In the early 80’s I got my first job in London and naturally I cycled to work. I’ve always been a commuter cyclist rather than one of those high-end, lycra clad types. It’s so cheap and convenient. I used to whizz round Hyde Park Corner just for fun, with BEF’s ‘Music for Stowaways’ booming though the headphones of my original Sony Walkman. Those were the days. I don’t think I even wore a helmet!
How times have changed. I’d be terrified to get into the traffic up there now. And that, for me, was the attraction of RideLondon (https://www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk). How much fun would it be to pedal through our magnificent city without stopping for a red light or queueing behind a line of drivers who, let’s face it, would rather the bikes weren’t there?
If you’re thinking of taking part Do It, sign up now https://www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk, it’s a blast, even on a dull day in the pouring rain!
Late last Autumn I was lucky to get a sponsored place with a charity: Cardiac Risk in the Young. https://www.c-r-y.org.uk
I confess once I got my place I didn’t give it much thought until around May when Prudential e-mailed me with information about the ride. I had signed up for the 46 (miles) and the e-mail explained that I would have to complete the ride in four and a half hours. I knew I could pedal all day but could I cover that distance in that time? Mentally I straightened up and got my thinking cap on. I signed up with Richmond Park Rouleurs https://www.colicci.co.uk/locations/richmond-park, a friendly local cycling club that meets every weekend at Collicci’s cafe in the park.
I needed to test my ability and showed up one June morning to try a couple of laps. They’re a great bunch of people, really welcoming and supportive. Several of them had participated in RideLondon, mostly doing the 100 (yes reader, that’s ordinary mortals cycling 100 miles in a day). I slurped a double espresso in true sportive style and set off in a group of four, managing to keep up (more or less) on the laps. At least I hadn’t disgraced myself but I was on the wrong sort of bike. My hybrid stood out like a sore thumb amongst the hundreds of sleek racers at the cafe and to keep training with the Rouleurs I would have to get myself a road bike. It’s a speed thing. Road bikes are incredibly light with narrow tyres which makes them go much faster, but it would be costly and the different positioning and technique would mean a steep learning curve. I wasn’t sure at all but the Rouleurs persuaded me to go for it. I rang around a bunch of bike shops and trawled the net for a second hand bargain, finally rocking up at DeVer https://www.devercycles.co.uk totally my kind of bike shop; independent, it’s one of a kind but they know their stuff and hold their own in a highly competitive market. Maurice took the time to fit out a second hand Giant and convince me that I could adapt to the drop handle bars, the cleats, scarily narrow tyres and the eye-poppingly pointy saddle! The other strategy he employed was to take my trusty hybrid away from me to give it a thorough service ( something I certainly don’t make time for). No choice then. I wobbled off on my Giant, seriously nervous but I managed to get going down some quiet side roads and start to feel like perhaps it was possible.
The next weekend I was back with the Rouleurs and this time we headed out into the Surrey countryside in a group of eight, to Sunningdale. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I was able to learn from my fellow riders en route. Speed came more easily and felt fantastic. By the time we pulled into the pub http://www.theharesheen.com ( where they kindly store your bike safely while you ‘rehydrate’), I was exhausted but elated. A good forty miles in under four hours. And I hadn’t come off!
I was feeling a lot more alive and starting to feel a lot fitter. I stuck to cycling alternate days until the week before the big event and by then I felt ready.
To register for the RideLondon meant a long and sweaty journey up to the ExCel on a blisteringly hot summer’s day. For that I signed up with Let’s Ride, https://www.letsride.co.uk another brilliant group for cyclists of all abilities with a leader who will thread you safely through the many cycle routes that link across London. By now I was feeling confident, okay maybe a tiny bit of trepidation but underneath I felt I had prepared and everyone was telling me it would be fine, I could do it. I was excited.
On the Sunday, after weeks of chart topping heat and drought, a bit of London drizzle was surprising and just before I left I thought maybe I should take a waterproof. It was 6.45am and the roads into town were quiet as I pedalled up to London Bridge, anticipation building as I joined the ribbon of hundreds of cyclists teeming through the City. In the Olympic Park we were chilly and soaked to the skin, standing in the rain under dark skies but my lasting memory is the view of thousands of cyclists, literally thousands, moving in blocks, up to the start line. It was inspirational and so were the other CRY cyclists I met in the line. I was humbled by their stories and they made me determined to give the ride my best effort.
Once we got going I loved it, zooming though the underpasses, seeing red traffic lights and realising – no need to stop. It was exhilarating bombing along through the West End and down Knightsbridge, reminding me of the old days with my Walkman and then it was out to the West and into the Park. There were a few scary moments, I had to keep my concentration because the roads were slippery but the occasion carries you forward. I saw so many riders at the side of the road with punctures and prayed I wouldn’t be one of them. There were speedy racers whizzing past me and plenty of splash-back from rear tyres ahead of me but I kept going. The heroic supporters and marshals, enduring the persistent rain were absolutely fantastic cheering us on. It was such thrill, such a blast. I was very soggy when I finally pedalled up the Mall, but wow what a great experience!
Go On, if you’re thinking of doing it, Sign Up, there are so may groups out there who can help you and the cycling community is so friendly and supportive (thank you De Ver, RPR & British Cycling – I did it!). It’s a great way to get fit and see the city, the countryside, the world !!