Back in August, I took part in the Prudential RideLondon Freecycle, taking in an eight-mile traffic free loop of Central London. Registration is now open for next year’s event, although if you fancy the 100-mile ride out into Surrey, then you’ll have to already have registered as interest has proved overwhelming, with 50,000 people signing up in the first 24 hours alone!
For a TWT like me, the London-Surrey 100 is about 50 miles too long, but I was still able to enjoy punting around the capital this summer on my faithful hybrid. The route was an 8-mile circuit which could be joined anywhere. Mine started at the Houses of Parliament, where I then made my way down towards Green Park, along the Mall, out onto Whitehall, along the Victoria Embankment, a short climb up to St Paul’s Cathedral, a twisty route into the City of London, out the other side onto Tower Hill and then back towards the Embankment to do the loop all over again. It was an opportunity to see some stunning scenery without having to ride through London’s notoriously dense traffic.
For me, the first lap I did was by far and away the most enjoyable. Officially, I shouldn’t have started on the course until 9am, but I sneaked on at 8.30 (along with several others who had already done likewise) and was able to enjoy one of the most blissful 40 minutes’ cycling I’ve ever had in London. It was just me, wide open roads, no traffic and a whole city to play in. The second lap was much the same, only more people had started to join the route so there were times when I had to ride slightly slower. I then bumped into my parents, who had decided to come up and have a look at what this whole “cycling” thing was about, and didn’t get away onto a third lap until about 11am. By this time, so many people had taken to the road that it was completely impossible to move at a decent rate, and I found myself practically crushed in a crowd pedalling along at a leisurely 6mph. Unfortunately, children rarely have any idea how to ride in a group, so there were lots of youngsters swerving in front of other cyclists, groups suddenly stopping in the middle of the road, and pedestrians sometimes stepping off the pavements in front of us; it became less about the riding and more about “hazard avoidance”. Sadly, it stopped being fun, and I made sure that my third lap was my last – even though I could have gone twice the distance. The sheer number of participants had just made it impossible to move at anything like a decent pace – and I am absolutely not a fast cyclist!
The roads for the RideLondon event had been closed from 0500 so, in a feedback survey to the organisers, I asked a simple question: why not open the course up from 0700 so that those of us early birds who like to go around a bit quicker can do so – then leave the rest of the day to the families and children? I haven’t heard back and it’s far too early to get detailed plans on next year’s event, but I hope this is the case. I don’t want to see limits placed on numbers, which would seem to defeat the object of a “freecycle”, or any attempts at lane segregation (I can’t see how that could be enforced), or age restrictions, so I think an earlier start time is the fairest for all and balances the desires of “faster” cyclists like me (with the proviso that it isn’t a racing event!) with the needs of those with young children and more “leisurely” participants.
These last-lap hiccups weren’t enough to ruin my day, though, and overall it was one of the most enjoyable cycling events I’ve ever taken part in. The entertainment laid on at Green Park, St Paul’s and Tower Hill was magnificent and while I’ve heard a few complaints in the Evening Standard about road closures and the impact on businesses in London, the numbers taking part and out enjoying themselves spectating dwarfed the complainers. It felt like a one-day festival of cycling, and I was proud to have been part of it.