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This time last weekend I’d just arrived in London for a large ‘Olympic Legacy’ bike ride from the retro-soviet grandiosity of the old Olympic Campus in the East End out into the Surrey suburbs and back into town for a grand finish on The Mall. It was a great ride; a ‘big day out’ feel, wide city boulevards closed to traffic, people supporting the ride from the roadside and loads and loads of bikes and bikeriders but one thing I didn’t seem to share with the other participants was my disappointment at the ride being shortened at the last minute because there was some rain forecast. Alot of southern riders saw this as an opportunity to get a faster average time and to miss out what to me are very minor bits of uphillness but to them seem to be some kind of forbidding mountain range. Southern riders were also perhaps less concerned as they hadn’t had to travel very far or pay for hotels and with income differentials between London and the North East being what they are the entry fee was probably not a lot of money to them. Coming from a part of the country where folks like to get what they’ve paid for and where hills and bad weather are a part of normal life whether you ride a bike or not seemed to set me apart quite distinctly from the locals down there, even the bike riding ones, in a way which I found quite surprising at an event for people with whom I appeared to have so much in common. Sadly I ride fast for the wind in my hair not the time on a clock, I ride up hills for the heart beating out of my chest and for being closer to the sky, not for the strava segment, and I ride at all to be outdoors, whatever is happening outdoors at the time, not to get a sun tan, so I don’t really seem to fit in down south.

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.

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2 comments

  1. Adam Taylor

    It was indeed a shame it was shortened but given the number of crashes on relatively flat parts of the course it was completely understandable and the right thing to do from a safety point of view. It’s meant to be an inclusive event attracting a wide range of riders with different skills and abilities. Not all would have had the ability to negotiate the hills in the wet.

    It’s true though that I probably would have been more annoyed if I had travelled a longer distance and had to put in more effort to participate in the ride.

    • northernbike

      Hi Adam, I appreciate you dropping by and taking the time to comment. I think that your finding the decision so natural and understandable in contrast to myself maybe highlights the different culture or philosphy or geography or whatever I was trying to put my finger on here. I’m aware I am a minority voice and don’t really speak the same language as the organisers and many of the folks in the ride but all experience is positive I suppose, even if what you take away from it isn’t what you expected, or even perhaps especially if you didn’t find what you expected.

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