Monday commuting blues
Bob Geldof was right about one thing: I don't like Mondays. It's not that I don't enjoy work – even when I was a wage slave, I liked what I did and the people with whom I did it. But even when you're lucky enough to have a fun job and cool colleagues, there's still something slightly soul-shrivelling about that first commute of the week.
Unless you're on a bike, of course. Then the acceptance that every minute of travel takes you closer to the toil is neatly offset by the fact that every minute on two wheels is a pleasure, a stolen moment indulging in your hobby rather than just commuting hopelessly to work like any other drone.
That's what I've always told myself, anyway. No matter how dark, how cold, how wet it's been when I pushed the bike out of the garage, I'd grit my teeth and grimly mutter, "This'll be a pleasure. Bikes are great". Even as the sleet clotted and slid down the visor...
We've all been there, I know. But this morning it seemed that the tough runs are behind us now – after a glorious weekend, Monday morning broke bright and optimistic and full of the promise of spring, blue skies arching over the Fens as I set off for my office.
Now, those of you who've been following my (mis)adventures might be thinking, "Hang on, you're self-employed and work from home..." Which is entirely true. But my girlfriend lives 70 miles away, so after visiting her for the weekend I generally make an early start to make sure I'm back at my desk for 9am (that's the trouble with being self-employed: you can't kid the boss about what time you started work). I've done that Monday-morning commute in the cold, dark and damp enough times over the winter to really feel Geldof-ish about the whole thing.
This morning, though… Okay, it still wasn't warm (but that's what Gerbing heated gloves are for) so I set off slightly gingerly at first – the roads were dry but so polished in places that the combination of the Kawasaki Z1000SX's 140bhp and cold tyres encourages a gentle application of the throttle. That only lasts for so long. By the time I was clear of Newmarket, heading towards Soham on the A142, I reckoned there was enough heat in the tyres to stop riding like a vicar with a hangover.
Not that I took the piss. Not too much, anyway. Being self-employed suddenly encourages a sense of licence-preservation I rarely felt when someone else was paying me to ride bikes. But even though I was making good time, I felt like I was going backwards.
You see, it's roadwork season in the Fens – presumably as council highways departments rush to spend the last of the year's budget before April, so they can argue for the same or more for the next financial year. Trouble is, the road closures seemed to have been planned with such strategic precision, causing maximum disruption to my route, I almost started to wonder if my ex-wife had changed jobs to oversee the process.
Except, I didn't really mind – even as time was slipping away from me (yes, I've discovered that when you're self-employed, the boss is always on your case – why didn't someone warn me?). I didn't care as finally, after all those grim and grimy, slippery and miserable runs, here was a commute that really did put a smile on my face. The bike was purring, spitting out overtakes like a gangsta rapper spitting out swear words - fast and brutal. There was no wind to stir the blades of the wind farms or ripple the silver mirrors of the dykes, reflecting fishermen savouring the tranquility (until the SX went howling by, anyway - the combination of airbox wail and exhaust roar at 7500rpm is sublime).
I know a lot of people think the Fens don't have any decent riding to offer, but that's not true. It's just very different to "classic" biking country. You don't have epic climbs and mind-blowing vistas of the mountains and hills – it is a bit level and windswept. But even though there are lots of long straights, there are some good complexes of bends, especially left-right combinations as the roads dog-leg around the the drainage ditches.
Besides, there may not be hills, but you wouldn't call these roads flat. They're rippled like badly laid carpet, but that's not the half of it. The tarmac can be rucked up by heavy vehicles in one place and dropping away with subsidence in others. Cracks are patched and uneven, surfaces change, sudden dips and crests will kick you when you least expect it, parting tyres from road at either or both ends of the bike. The stretch of the B1040 heading into Whittlesey is more or less like a motocross track that's been lightly ironed, just to take a bit of height off the tabletops. This can be challenging riding – even holding a steady 60mph takes loads of concentration, trying to find a vaguely flat course for both wheels – or at least anticipating how high you'll be kicked out of the saddle, and in which direction…
So I got back to the office (ahem, home) after only a slight delay thanks to the detours, but with a massive grin on my face that lasted all the while that I was washing the bike (can't put it away dirty - the boss is understanding about that). I fired up the computer and got to work, mood elevated immeasurably by a great journey. Tomorrow's commute won't be anything like so much fun – just a shuffle from the kitchen to the office with a cup of coffee in my hand. But at least I'll have next weekend's commute to look forward to. Maybe Geldof got it wrong, after all.
When I'm on the bike, turns out I do like Mondays…