Toby ChasseaudThu 9 Apr 2020 07.00 BST
Like many Londoners, the majority of my journeys over the past 13 years have been underground. I last cycled, briefly, in Brighton in 2005 and found even that short spell somewhat nerve-racking, with drivers cutting in front of me without indicating or even looking to see if anyone was there.
If you can’t beat them, join them, I figured. I gave my bike away, bought a car again and thought nothing more of cycling. When I moved to London the tube became my default mode of transport and would remain so for years – until a few weeks ago.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been told to avoid using public transport unless absolutely necessary. I’ve always considered my work to be important, but could I justify squeezing into the underground with doctors and nurses – the true heroes of this crisis – potentially putting them, as well as myself and my Guardian colleagues, at risk?
So I resolve to buy a bike again to allow me to stay mobile while keeping a safe distance from others. I had feared that every Londoner would have the same idea as me, so when I arrive at the bike shop I’m pleasantly surprised to find I’m the only customer there, and the owner proceeds to talk me through the options available.
I want something basic and we decide that the Forme Cromford – a versatile hybrid bike built for reliability – could be the one for me. I leave my driver’s licence (not used for years) and my bank card with him and take it on a test ride.
As I feared, it’s been so long since I was in the saddle that I can barely remember how to change gear and no sooner have I got 50 metres than the chain comes off. Still, the shop owner, having put it back on, assures me I’ll quickly get back into the swing of things. It’s like, well, riding a bike. Feeling somewhat embarrassed, I set off again and tentatively – probably too tentatively – work my way through the gears.