It’s strange because on the face of it London ‘gets’ cycling: there are blue-painted bike lanes on some busy roads, little boxes at traffic lights for bikes to stop in, you can take your bike on the train across town much more easily than around my neck of the woods and they organise the biggest bike ride in the country. I think however that non-cycling southerners are not perhaps so accepting of sharing the highway with bikes as they are here at home where folks are used to stuff on the road which isn’t neccesarily going at 60mph in the same direction them; sheep, cows, horses, tractors, combine harvesters, ramblers, deer, cyclists, squaddies on foot or in large and very slow military vehicles, fallen trees and collapsed stone walls in the winter, and at this summer holiday time of year lost tourists lugging huge camper vans and caravans around the narrow lanes desperately prodding the sat-nav for inspiration and there isn’t the level of anti-cycling sentiment that you hear about down south, although there is a bit it has to be said. Drivers and people in general round here, mostly, even if they don’t get cycling per se get being outdoors and get that driving in real life is a constant negotiation with others and that the empty roads beloved of car adverts are not what you are ever going to get in real life. A city like London where there’s so much conflict, despite all the apparent advantages offered to cyclists, can’t really be said to get cycling and the organisers of a bike ride who shorten (and nearly cancel if the web chitchat is to be believed which I appreciate sometimes it isn’t) the ride because it might rain are a million miles from getting cycling as I know and love it.
It was great to visit London last weekend, it’s a terrific city in so many ways, but it’s good to be back home. Home is what this post is intended to be celebrating rather than being a stereotypical northern moan about soft southerners which is why I have put up these pictures from my ride this morning and home, as Christian Morgenstern said, is not just about where you live, it’s about where they understand you and I don’t think they really get, either geographically or philosophically, where I’m coming from down in the big city.
Despite the disappointment that twenty kilometres and the only two hills on the route had been taken out of the course by the organisers due to the wet weather inevitably felt by many, especially by those who don’t fully grasp the concept of not riding over a small hill just because it’s raining and who drove a five hundred mile round trip to take part in what turned out to be a diminished version of the billed event, I suppose it is kind of possible to understand the decision after seeing how many accidents there were yesterday, the first one witnessed by myself being a rider in front of me at traffic lights on the way to the start who fell from his stationery bike taking out the lass next to him in the process, and so it is perhaps important to accentuate the positive when it comes to Sunday’s RideLondon bikesportiveride, that curious and rather marvellous fusion of charity fundraisers and weekend warriors, of the newbies and the seasoned, of the eccentric and the takingitmuchtooseriously, the unique experiences that came from this pootle around what even non-Londoners would have to recognise as one of the most important towns in the South East of England.
After all, on what other weekend can you stay in an East London hotel where it is the guests not wearing bike gear who feel a bit conspicuous and self concious, where else do you get the chance to receive free Haribos (and Tangfastics at that, not the usual boring Supermix) from a real live person by buying a t-shirt from the Wiggle shop at the sign-on expo even if the logo does need altering now from RideLondon100 to RideLondon87, what other time can you up close and personal with the Rapha H-van as it doesn’t look like it would get this far north in a human lifetime under it’s own steam, on which other day can you ride the Hammersmith Flyover, the Blackwall Tunnel and scary looking six lane highways which if bikes aren’t banned from them completely you’d need to be much braver than I am to ride them, on what other occasion can you pedal a bike at quite an unfeasible number of kilometres per hour on the wrong side of the road and past every red light through the Monopoly Board place names of the centre of town and push your biggest gear past the Palace of Westmister and the National Gallery to recreate your fading memory of finishing the London Marathon on the Mall all those years ago then drift back to the City along a silent and traffic free Victoria Embankment, so lost in your thoughts and in the views of the river and in the sheer peacefulness of it all that you are overtaken by a young lad weaving precariously on a Boris bike?
The failure of Mayor Boris’s charm and persuasion to ensure the large Atlantic depression formerly known as Hurricane Bertha didn’t dump 50mm of precipitation on his jurisdcation yesterday may be the reason he is going back into parliament to get more powers. Not being from down that way I don’t know what his legacy to London in the non-cycling field will be, other than perhaps planning permission for lots of very tall glass-sided buildings, but I hope this celebration of all things two-wheeled and human-powered continues, if only so I can come back and ride it on a sunny day, finally go up Box Hill, and find out what I was missing.