of ringing for someone to pick me up when I thought: is this the spirit that built the empire? Man or mouse!
Eventually I hooked up with the Great West Road, and look, there was something claiming to be a cycle path. Huh. I was the only person to use it, and frankly I could see why. It was a joke – endlessly petering out, so that I had to join the hurtling wall of steel on the carriageway.
At one stage I found myself bouncing down an ever-narrowing kerbstone with traffic whizzing towards me at 70mph, until the thing degenerated completely. On one side was a ditch full of nettles, on the other the motorway, and everywhere the crushed indicator lights that told me this was a bad place to be.
Eventually I found a “public footpath” and cycled hopefully along until it became a stream, and I had to carry the bike about 500 yards through mud until I came to a farmyard. The dogs started to bark.
In the distance I could see the M40 on my left, the A40 was somewhere on my right. I had been on the move for almost three hours and I was nowhere near Oxfordshire. I had to make a decision. I opted for the A40 – and it was a joy. The traffic was light and unthreatening, and I had time to enjoy the sights.
The beauty of cycling is that you are a part of the world around you – and yet you move through it untouched. I saw vignettes of comedy and tragedy: a kid ringing a doorbell and running away, a poor tourist dropping her iPhone down a drain. I saw the squashed foxes up close. I saw hostelries offering beer and fine wines and “exotic dancing”. I started to fantasise about the pub lunch I would have – roast beef, all the trimmings, a yard of foaming ale, exotic dancing – and then I realised it would be fatal to stop.
Now I was in Beaconsfield, now Wycombe, and I was going like a train. This is peasy! I was saying, when I saw an obstruction ahead. Billions of years ago there were trillions of little sea creatures who all died and left their chalky skeletons in vast mounds around London. They are called the Chilterns, and they almost killed me. My bike zig-zagged across the road as I tried to fight the gradient; my heart was thudding in my ears; I thought I might peg out – but I was determined to make it to Bledlow Ridge; and when I did, it was sheer heaven.
There is nowhere more beautiful than England in May. The tulips were still out; the hawthorn blossom like gunsmoke across the battlefield; the sun soft; everything surging and budding with spring; and though the old bike was clanking badly now I knew we had almost made it – and wheeee! I went down the other side of the hills like something from Enid Blyton, so fast and for so long that I wore out both brake pads; and after another 10 easy miles I was there.
I had cycled about half the distance I will have to do in August – and it had taken me more than six hours! An old French onion-seller would have beaten me, or a motorised wheelchair.
Oh well, the wind was against me, and next time I will be fitter. And one day soon we will build those giant radial routes out of London so that everyone can enjoy the magic of such a day. The age of the bike is coming.