Whether to Ride in Tier 4 Lockdown Week 42, 13 January 2021

[Editor’s note: This newsletter was sent on a Wednesday rather than the customary Friday. London remains in Tier 4 and therefore our weekend group rides are still cancelled.]

It’s been a while since I last wrote a Friday email and I apologise. Like most of us, I’m just hunkered down and keeping going the best I can until this damn thing is over. I hope you are all coping in your own way and are managing to keep the cycling going despite the club’s activities being pretty much on hold for so long now.

I thought it time for me to weigh in with an opinion on the issue of whether we ride or not. De Pfeffel think’s it’s OK to be 7 miles from home, so what do we think?

  • Stay local.
  • One form of exercise per day.
  • One person from another household.

Good enough for me. As soon as any official tries to give more specific instructions than this, you go straight to the scotch eggs level of ridiculousness.

Let me explain. Everyone understands that it would be ridiculous to cycle from Penge to Aberdeen. Also, restricting yourself to College Rd hill reps would be, well, masochistic, but also unnecessarily restrictive. Within that, I am happy to use my discretion and judgement. Just as I didn’t need advice from a government minister on what constituted a substantial meal, nor do I need much advice on what is appropriate in terms of going out on my bike.

What I need to understand is the rationale behind the regulation and to act responsibly within that.

If I am stopped in Keston and asked to pay a fine, I’ll politely decline and offer to take my chances in court. Here are the factors I’ll take into account when making that judgement:

  • I never want to fall off my bike, but I absolutely don’t want to be getting in the way of hospitals clearly at the limit of their capacity or waiting hours for an ambulance. So, if it’s icy, chances are, I’ll stick to turbo. Maybe I’ll go off-road or stick on gritted main roads.
  • I don’t want to be hanging around waiting to be rescued if I have a mechanical I can’t fix myself. Trains and Ubers are probably OK – but ideally, I’ll be somewhere Mrs H can come and get me in the car.
  • I’m reasonably confident that cycling in the open air with my trusty cycling buddy is not endangering me or anyone else. At least from getting sick with Covid – my pride may take another bashing on the hills, but I am used to that.

On balance, I’m good with the idea that our continued compliance with the horrible, but apparently necessary restrictions, is compatible with riding our bikes out on our normal routes, perhaps staying within the M25. However, I am also pretty sure there will be people out there who disagree. No one really knows and no one has the magic answer. Let’s all try to stay within the spirit of the restrictions, but let’s worry more about how we conduct ourselves and avoid criticising others when we can’t know their full story.

For example, if any of us had a friend living in isolation and being driven to despair in these times, I think we would all prefer that friend to call and ask us to share a coffee in the park than for them to suffer alone, contemplating suicide. We’re lucky in that those friends can call and ask us to go for a bike ride. Others aren’t so lucky. We know we are lost as a society when we turn on each other and blame others for our predicament.

I’ve been pondering what the point is of having a bike club right now, and maybe that’s it:

It’s a network of like-minded people you can call on to get some normality in your life and to lift the spirits.

I have always thought of myself as relatively stable and I certainly have a supportive family around me, yet I don’t recall ever having felt so utterly demoralised by events beyond my control. Many of you will have felt the same.

I know there have been plenty of worse periods in history, and humankind has prevailed – it’s just that this is us and it’s now.

Getting out on your bike doesn’t resolve these issues, but I know it’s helped me and many others get through the last year. Continue to be there for each other and let’s look forward to the times when we can gather, ride, party and embrace once again.

Maybe Bob Dylan was right when he sang this. I hope so:

“They say the darkest hour
is right before the dawn
But you wouldn’t know it by me
Every day’s been darkness since you been gone”

Keep well and I hope to see you soon.

James Hanscomb, Chair of Penge Cycle Club.