Last Sunday I accompanied a couple of work colleagues on the London Bikeathon.
It is a charity bike ride raising money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, a very noble cause. The ride itself offered a variety of routes with different distances, 13, 26 or 52 miles, divided between a “scenic” route, heading west from the central London start and the “city” route which headed eastward. The Challenge ride took in both of these and it was this one we did. As a fairly experienced rider I wasn’t too worried about the distance but it was the first time I’ve done these sort of distances with relatively inexperienced riders. Heck the first time I did the Bikeathon about 4 years ago I was only down for the 26 mile city route and I was nervous about finishing that 🙂
As such I knew I’d be fine finishing but what was truly remarkable was the amount of non-regular cyclists taking on the challenge ride for whom this actually was a challenge. I don’t think this really hit home until we’d re-grouped at the finish line (I’d got ahead as we joined Emabankment heading back towards Battersea, the traffic was far too heavy for hanging around and I’d switched into commute mode!) and I could see how exhausted both my friends and the other riders where! 52 miles of London roads in 26c heat is hard work! This combined with the very moving messages being displayed on the main TV screen in the finish area brought a lump to my throat. 1/2 century rides are fairly easy for an experienced rider to knock out and I’d even go so far as to say that most regular cycle commuters wouldn’t have a problem with the distance. The course on the whole was pretty flat with the worst hill being Sawyers Hill in Richmond Park and that was only tricky as it fell in the later half of the ride so you already had 30+ miles under your belt!
Another interesting point was the other riders apparent lack of road sense, clearly an event like this will end up attracting people who don’t ride on roads that regularly but some of the behaviour I saw was just a lack of common sense let along road sense. I think the worst example was when we got stopped at a level crossing (Barnes?) in the westbound leg. The first group of riders sat either in the queue or near the barrier but as the road was also blocked in the opposite direction it meant riders started filtering up the “wrong” side of the road only to find they couldn’t fit in at the front and so waited on that side of the road and this built up quite a sizeable group.
Of course you can imagine what happened once the barriers went up. Chaos. The cars who had been waiting to come down the road now couldn’t proceed properly as their path was blocked by a few dozen cyclists. Our lane was slow going as well as we had to let those who had been waiting in to let traffic move! ARGH!! I think the situation could have been handled a lot better if some more marshals had been on hand to try and control the other riders. A similar situation happened when we left Richmond Park. Very narrow streets with barely passing room between cars yet still some riders insisted on lane splitting between the two, forcing drivers of oncoming cars to stop.
There where also some routing “problems”. Nothing that lead us to go off course but having done a few guided rides now I know it can be very easy to miss turns. This is all well and good on quiet country roads but not so good on central London’s busy streets! As such a bit more warning that I need to move over to the right for a turn would have been appreciated! I mean if I’m concerned about the little amount of notice I’m given for a turn I’m sure the more inexperienced riders could easily have come unstuck! For me shoulder checking and signalling is second nature, however I did see a few riders just dart out from the left of the lane to the right when they did see the “turn right” sign, who thankfully where being followed by patient cars! Luckily tho the sheer number of riders did make it easier at some points.
Unfortunately sheer volume of riders, even when all wearing clearly emblazoned brightly coloured t-shirts, doesn’t stop some people being impatient little shites. A good few times I witnessed some rather aggressive driving with people tooting their horns to hurry us along or the idiot driver who overtook a car that was patiently following the riders up the hill in Richmond Park and tried to cut back in amongst a group of riders. Bear in mind this park has a 20mph limit, is very popular with cyclists and it was very busy with bikeathon and social riders this sort of driving is just plain dangerous!
On the whole tho it was a very enjoyable ride. It gave me a chance to see a side of London I don’t always get to see and at a more sedate pace 🙂
I did capture some footage at various points around the ride and this can be found here I hope you enjoy watching it almost as much as I did filming it 🙂