The Joys of Slow Cycling

30 Apr|Tom Hodgkinson

The Raleigh Chiltern: a fine bicycle, reasonably priced

My life has improved dramatically over the last week or two for the simple reason that I have bought a bicycle.

It was mainly an economy thing. Last week Victoria made a study of our outgoings. The striking discovery was how much we were spending on tube fares and petrol. It was thirty or forty quid a week.

And there is the fact that since moving back to London I have done no physical exercise whatsoever, apart from three hours of tennis. Joining a gymn, as I have said before, is not an option. Why would I spend money to torture myself? So a bicycle seemed to be the answer.

What I did not do is buy one of those absurd thousand pound bikes that you see the competitive slaves in lycra riding to work and back. It’s a shame that cycling in London has been ruined by these extreme commuters, who spend fortunes on gear and punish themselves so they can shave a few minutes off the journey to the office of their slave-masters, and terrorise the rest of us.

No. It’s a pottering bike for me. I was advised by the bike shop on All Saints Road in west London to look for an old Raleigh Chiltern on ebay. I found a nice green men’s Chiltern for £99 (see above). It was made in 1996. I also bid on an eighties ladies one, which we eventually won for fifty quid.

The bikes arrived. They are gorgeous and ride beautifully.

I have decided to cycle slowly as a protest against the speed monsters. I enjoy this hugely. I wait obediently at lights, taking the opportunity to study the architecture around me. I freewheel down hills and when ascending, change into the lowest of the three Sturmey Archer gears. I imagine myself to be a Cambridge student circa 1926 rather than some kind of Tour-de-France wannabe. On my route to our studio in the morning I cycle past the giant Westfield shopping centre, under the Westway where gypsies’ ponies live, past the mansions of Holland Park, down Portobello Road and along the canal, past all the narrowboats with their smoking chimneys and bicycles strapped to the roof.

To know that such health-giving, money-saving bliss is available so cheaply is a wonder indeed. Thank you Raleigh.



Sir: At long last someone is giving us ‘slow cyclists’ some support Those who still want the wind in their hair and a chance to say hello to fellow like cyclists who are pootling too. Have just been to Tokyo. Even in one of the busiest cities of the world the attitude to cycling is relaxed: helmets hardly worn; no lycra outfits; bikes ‘sit up and beg ‘style; pavements shared happily with pedestrians. Also Amsterdam where a similar attitude exsists  These new fast routes with thrusting lycra clad robots will not be for the likes of us. From Anna Christian.
Sir: I’m a cycling instructor – funded by TfL (as we all are).  And a pootler … no stravas or speeding through lights for me!   You are entitled to free on-road cycle training which deals with positioning, control and communication – all very laid back and bespoke and delivered to your cycling level.  Happy to put you in touch with the right people. Really pleased to see you’ve joined the slower cycling fraternity on your gorgeous looking bikes. From Philippa Robb.
Sir: Excellent, your approach to bicycling sounds splendid. From Stephen Hall.
Sir: I read the Evening Standard or Telegraph everyday on-line.  I lived in the UK for several years back in the late sixties, early seventies…when things were quiet, safe and lovely.  There wasn’t a neighborhood I was not comfortable in.  I lived in some posh spots, like St. Johns Wood and Hampstead, but otherwise, I would go ANY where to a concert, ect.  Then, I lived in Hove when I was a companion to a 97 yr. old lady whose son was very wealthy… so we lived in a flat right on the Channel, rode around in a Silver Cloud Rolls with a chauffeur who hated my guts… this hippy with long hair and long skirts and a healthy attitude.  Those were the days my friend, and you know the rest.  I had good friends in Liverpool, so that was another aspect of life.  Back then, and perhaps so now, there was a real class system.  Anyway, the real reason I wrote was to tell you to be careful on that bike, because I read about all the bike accident in London… so do take care. From Nevada.
Sir: I do both – a high speed Mamil (middle aged man in lycra) for fitness on a speedy road racer (but definitely not for work) and then on the old hybrid for those important micro brewery runs on a Friday afternoon through the Dorset countryside. From Gary Finch.
Sir: If you enjoy slow cycling then perhaps you need to get to know my brother-in-law whose company is all about enjoying the view from the back of a bicycle….. From Hetti.
Sir: Rather than a bike, I walk pretty much everywhere at a sauntering pace. Oh, and I do have the advantage of a Freedom Pass so, if I’m in that kind of mood or it’s raining, I don’t even have second thoughts about hopping a bus, if one happens to be passing, even if for only one stop! From Richard Adams.
Sir: Glad you’ve joined us oldsters on the bikes… and correct… don’t go for those poncey ones. Just something sturdy… though upgrade the tyres to the harder type against punctures. Plus another tip is the very helpful bike shop “Half Pipe” on Golborne Road just before the bridge going East near our famous Tower… and where last year I bought (at last) an excellent new lightweight helmet with a red light flasher to press at the back!! Best wishes…. Steady cycling!  From Clive Loveless.
Sir: Congratulations on the bike. A few years ago I had a very similar one made by Weltrad in Germany, though with a Shimano seven gear hub. The Isle of Man is not flat, so you need more than three gears, but I prefer them hidden in the hub so the bike keeps its 1930s look, especially in British Racing Green. I strongly recommend a Brooks saddle, though, especially the Brooks B190. It will cost as much as you paid for the bike (around £100), but will be worth it. Also, a woven basket for the back is a very worthwhile accessory (they made one for my bike) for sandwiches, a drink and a book… From Helmut.
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