by Our Bicycle Lives

Of all the elements that affect me as a cyclist, the wind is probably the most irritating. Back in the days when I was a pedestrian, I loved hearing the rush of the wind through the trees in our street, feeling the breeze on my way to the bus stop. But now that I live on two wheels, the wind both puzzles and hinders me in equal measure.

First, it hides! Much as I try to prepare myself, before I set off, by scrutinising the street furniture and vegetation for any sign of movement, there never seems to be any. But the moment I start pedalling, I notice it. It is there, blowing full in my face, or, even worse, making me wobble with sudden side gusts of air rushing out of nowhere, even though the tree leaves are as still as your run-of-the-mill courier doing a track stand at the traffic lights. And of course, when I stop moving, the wind stops too. Deceptive, underhand, the wind is expert at deceiving me. Snow, rain and mist, at least, put their cards on the table from the start. Not the wind: I was anticipating an easy ride and got taken for a ride, and I bear a grudge.

So I start grumpy. Then I grow puzzled. Where exactly is the wind blowing from today? Is it cold air, a North Easterly wind perhaps? Or is it a gentle Southern breeze? I am like a seaman looking at the sky and forecasting travel conditions for the day. Somehow, as soon as I cross the doorstep on my way to work in the morning, I feel connected spatially to the bigger picture, the island (hence strong, variable winds) I live on, the geography of the world around me, all thanks to that elusive element. I am also connected temporally to the way I will relate, today, to that space. Fast or slow, the wind dictates my journey. Along with bike stands and cycle lanes, weathercocks should become an integral part of the urban cycling infrastructure, perched on prominent rooftops. Alternatively, I’ll ask my body: am I growing tired or exhilarated? Is a headwind pushing me back to where I came from, or am I wheeled effortlessly towards my destination?

So powerful is the wind that it makes all the difference to my ride, and no amount of cycle-specific clothing will change that. Perhaps that is why I resent it to the point of tears sometimes: it is entirely beyond my control, whereas I first got on a bike to regain control over my London commute. I’ve got wheels, I’ve got freedom. But suddenly, some days, the wind says that I haven’t any more. There is nothing worse than cycling against the wind on just the spring day when London planes have decided to start shedding their minute hairs, when one is battling to move forward while trying to keep tiny scratchy itchy things from flying into one’s eyes and throat (I find the only time when having a piece of grit in one’s eye is romantic is on a Thursday evening in Milford Junction Railway Station*). My muscles ache, my eyes are red, I am coughing and spluttering miserably and the only wish I have left is to arrive now. A sorry sight.

Then there is the other side of the coin. The days when I think ‘not a drop of wind this morning, how lovely!’ until I realise that pedalling feels so smooth and easy because the wind – yes, it is always around – is taking me in its arms to deposit me exactly where I want to go. That Messenger Chick calls them ‘tailwind days’. The way back from town, after an arduous first leg, when cycling is bliss because the wind is with me. The very rare days when, between my outward and return journey, the wind has turned and I am in cycle heaven both ways. The times of the year when I have long hair and I let it float in the wind and I get home dishevelled and light-headed and happy.

With no other element have I such an ambivalent relationship as with the wind. It is like a strong, unbreakable bond, for better and for worse.

  * In Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945), I mean.