In which the Reluctant Cyclist’s pride comes before a fall
I was lucky enough to be invited along to London’s Annual Tweed Run, a cycling tour of the capital featuring one of my favourite things: vintage clothing. Admittedly it also involved having to ride a bike but I had a salmon pink Bella to show off and seeing as some chaps would be riding Penny Farthings I didn’t think it would be too taxing, speedwise.
As 500 or so cyclists set off from the delightful grounds of University College, London, I decided to take up a place at the back so as not to get caught in the crush. This seemed like a good idea at first but with as with all traffic jams, the effect of the slowing down and speeding up was exacerbated as it travelled down the caterpillar of cyclists. This left me with an unenviable stop-start journey but lots of time to chat to the other chaps and chappesses. I’d dressed for the occasion in a tweed skirt, twinset, and an amazing helmet onto which a tweed cap cunningly clipped. Safe and in keeping with the vintage mood, the sun shone on us (albeit briefly) as we continued through Bloomsbury.
As the ride progressed I tried winding my way through the crowds and found that although generally my cycling fears centre around being expected to go fast, cycling slowly is actually much more difficult than it looks. As someone slowed down in front, I had to do a little wiggly bike dance with my front wheel in an effort to keep moving without crashing into any other bikes. I discovered that having filled my front basket with everything I could possibly need (other shoes, rain poncho, water, bike lock, secondary bike lock, tool kit full of things I couldn’t name yet alone use), the weight made me even more precarious at low speeds.
As we all came to a halt on the incline of a small bridge over the river, a dashing chap caught my eye. He was puffing on a pipe whilst riding (or in this case waiting to ride) and I decided to get a snap of him for the album. Perched atop the saddle, with my toes ‘en pointe’ on the ground, I turned towards him.
As I lost my balance I toppled sideways, creating a domino effect with the riders to my left. I remember holding up the camera so it didn’t get damaged and being very concerned about the beautiful bike which I had been loaned for the day. Dazed and even more confused than normal, I was helped to my feet by various kind chaps and ladies who tried to untangle each of us from our respective bikes. I had landed on a lovely lady called Lucy, and, in a fate worse than a broken bicycle, she ended up with black bike oil all over her lovely seamed stockings. Mortified? I was beside myself. Unfortunately I was also beside, and on top of her and her bike.
Still suffering from the shock of the fall and a few minor grazes, I was helped to the side of the road whilst the peloton rode on, and, in a gesture which can only happen on the Tweed Run, I was offered both tea and gin from people who gamely pulled flasks from their panniers and baskets. If you’re going to fall off a bike, in front of tourists with cameras, in the middle of London, at zero miles per hour, I do suggest that you do it in genteel company.
When we were able to set off again to rejoin the route, Lucy explained how she was actually a cycling instructor, and showed me how I should hop forwards off the saddle when stationary to help keep balanced. She also promised to send her partner, one of the marshalls, to check over the bike and lower my saddle to make things easier when riding at such slow speeds. Sure enough, shortly afterwards a man decked entirely in tweed tapped on my shoulder (which is a very odd feeling as you are pedalling along).“Are you Reluctant?” he asked, and I was taken once again to the side of the road for a saddle lowering, tyre pumping pit stop, ably assisted by a marshall with an entire tool kit set out in the front of his porter’s bike.
Lagging once again behind the ride, Mike sped me through some shortcuts through real London traffic (for the main ride, marshalls had closed the junctions as we crossed) to rejoin the masses just in time for a victory loop around Trafalgar Square. We pressed on until a dismount was ordered.There were steps. A good 50 or so deep, stone steps. Now call me naive, but I would generally have thought that planning steps into a route would generally be thought to be a bad idea on a cycle run. Gamely, all 500 participants carried, bumped or otherwise transported their precious cargo down the steps as it became apparent that this was the promised photo stop.
As the others gathered onto the steps for the big ‘Tally-Ho’, I nipped into the next door museum cafe. Having packed my basket thoroughly with various bike related contraptions, I had completely neglected to bring any snacks with me or indeed to eat breakfast before setting off. The museum had a choice of two rolls, smoked salmon or an unidentified and presumably vegetarian orange filling. I paid for my orange sandwich and demolished it just in time to set off again for the rest of the ride.
This time, I tried riding at the front (get me, at the front of 500 cyclists) and found that apart from avoiding Penny Farthings (and quite frankly, who doesn’t face this problem when commuting into work), it was much easier to stay aboard my steed when not trying to weave behind beautiful bikes packed in as tightly as a bunch of marathon riders.
Chatting to one of the marshalls over tea, I was told that every year someone takes a topple, and that last year a chap on a Penny Farthing had come off. Twice. Over the top of the bicycle. At least I had not suffered that indignity, and determined not to take a second fall I set off with a stiff upper-lip into the mild, but very English, drizzle to complete the route.