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Evan Pardi Something I Learned About Cycling in the UK

Evan Pardi Something I Learned About Cycling in the UK

In my time in the UK I made sure to travel through the country as much as possible and everywhere I went I made sure to stash a pair of running shoes in my bag or rent a bike. By getting out on the roads I had the pleasure to try and understand the place I was in and get a feel for each area that I went through. What I learned is that it would take a lifetime to truly get the feel for all the subtleties that exist in this country. While America certainly has its regional differences, the UK packs it all in a much smaller geographical area. Often times I would feel like I was thousands of kilometers away from my flat in Bristol when in reality is was a mere few hours on the train. To be riding mountain bikes down Witch’s Trail on Ben Nevis on Sunday afternoon and then home in Bristol by Monday afternoon was  almost disconcerting not only in terms of geographical differences but also on a cultural level as well. Even locally I felt that in a three hour ride I would see such dynamic changes that I would swear I had ridden three times as far.

The UK is wonderfully diverse.

I had never ridden through a roundabout until I went through one just past the Victoria Rooms into Clifton. I remember it quite well since I was absolutely terrified. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re a very efficient and sensible way of running traffic but if you have never encountered them before they can be a bit off putting and I really did not want to be “that dumb American” that would mess up the carefully constructed flow of traffic. Riding on the left also proved a unique challenge. However after about a week I was pretty well adjusted to how this worked and I was no longer troubled by the switch. I was pretty proud of myself about that!

Roundabouts and being on the left.

I live in a small town called Yachats on the Oregon coast which has a population of about 500 residents. It is a 14km ride to the next nearest town which comprises a mere 2,000 odd residents. From there, the nearest city of any real size is another 30km further up the road. Because of America’s sheer size I am used to lots of space between cities and towns. In my riding around the southwest and around England I was constantly pleasantly surprised to find myself going through a seemingly infinite about of unique communities. I had one 50km ride from Bristol that took me on no less than 18 unique towns and villages all of whom had a separate vibe and feel. To someone who is not used to riding through more than maybe one or two towns on even a longer ride, the sheer volume of settlements was rather astonishing

There are lots of towns.

Every city I visited in the UK seemed to be just teeming with life on two wheels. Right off the bat, my first day in London, I was struck with wonder at the veritable fleets of cyclists. It seemed as if everyone was hopping on a bike whether to ride to work, get fit for a sportive, or just enjoy a ride along a cycle track on a fresh spring day. All sorts of people too; my bass tutor and some of the bass section were riding to work and trying to stay healthy, my barber wanted a more economical way to get to work, and of course the university cycling team was a way for many of my colleagues to meet new people and stay fit. The interest for cycling struck me not as any local phenomena either. All across my travels in the UK from Inverness to Portsmouth I noticed riders everywhere in all weather conditions. This excitement was something I would love to see more of in the US. Sure, places like Oregon and Washington are very bike friendly but we certainly have a long way to go in order to get cycling into the national psyche at a deeper level.

Cycling is everywhere and it’s impressive.

Over the last 5+ months I have had the pleasure of living in Bristol as an exchange student from the University of Oregon. Being a triathlete I made sure to waste no time in getting onto the roads to explore the city and the country. While out and about training I did notice a few things that struck me:

And some other tidbits.

There is no more satisfying meal on earth than a good hearty breakfast with good sausages black pudding, and tomatoes being staples in my mind.

Crumpets are the best.

Some of the hedge-lined country roads are really narrow and there is a skill to riding off to the side but also avoiding running one’s arms into the foliage.

A nice strong stout or real ale is my personal favorite post ride beverage.

1 July 2015