I popped down to London the other week to join Sarah for the London Marathon (3:54 and happy) and decided to get in some riding the day before. I’ve ridden in London a few times before but wanted to head out with the group and do something different to the Ride London route. Thankfully Cold, Dark North were able to sort me out for the weekend with some plans.
I’m used to riding around country lanes in Yorkshire and strongly questioned the lap culture so decided to try out as much as I could in the weekend and see what I discovered and how it compared to the north.
London at Night
I arrived in London quite late on the Friday night and jumped straight on the road from the station. Unlike Leeds, I find London feels reasonably safe to ride in at night. I think the cars there are expecting to see a cyclist whereas in Leeds there are a lot less, so people pay less attention. Plenty of people will disagree with me on that point I’m sure and let’s be honest, it’s probably very different in rush hour mid-week.
The cycle highways are pretty cool; I was able to pick up the highway along the Thames quite easily and follow it all the way to Putney. A lot of it was segregated from the main road which was pretty cool, and aside from the random guy on an electric scooter cutting me up, was nice and safe.
London to Brighton
When it’s sunny and 25c where does every single cyclist from London head? Brighton of course! Approximately 60 miles from London depending on the route, this trip is like a little pilgrimage for riders in the south. Having asked around a few folk I know in London, I was put in touch with Joel from Big Boys Bike Club, and ended up being roped into a 120 mile round trip to the seaside with a bunch of like minded riders.
We started out in Putney where I turned down the chance to fully integrate with the southerners in the pre-ride coffee ritual but I think this was forgotten as the day rolled on. It turned out that the group was a mixture of riders where everyone knew someone but not everyone so it made for easy conversation. My experience of riding in London has taught me that if you find the right people it’s a really inclusive atmosphere that can sometimes be missing from cycling in the north. You don’t have to wave at anyone down south though so when I shouted ‘now then’ at some passing riders they looked rather baffled...
The main attraction on the London to Brighton route, aside from the fish and chips, is the famous Ditchling Beacon. I hadn’t had time to research the climb so had to rely on the words of my fellow riders and the savage words of influencers across the south that describe it as the hardest thing ever. I surely should expect a wall greater than the one across China.
When we arrived at Ditchling I was prepared for the worst, but pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as people made out. It’s pretty sheltered from the coastal winds and hugs the side of a hill, snaking its way up before opening up onto the ridge at the top for spectacular views. I managed to sneak a top 100 on Strava which was pretty pleasing given what I held back in anticipation of the horrors ahead.
We obviously ticked off the obligatory fish and chips and ice cream on the beach at the half way point before cruising back to London on some quiet roads; apparently even the south has some lanes, it’s just a case of getting to them. In all honestly, you don’t really notice you’re heading towards London until quite late on and when you get the right roads it stays really quiet for a long time.
We had one instance of road rage with a bloke that would fit in well playing Phil Mitchell on Eastenders that didn’t appreciate the naughty child finger waggle I gave when he tried to wipe out a dozen cars and riders, but aside from that it was chilled. No worse than a normal day of northern riding.
I’ve never quite got my head around the whole laps thing; being a country boy I'm used to having unlimited access to almost empty lanes no matter what the time of day and can escape the city of Leeds in no time at all. However, given so many of the people I know live in London and regularly ride around in circles, I figured I should give it a go and head out to Richmond Park for some laps early morning, before heading into the city to marathon cheer.
I made sure to get up super early and arrived at the park gates before they had been unlocked to cars; cruising around in the early morning mist and sunrise without any cars but surrounded by the city high rises was pretty cool. At 7am things were fairly quiet. I ticked off two laps quite contentedly. Maybe laps are okay after all?
Around 8am I noticed things starting to get a bit busier. The park was filling up with cyclists of all abilities, from those just out for a cruise all the way up to one guy on a full disc wheel equipped TT rig. It felt like absolute carnage and there was no way the latter of those was doing the 20mph speed limit around the park, though I suspect not many people adhere to that. By 8:30 I couldn’t hack the crowded feeling and took one lap through the centre before heading back into the suburbs.
I can now appreciate that laps have their place and places like Richmond are a great way to escape from the feeling of a city, but I can’t help but feel that if you pick the wrong time it’s a nightmare.
It’s not so bad
Riding around London doesn’t feel so bad and compared to Leeds I've always felt safer in London which is weird. I wouldn’t ever change the lanes of Yorkshire for the laps of London but I would probably get stuck in if I popped down to London mid-week.
Everyone was dead friendly and it’s great that via a few WhatsApp messages I was able to pick up a group ride to the coast with no hassle whatsoever. Good luck finding a random ride in the North that you can join without being good mates with someone already!
Lanes not laps though remember...