Hans Witteveen – corporate partner at the London office of Stibbe (a Dutch law firm) – has been living in London for three years. Before moving there, Hans lived in New York for nine years. Coming from the New York subway, he finds it hard to get used to the London tube. Its hexagonal carriages make it impossible for tall people to stand straight; temperatures are tropical, even in wintertime; and there are delays. Three months ago, Hans was on the verge of buying a Vespa. But then the Barclays Cycle Scheme came along, and changed his heated subterranean trip to an airy downhill experience.
Nowadays, Hans leaves his house in Primrose Hill at 7.30 to start his new commute. He walks to Camden Town, where the nearest Barclays bike stand is located. As pretty Primrose gives way to gritty Camden, people with husked voices offer him their clandestine goods. The suit clad solicitor declines, and when he gets to the stand, swipes his card, undocks his bike and starts his downhill cycle commute.
Quickly, he enters Regent’s Park. Here, he barely touches the pedals, as the downhill path does most work for him. Wind runs through his hair and cools his scalp as when diving off a springboard – just before you hit the water. The trips on the tube, feeling trapped in a human microwave, seem a distant memory now. Looking around, he enjoys the early autumn sun warming the grounds, white fingers of fog climbing to the sky. To Hans, this picture is inextricably linked to Regent’s Park, since he only cycles when weather is good. He admits not to know the panorama on a rainy winter morning.
Hans leaves Regent’s Park at Portland Place, where the doormen in front of the houses remind him of New York’s Upper East Side. From there on, traffic gets busy as the City comes closer. Close to the office, Hans passes Barbican Centre. Built shortly after the Second World War on a site bombed by Germans, it’s London’s most unstylish building to look at. However, it’s the most stylish place to be at, hosting theatre and ballet, making culture and concrete meet.
By now, the business people on Barclays bikes have swollen in numbers, as the solicitor pedals the last stretch through the City to a bike stand near Exchange Square. He parks his bike, and takes a look at his blackberry – ending his one daily moment without the device – clocking his trip at 23 minutes, leaving time to pick up a coffee before his first meeting. The solicitor walks away and leaves his Barclays bike behind. At the end of the day, he will not come back to retrieve it for the return trip. On the uphill commute back home, Hans still rather takes the tube.