KRMCC and COVID-19 — Part II

A Time of Opportunity. Many of you have spoken of lockdown as a period that offered you new access to a precious resource: time. You seized the opportunities this gave you and recognised the irony of the situation and acknowledged the advantage of being able to shift easily to working from home. Franck said, “Working from home brought a new quality of life, not having to commute frees up quite a bit of time. All in all a very fond memory of lockdown for me as I was able to exercise more, enjoy the outdoors more but then I also realise we are very privileged, living in a nice middle class suburban area so close to the park , in a house with a garden (and an allotment!).”

From Robin’s cycle exploration of London during lockdown

For Robin, too, who wrote, “There was no aspect of my job that I couldn’t do from my study in Kingston. But I was saving an hour and a half in commuting; and it was easy, and inviting, and within the rules, to go out for my daily exercise immediately after work.” Before lockdown, Robin had been frustrated by what he calls the “shallow spiral glide downwards in fitness” caused by the loss of his cycle commute in July 2018, and by an ongoing electrical fault in his heart, which was operated on in August 2018. But, he says, “Covid-19 breathed new life into my cycling. It shouldn’t have taken a world plague, but I now feel confident that when someone says, let’s go to Brighton on Sunday, I’ll be up for it.”


Robin discovered a masked Mr. Bean sitting on bench in Leicester Square

Mark was juggling work, family life and a full-time MA in architecture at Kingston University: “too much work, pressure to see family and a weakened bank account was proving too much and study was suffering.” For him, Covid-19 was “a blessing in disguise” that enabled him to “push all intrusions into the touchlines” and he was able to submit his dissertation in early June. Similarly, Richard said, “with the start of lockdown I was revitalised. Quite quickly I was able, just by working from home, to gain about three hours by not travelling into London every day.” He was able to get the project finished and says, “I have my life back.”

For Richard, in the construction industry, and Mark, in house design and building, lockdown was an unexpected boon.  Both were trying to balance too many competing demands which had already squeezed cycling off the agenda. Richard, in addition to work and family life, had taken on the refurbishment of a flat he and Lucy had bought with an inheritance from his parents, and the project began to absorb all his time.

Mark out of uniform …

Richard has now returned to cycling, riding with Lucy, and also commuting by bicycle to his offices in London and Chertsey, now that work from home has ended for him. Mark has plans for a return to cycling and wrote: “it appears I wasn’t the only one not cycling and gentle rides out for the now-fatties among the cycling fraternity are now a thing, something not previously allowed by either park officials or KRMCC, a temperate ride around the park is now booked.” I have it on good authority that his riding companion will be Stefan.

For Nick B, too, lockdown proved to be a time of opportunity: “Living with grown-up kids as a family in our house has been something we would never have had the opportunity to do while we all lead our own busy lives. We have a big garden which has had a lot of attention and has been a godsend.” Though for Nick, who runs two businesses that he started twenty years ago, the effect of Covid-19 and lockdown have also brought new stress: “Currently I have twenty-eight staff furloughed and only myself and the FD trying to keep things ticking over. I’ve been working six days a week for no pay while my staff are at home getting 80% of their pay from the government for doing no work. When the furlough ends and I have to start paying their salaries again I’m going to have difficult decisions to make.”

Nick B’s garden has received a lot of attention.

Nick’s businesses design, build and maintain stores and boutiques for luxury retail brands, but, he explained, “Rents don’t add up for me or my clients, which are based on old optimistic expectations. There have been ups and downs over the years, but this is extraordinary.”

Despite these added pressures and the worries they have brought, Nick has maintained a philosophical outlook which has helped him to enjoy the opportunities offered by lockdown: “I think that we have all gained from spending more time with family and by slowing down the pace of our lives. Business doesn’t seem quite so important anymore.”

Kevin at the summit of one of Bath’s hills

Some of you have used this time to explore off road cycling. Before lockdown, Kevin bought himself a new gravel bike for exploring local trails straight from his boat and he had signed up for the Pearson Gravel Series. In March, he took the new bike down to the Bath area when he visited Elaine, but timing is everything: this was lockdown weekend and, he said, “I was now stuck near Bath. But it turned out to be great.” He was there for five weeks, giving him plenty of time to explore the area both on his own and with Elaine, where there was “no traffic, local quiet roads, sunshine” and plenty of time.

“The one thing you should know about the area around Bath: it is hilly. Some climbs average 8% and thought they are not long, when you hit a piece at 23% or even 25%+ it hurts. I did my best and slowly improved my time.”

Kevin

Back home now, the Gravel Series was cancelled, but he’s enthused to explore local trails and try routes shared by Pearsons, and by Jim and Franck. Mike, too, said, “Captain Kevin kindly helped us choose two new gravel bikes, as a result Heather now ‘likes’ off-road cycling and wants to cycle regularly including the Grand Union Canal, along the river to London and later in the summer to Basingstoke!”

Richmond Park.

A Shirkers ride in the pre-Covid age

The strength of our relationship with Richmond Park was put in sharp focus as it became a battleground for competing users. A core KRMCC group–‘the Shirkers’– have been cycling in the park most Tuesday and Thursday mornings for years, but the last Shirkers parklaps were on March 17th. On Sunday, March 22nd, Richmond Park closed its gates to cars. After which, as Mick wrote, it soon “became apparent that far too many people saw the traffic-free park as an exercise venue and it immediately filled up with walkers—with and without dogs—runners and a plethora of cyclists ranging from fast club riders whizzing around, to whole family groups progressing at close to walking pace. Any notion of social distancing was hopeless with these groups competing for road space.”

Joe & I on the last evening before cyclists were banned.

It wasn’t long before the announcement that at the end of Friday, March 27th, the park would be closed to cyclists. Joe and I cycled on that beautiful, sunny evening, and in the moments that we could block the virus from our minds, it was an amazing spectacle that I will always remember: hundreds and hundreds of cyclists enjoying the car-free roads. But it wasn’t possible to block Covid thoughts for long, especially with some nervous cyclists calling out for the impossible: more space.

For those of us who run or walk dogs, there has been a certain pleasure to the empty park roads. Franck wrote: “One of the best things was having Richmond Park banning all traffic and to have the park solely to pedestrians. I know this might sound controversial but I use the park a lot more to walk the dog than to ride or to drive through.

Franck on top of Bramblehall Wood

Being able to wander everywhere without having to worry about traffic on the roads brought a whole new experience and it was so quiet.” I was also surprised to find myself also enjoying the bike-free park. When Joe and I ran, we encountered nervous walkers who were afraid of runners. With the bikes gone, we were able to move into the roads when necessary to enable proper social distancing, which was better for everyone’s mental health.

As of Tuesday, June 2nd, the park was re-opened to cyclists with the following restrictions: only before 10am and after 4pm, and with the section between Dark Hill and Robin Hood Gate closed. Joe and I are no longer able to move into the road because of the numbers of cyclists once again in the park, but equally, walkers seem less nervous now.

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