Coffee, Romantic poets and autumnal bike commuting

Shelley’s Ode to the Wild West Wind could have been written for today’s commute. The “breath of autumn’s being” was in full effect. The old adage (less poetic but equally true) of ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes’ also came to mind as I pushed aside weak minded notions of driving to work and readied myself for another bike commute.

October and November to me is always like a hurried set change between acts. The languid ambiance of summer is rudely dismantled by a brutal road crew of wind, hail and rain. And so it was today. I was out of bed at 6am, dark outside and the sound of heavy rain pelting against the roof and windows. The trees outside were whipping around as I filled the kettle and made a quick breakfast.

While the kettle was boiling I got dressed for action – long sleeved base layer and waterproof done up to the neck. Waterproof pants stretched on over big boots, gloves at the ready. In my bag my t-shirt and merino jumper awaited for a quick change once at work.

I poured boiling water into the cafetiere and then checked the bike for punctures; all the while the rain continued to clatter like gravel against the front door. I took my favourite big green mug, added a little milk and then poured the coffee. The next five minutes is my favourite time. The rest of the house still slumbering, the world outside slowly waking up, a cup of coffee warming the hands and the anticipation of a ride ahead. Coffee drunk, I took a cup upstairs to Mrs Everyday Cyclist and kissed her goodbye before making final preparations for lift-off.

Coffee mug on the drainer, bag on back and cinched tight, helmet on, lights on. A red blinky on the back, a repurposed LED torch up front and a white blinky attached to my bag, for a moment the hallway was alight like Christmas. A cursory final squeeze of the tyres and check of the brakes for luck. I opened the door and the drama of the morning weather rushed in – the house took a deep draught of autumn’s brew. I wheeled the bike out, clicked the door shut quietly behind me and at once I was engaged with the elements. Street still dark under sodium light I shot down the hill, spray fizzing from my tyres, wind lashing shoals of heavy raindrops at face and body. But inside by waterproofs, gloves and big boots, I was warm and dry as I pushed on into town, uphill, into the wind, feeling 100 percent alive.

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Playing out

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When you were a kid you played out on your bike. You didn’t measure your enjoyment in miles accrued, calories burned or average speed attained. You went out on your bike, had some fun, the came home when you were done. It’s easy to forget that simple raison d’etre in the current age, where even our leisure time seems to be imagined in terms of KPIs.

Last night, my son and I played out in our bikes.  I called down to his house and we went for a spin along the waterfront. A warm breezy evening to be savoured.

We rode to the Pier Head, stopped awhile, admired Liverpool’s Three Graces, watched the Isle of Man Steam Packet ferry boat leave for Douglas. Raced it along the waterfront until we ran out of road and it sailed toward New Brighton.

Then we played some more, racing each other back toward the Liver Building then decided to hunt out a pavement cafe where we refuelled heartily on tea, coffee and massive chocolate brownies (a fulsome recommendation for The Quarter by Blackburne House).

Then we dropped through Chinatown’s gilded arch, back towards the waterfront and caught the tailwind home.

You should try playing out on your bike sometime. It’s fun.

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Bike Week, a poem; The things I’d miss

The things I’d miss; sailing neck and neck
With the porcelain, jewel eyed gull
On a sunny morning through the park.
Other days, swifts riding my bicycle’s bow wave
Weaving patterns in the air before my spinning wheel.

I’d miss the system check of ascent and descent; first
The heart races, shouts “still here, still beating” then
Over the top and gravity’s reign loosens
And air rushes like breaking waves, the freewheel’s tick blends to a hiss.
These are the things I’d miss.

On a warm evening, climbing out of town
Passing the Irish bar, ‘Danny Boy’ in doppler effect
Spills from the doorway like a lush. A few doors up
The smell of coffee briefly joins the senses’ tableau, replaced by baked pastries, fried chicken and oregano as I climb the fast food strip.
The sun is still warm on the neck, the breeze cool on my face, the forces are balanced and I’m spinning in bliss. These things and more, these are the things I’d miss.

Hidden places, the city’s secret corners, the nuances of place, the olfactory soundbyte of a woman’s perfume as I pass, the cigarette smoke from a car window, brief snatches of strangers’ conversations spilling onto life’s cutting room floor. I’d miss the keen connection with the ying/yang of hill, of weather, of visceral life. These are the things I’d miss
If I didn’t go by bike.

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