Momentum

Momentum as defined by the impossibly stuffy OED as property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force“. Precise and yet entirely underwhelming as a description for the cyclist’s joy of the exact and opposite reaction to pedalling. If there were a caveman dictionary on the web it’d offer a more succinct: Momentum, Good. Pedalling, Bad.

Grieving for the loss of momentum, especially when it’s snatched away by a idling ped apparently holidaying in the middle of the road, will wrench out a heartfelt moan or breathless curse. So if I’m looking a little pissed off after sprinting two hundred yards to beat a long waiting light set only to axe that hard earned speed on the anvil of the brakes, guess what? I am.

Hence the reason, we unwanted detritus of the city streets coast through red lights, swing audaciously through stationary traffic and nibble up to the bumper in front with nary a finger on the stoppers. Momentum rocks my freewheel and woe betide the jaywalker who saunters out, labouring under the belief that stepping on the organic accelerator doesn’t hurt. After a week of commuting ferrying the leaded laptop of extreme weightiness, guess what? It does.

Momentum is more than mere freewheeling though; it’s a three dimensional map through an every changing cityscape, chancing a closing gap here, sprinting for a light there, and crafting routing changes as the traffic cartography morphs into interesting and life threatening shapes. This mobile maze responds only to a deft touch hardened by experience and a little mortality fear. Or a bucketful of beer, that works just as well. I like to think my apparently random perambulations walk the line between getting on and getting hurt, which considering I decided to go racing tonight was almost the only thing in my favour.

I chopped a guy up on The Strand, (not literally although considering what followed, I’m thinking of this as a missed opportunity) where the never ending gas works funnels the carbon footprint into a single lane. Not for the quick thinking cyclists thought once the traffic cones are cheekily brought into play. This bloke waited for almost ever, mainlining diesel fumes before wobblying into the coned area at exactly the time I was sprinting for it. Momentum was mine, so he was rounded like a slightly bristling traffic island and a cheery woooah, look where you’re going mate” and a muttered you dumb gormless fuck“.

Showing a jaunty red-green colour blindness “ a physical ailment which consistently manifested itself during the next three miles “ he rode through Trafalgar Square with the air of a man all alone in this world. Amazingly no one took the opportunity to run him down although a few jowly chins impacted steering wheels as he haughtily steamed on unencumbered by any obvious traffic sense.

I caught him a sprint on the Mall only for the Pedestrian lights to kill that momentum stone dead. Again he breezed through unconcerned “ now while I am not blameless in the arena of RLJ’ing, it’s unusual to see me weave between innocent tourists and couples pushing strollers whilst on the crossing. My fellow momentumless commuters tutted and shook our head in some kind of disapproving Brownian motion before a switch in colours dropped the flag. Since it’s pre-winter fettle, the London bike sports a natty set of bar ends which bash taxis and aid sprinting. Unfortunately the upgrade failed to install a set of larger lungs or more powerful legs, but this middle aged body can still manage a laboured charge to pacify the screaming teenage competitive gland.

Up on the pedals, SPD pedalling techniques vaguely recalled, bike canting left and right, sync’d up with the spinning rhythm. Caught him just before the next lights which OHGODTHANKYOU flicked red “ these eroded his progress not at all but gave me time to coast in and gulp air hoping the spots would clear from my eyes. Green came soon enough for me to catch him once more and in desperation to finish this before it finished me, I sprinted up Constitution hill leaning on the shifter and urging a heroic effort from tiring legs. My legs are not heroic, they would shoot themselves in the foot to get out of any hard work given the chance. Still we managed to make brisk progress in spite of their shocking AWOL tactics.

In the 200 times, I’ve approached Triumphal Arch, it’s offered a welcoming green light about twice. Different day, same shit and I resigned myself to the sight of an irritating bastard somehow cheating death across five lanes of traffic. But to my amazement he stopped beside me by which time I’d recovered my composure and glanced across to see if he was playing. You see in commuter racing YOU MUST NEVER acknowledge the race is on. Fake a mechanical, turn off onto a unknown road, feign heart failure but never ever let them know you’re racing. Unless you’re winning, in which case gloating is acceptable.

He had a face similar in appearance to a bulldog licking the piss off a nettle. I was still trying to interpret this as either the fizog of an ungracious loser or possible constipation, when my commuting radar picked up snarled traffic on the roundabout and an Al shaped gap waiting to be exploited. Scrabble for the clips and arrow for the closing gap blending the perfect line into the now moving traffic and let momentum drive a fantastic arc through the bottom of the roundabout. That, Pal, is how you run a red light I gloated which, as narrative imperative insists, was the exact time the bike dropped into a pothole and the chain fell off.

Now for those of you who know this roundabout, you’ll agree it carries sufficient multi lane aggression to put the traffic into traffic accident. It’s scary enough on a bike and bipedally it’s nothing short of voluntary suicide. So just to reiterate my position, the bike is slowing on the gradient of the slope, I’ve tried pedalling a couple of times which hasn’t achieved much and around five lanes of traffic are jockeying for position so they can kill me. I am essentially a statistic waiting to happen.

Caffeine addled brains and muscles cramped in congestion frustration spied an outlet in a defenceless cyclist so oft seen speeding away from their 130 MPH SUV’s restricted to 7 MPH in Ken’s new world. Borderline psychotic at the best of times, each driver seemed especially eager to crush me under their wheels, so in an action borne out of survival desperation, I exited the bike stage right and pushed it as fast as cleated shoes would allow seeking sanctuary on the nearest pavement.

The traffic snarled past inches away clearly upset an easy kill had got away but my joy of continuing life was tempered by red-light boy heading up the Hyde Park Cycle path apparently following a route specifically designed to piss me off. Chain back on, race face back on, legs backing off, up the hill we went dodging the All London Retard Invitational” roller-bladers. Caught him for the fourth time “ I think he believed he’d acquired a stalker “ by Speakers Corner, trapped him on the inside against a crazy folder, offered a wave with both fingers before cutting right and away.

I never saw him again. In my fantasy world, he and the folder were involved in some kind of deadly embrace and had to be separated by the fire brigade. With a blowtorch. You never know, I could get that lucky.

Momentum, it’s the way forward if people would just get out of the fucking way. Some people may consider this a selfish sentiment, I’m more in the camp of thinking it as very very focussed.

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