Juliet Elliot and Philip Diprose offer their takes on riding London.
In the final of our alternative look at London, Juliet Elliot and Philip Diprose offer their personal takes on two-wheeled life around the capital.
No Fixed Position
Juliet Elliott’s been riding bikes – mostly fixed and now BMX – in London for over fifteen years. Recently she relocated to Devon, England, where she’s focusing on Coven, an action sports magazine aimed at women. Here, she shares some memories of the city’s bike scene and explains why it’s sometimes better to be on the outside, looking in.
I grew up in Derbyshire but I moved to London on my own at the age of sixteen. The capital seemed like where all the action was at and I wanted to be in the thick of it. I completed my A Levels and went off exploring the world after I got my first sponsor as a snowboarder. For the next few years I chased the snow, living in France, America and Canada before joining a London-based band and settling down again in the capital.
Once I was back in London I was looking for something to fill the void left by snowboarding and bicycles very quickly became my new obsession. At the time, fixed-gear bikes were just beginning to grow in popularity and once I’d built one up from old bits and pieces on an abandoned frame, I quickly made many new friends who were into the same things as me.
In the early 2000s, the fixed-gear scene was very welcoming and inclusive, people used to meet on Brick Lane on a Sunday and hang out having barbecues, playing bicycle polo and learning tricks. It was a fun time but it didn’t last that long as people started splintering off and doing their own thing when egos came into play. It seemed like something quite innocent and fun quickly became filled with people battling it out for ownership of the scene; there were fights between rival bloggers and all sorts of nonsense. It was a real shame.
I worked as a bike messenger for eighteen months and always loved just burning around the streets as fast as I could. But I recently moved to Devon as I’d had enough of paying over the odds for my flat. I think London has a huge amount to offer but if you’re not fully taking advantage of it, there’s no point in crippling yourself financially to be there. I work pretty hard and any spare time I have I go riding, so I ended up going out less, seeing fewer bands and exhibitions, and just not getting as much out of London as before.
In terms of riding, I’m now taking advantage of the local forests, hills and trails and while I do miss my favourite London skateparks and hangouts, I don’t dwell on it too much. London will always hold an appeal for me, but now I can come up and visit and pick and choose the best bits when it suits me. My Dad put it well when he told me, ‘London will still be there, even though you aren’t’. And that’s pretty much how I see it now.
The Daily Commute
Philip Diprose is the editor of The Ride Journal – a beautiful, bespoke magazine that celebrates cycling in all its incarnations. Here, he ruminates on the relationship his bike gives him with London.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The air can taste thick with exhaust as the lorry you’re drafting belches diesel on a gear-shift. The black paste of road gravy, picked up while you commit to yet another rain-soaked commute, is impervious to any detergent. And there are probably safer ways to travel as you swerve to avoid being taken out by yet another driver who is happier to be updating his status rather than indicating to take a late left turn. “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you there.”
So with all that said and done I wouldn’t have it any other way. The front door closes, I swing my leg over and click into my pedals. It won’t be long till my heart rate rises. As the cadence increases I am the master of my own destiny. I choose the route, I choose the speed, I call the shots.
A courier once told me that the history of London is written in the streets, and I couldn’t agree more. No soullessly efficient grid system for my hometown, just a haphazard jumble of roads, lanes and streets that have grown over hundreds and hundreds of years. Buildings tell their stories as they fight with the narrowing and twisting roads. Fires, wars and lazy governments have only been able to scratch its surface. No apology to modern city planning is made as I am given seemingly endless options for the best route from A to B.
My history of riding in the city since 1995 is also written in these streets. It stretches out like an etch-a-sketch across the capital. Sprawling like veins that have pumped me from different flats to different jobs across the capital. A silent cog that spins through the days.
Harry Beck’s London tube map is up there with some of the best design in the world. It’s simple, it’s clean but it bears no relation to the world I ride. My routes are broken down into bike shops, good pubs, decent coffee houses and second-hand record shops. These are my landmarks. Just the same as the skin I’ve left from the times I’ve hit the tarmac.
And then at the end of the working day I get the chance to purge the stress and pressure of the day out through my legs. Transferring all the negatives into a positive direction as I connect green light after green light, almost hoping for a red so that I have a legitimate reason to ease up and swallow the anaerobic burn.
Crossing the river from north to south I see all the clichés of London and it’s hard not to smile. This is my city, these are my roads and I’m a shark cutting a silent path through the whales that block the roads and edge slowly and laboriously along their way. It will be some time till they are home. Not me though, I’m already home, despite choosing the longer route to take in Swains Lane.