I've just got back from a long weekend in London after being soigneur for Sarah at the London marathon. Whilst Sarah was resting or racing I took the opportunity to head out on the bike and get in some pretty big miles. All in all I managed 220 miles this weekend and having spent nearly 15 hours in the saddle I felt like i'd had a pretty good experience of what it's like to ride around London. I spent my Saturday with the 10,000KM.CC doing a 120 mile ride to the Blue Egg Cafe in Essex with 30 others on a chilled out ride and then on Sunday hooked up with Emily and her friends at VeloSport CC for a ride into the Surrey hills. Both of the rides were epic for different reasons. The Blue Egg ride was the most miles I've done this year and covered all sorts of surfaces including a Paris-Roubaix parcours or two which were pretty interested but much fun in amongst the chain reaction of punctures. The weather held out all day and we had a lot of laughs through-out. Sunday on the other hand was pretty cold and wet but much hillier but still a great laugh once I'd managed to catch up with the club after running a bit late and doing an urban TT. Over the two days I gathered a few thoughts about riding around London.
Firstly and probably most controversially I found riding around London a relatively stress-free experience. Okay, so it was the weekend and I've not had to ride around London in rush hour but the traffic was still pretty heavy. Despite this I didn't feel unsafe at all and actually felt more at ease than I do in Leeds. I'm not really sure what it was but drivers seemed a lot more used to sharing the road with bikes and left plenty of space, let me out from behind stopping buses and generally obeyed the cycle boxes at traffic lights. Not once over the weekend was I cut up, beeped at or cut up. This was the case across the inner city roads and even down the A3 where I ended up doing a pretty swift TT in the hunt for some friends on Sunday.
My second experience of note had to be the cycling superhighway that now snake across London roads in a slick blue line sweeping around bus-stops along most of the major routes into London. The CS5 I think it is from Stratford is pretty nicely segregated from the traffic and meant that even on a busy Saturday afternoon we were able to cruise through towards the city centre. Admittedly the lanes weren't without their fair share of rubbish and glass which you find yourself dodging quite a lot and for some reason quite a lot of the lane was closed with not obvious reason so there were a few niggles but, on the whole these lanes felt safe and are again easier to negotiate than the red lines drawn onto the Leeds roads.
Once you've navigated your way around and out of London, which I did struggle with a tiny bit you're greeted with some pretty epic roads. I joined the 10,000KM.CC on Saturday for a 120 mile ride into the Essex countryside and then VeloSport CC on Sunday into Surrey for 70 miles. It's not the shortest ride out of the sub-urban twists and turns but it's worth it for what lies outside the M25 in the form of a plethora of small and silent country lanes filled with fellow cyclists. I'd always imagined being so close to London that the roads around the city would be filled with annoyed drivers but I swear I only saw a handful of cars all day whilst we were in the countryside. It's almost as though someone drew a line around the M25 and all the cars disappeared.
Finally, whilst the cars did disappear the cyclists certainly didn't and I soon discovered there are literally a billion cycling clubs in London. It seems that if you're not already in a club then you've probably set one up. I lost count of the endless number of clubs over the weekend that I saw on my travels. I guess that there is the demand for all of these clubs which is fantastic for cycling but how on earth do you decide who to ride with? I guess that each club offers something different so you can join two or three maybe. The two I hooked up with (10,00KM.CC and VeloSport CC) were both friendly and welcoming which was a relief and meant I was able to have some company on the rides over the weekend.
So on the whole I had a great weekend meeting loads of new people and actually found London a lot easier to ride in than I expected. I'm looking forward to heading back in a few months for the Dun Run again and hopefully catching up with a few more people next time i'm down.