How the coronavirus crisis got me back on my bike and feeling free

Toby Chasseaud
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Like many Londoners, the majority of my journeys over the past 13 years have been underground. I last cycled, briefly, in Brighton in 2005 and found even that short spell somewhat nerve-racking, with drivers cutting in front of me without indicating or even looking to see if anyone was there.

If you can’t beat them, join them, I figured. I gave my bike away, bought a car again and thought nothing more of cycling. When I moved to London the tube became my default mode of transport and would remain so for years – until a few weeks ago.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been told to avoid using public transport unless absolutely necessary. I’ve always considered my work to be important, but could I justify squeezing into the underground with doctors and nurses – the true heroes of this crisis – potentially putting them, as well as myself and my Guardian colleagues, at risk?

So I resolve to buy a bike again to allow me to stay mobile while keeping a safe distance from others. I had feared that every Londoner would have the same idea as me, so when I arrive at the bike shop I’m pleasantly surprised to find I’m the only customer there, and the owner proceeds to talk me through the options available.



I want something basic and we decide that the Forme Cromford – a versatile hybrid bike built for reliability – could be the one for me. I leave my driver’s licence (not used for years) and my bank card with him and take it on a test ride.

As I feared, it’s been so long since I was in the saddle that I can barely remember how to change gear and no sooner have I got 50 metres than the chain comes off. Still, the shop owner, having put it back on, assures me I’ll quickly get back into the swing of things. It’s like, well, riding a bike. Feeling somewhat embarrassed, I set off again and tentatively – probably too tentatively – work my way through the gears.

I tell the owner I’ll take it, and also buy a phone holder, pannier bag, front and back lights, a helmet, a lock, gloves and a light windproof jacket. I end up spending more on the accessories than I do on the bike itself but am relieved that I’ve managed to get fully kitted out in the space of an hour and a half.

I take my new ride for a spin over Walthamstow Marshes and, other than the chain coming off again, have no major mishaps. On the roads I’m nervous at junctions, sometimes dismounting and walking in order to avoid intimidating right turns. My anxiety is partly because I was one of only two children in my primary school class of 33 pupils not to take part in cycling proficiency sessions because we didn’t have bikes.

But I figure I’d better learn fast. I pay £49 to join the London Cycling Campaign, which, as well as lobbying to make the capital safer for cycling, provides free third party insurance. I then venture nine miles along main roads to Hampstead Heath, with Google Maps talking to me as I go and I get there in one piece. I’m growing in confidence, though the journey back is tougher as I have to contend with a headwind. Roads I’d always considered to be flat now have readily apparent upward and downward slopes.

The next day I’m due back in the office and I allow plenty of time to get there. It’s 7.5 miles along cycle lanes and roads to the Guardian and I’m surprised by how often Google tells me to turn right at busy junctions, but I get there OK. The security woman is suspicious of me as I don’t know my way around the building’s hidden depths. “How long have you worked here?” she asks. More than 10 years, I reply.

When I head upstairs, colleagues don’t recognise me when I say good morning because they’ve never seen me disguised as a cyclist before. The office has an eerie feeling about it. Where there are usually hundreds of people there are now just dozens – the security staff, the cleaners (more important now than ever), and those of us able to get in to put the newspaper together.





It’s a gruelling shift, beset by the difficulties of trying to communicate with those already working from home and get them up to speed with new systems that have been hurriedly put in place within the space of a few days. We’re inundated with news of the virus spreading, major events being cancelled, and people dying. A week’s worth of bad news is crammed into the space of an hour.

As I catch the lift down to the bike deck at the end of the day I’m feeling worn out and this will be the first time in years that I’ve ridden at night. I put my lights on and don a hi-vis yellow vest, a relic from a driving holiday to France some years earlier. But at least the weather is dry and the roads are less busy than usual, though a minority of petrol-heads have used this as an opportunity to treat them as if they’re a race track.

I pedal home and, despite my exhaustion, I find the experience relaxing, helping me to switch off from the stresses of the office and of a world gone mad. I think it must help me to sleep too.

I repeat this journey on subsequent days but tweak my route to reduce the number of awkward right turns. Then the technical team manage to allow us to produce the newspaper from our homes and I no longer need to go into the office, where only a handful of the most essential staff are left.

It feels strange working from home for the first time ever, with my living room turned into a makeshift office. My life is now confined within the walls of my one-bedroom residence and everyday face-to-face conversations are replaced by typing in a chatroom. Yet on days off the bike allows me to rediscover some freedom.



I’m a keen cricketer and the start to my season has inevitably been delayed by Covid-19, but the bike gives me my physical fix. On the Saturday that we had been due to play our first match I instead cycle to Epping Forest. On my way there I’m overtaken by plenty of serious cyclists, wearing lycra and riding bikes that must be far lighter and more advanced than mine. Still, I’m happy to be out and about and when I arrive at the forest, with its hundreds of trails, it provides an oasis of calm amid all the chaos and confusion of the outside world. It’s good to be back in the saddle.