The biggest cycling festival of the year took place last week with a bursting schedule of bicycle loving entertainment.
Including big names such a Dani King and the world's best female cyclists taking part in the Ride London Classique, there were demonstrations and shows performed by legendary stunt rider Danny Macaskill. Over the three day event, tens of thousands of riders and fans descended upon the Capital city for the Prudential Ride London.
Maria David is a passionate cyclist and has been known to get her wheels down and dirty by taking on some pretty hefty challenges and sportives. This time, Maria really out did herself by taking part in the Ride London Freecycle on the Saturday, and the Ride London Surrey 100 on the Sunday.
In Celebration of Cycling at Ride London
Words and photos: Maria David
Now in its fourth year, the Ride London weekend has grown bigger, better and with even more variety than when the idea first saw the day in 2013. Having started as a legacy event from the London 2012 Olympics the Ride London weekend is also a big fundraising event, with tens of millions of pounds having been raised for charity since 2013.
As well as the men’s London-Surrey Classic and the women’s Classique professional races there are various other events for use mere mortals – Handcycle Grand Prix, Youths BMX Grand Prix, FreeCycle, Brompton Race, and the Ride London-Surrey 100 or 46, meaning around 100,000 people taking part across the seven events. I took part in the FreeCycle and the London-Surrey 100.
Saturday was the day for riders of all ages and levels, with the FreeCycle – a chance to ride on a 16km loop around Central London on closed roads using any bicycle of your choice and going round an unlimited number of times.
The aim of this was part of the plan to raise people’s interest in cycling and get more people out on their bikes. Starting along any part of the course participants could ride around parts of the West End and into the City of London, as well as doing a dog-leg lap down to the South Bank where a Festival Zone included various attractions such as a bike stunts demonstration from world renowned trick-meister, Danny MacAskill.
Other Festival Zones along the route at St Paul’s, Leadenhall Market, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Aldwych and the largest zone at Green Parkall provided different cycle-themed entertainments for all the family. There was the opportunity to get involved in cinema, juice-making and DJ-ing all with the assistance of your own pedal power. There was also a BMX try-out course, Cycle Scalextrics, Rollapaluza and Bike Polo among the various activities to try out.
On paper a 16km-circuit of central London looks like something you can get over and done within an hour, but in fact with so many things to see I found I rode one of my slowest 10 miles ever!
As well as newbie riders on the course, some of whom were on Transport for London hire bikes, there was a variety of other riders – some were using the route as a warm-up ride in advance of the Ride London-Surrey 100cyclosportive, and had brought their children along with them to ride. There were even a few women with their toddlers on balance bikes – though I don’t imagine they would have ridden the whole circuit!
Other riders were doing FreeCycle, having missed out on a place in the cyclo-sportive but wanted to get involved in the Ride London weekend in some way.
So after my day of fun at the FreeCycle on Saturday, matters then turned to the more serious business of riding the London Surrey 100.
Living in London, I did not feel the need to take public transport so I cycled from my home in south London up to the start at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Finding my way was not difficult once I had crossed to north of the river via the Greenwich foot tunnel, as every other cyclist on the road at 6am was going the same way, and there were lots of them!
A total of 29,689 registered for either the Ride London-Surrey 100, or the less daunting 46 mile route, with women making up around one-third of the field. As we set off from various zones and waves around the Olympic Park it was hard to appreciate how many riders really were out there as the zone I was in was not particularly crowded and the business of dropping off bags, queuing up for toilets and stocking up on water and air was quick and efficient.
Out on the road, it was great to ride in a large group and be sucked along by other riders. Whizzing down roads such as the Highway, Embankment and Hammersmith flyover on closed roads at over 20 miles/hour was really exhilarating.
I tagged onto the wheel of a Teresa, a young lady from Jersey who didn’t know the course but was a regular racer keen to test her ability on this hilly route through the Surrey Hills. It was great riding with her through London, but once the road went uphill in Richmond Park, and I began to drift backwards I realised that I would not be able to sustain this pace for 100 miles!
I had the chance to talk to other riders along the way, particularly during our forced stoppage at Pyrford because of a couple of serious accidents further along the route.
In fact many people had travelled a long way to be at the Ride London-Surrey 100.
Jayne from Cheshire was doing the ride with some male family members and raising money for a local hospice. The uncanny thing was that although I didn’t see her throughout the ride it her group had been riding at the same pace, though stopping at differing feed stations from me, so we ended up crossing the finish line together!
Another rider, Sarah had travelled all the way from Cork, Ireland to join her friends in the UK for this event. “I really liked the idea of riding around on closed roads in London so wanted to see what it was like," she told me. “There’s a great atmosphere here – though I didn’t bother to find out about the hills beforehand. I think ignorance is bliss!"
I wish I could have lived in bliss as the monster known as Leith Hill was looming and I was keen to save my energy levels for the quartet of Newlands Corner, Holmbury Hill, Leith Hill and Box Hill, which would come in relatively quick succession.
The first two hills in the series were steep but doable. However, Leith Hill lived up to its formidable reputation – a narrow hill that went straight uphill for more than a mile with a relentless 10% gradient. Completing the ride in the saddle without stopping was quite challenging, particularly as the road was crowded with riders of varying levels and I had to keep my eyes peeled in case the rider in front of me suddenly stopped. Thankfully this didn’t happen and I made it to the top, pretty drained and very grateful of the long descent towards Dorking.
The final hills at Box Hill, and later on in Wimbledon were a case of survival as many of us had left everything on the road at Leith Hill!
Conversation between riders came easily as there was a lot to talk about! Whether it was the group of riders tackling the 100-mile bike ride on Brompton bikes, giving words of support during the tough climbs, or meeting other riders wearing the same kit as me!
Support from the roadside was incredibly uplifting with so many cycling fans in the different neighbourhoods at Byfleet, Dorking, Kingston, Putney and of course at Westminster cheering us on.
The good thing about the Ride London-Surrey 100 was the organisation, with no shortage of mechanical support, feed stations and medical assistance. The great thing about the event is the camaraderie among riders and the different friends you can make during your time riding around Greater London!
For those wishing to take part next year you don’t have long to wait. The date for Ride London 2017 is 28 – 30 July, with ballot entries for the London-Surrey 100 opening on 8 August – just a week away!
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