Weather calm, legs rested. Ready. Ride London 46, that’s right, 46, awaited. And boy was I excited.
I only heard about this new shorter route of the RideLondon 100 when I was invited twice by different people on the same day. It’s a great idea to reduce the route and encourage new cyclists to get into cycling.
Shorter distance aside, the 46 has many other advantages:
- A reasonable start time. No getting up at 3 am for a 6 am start. My start was a leisurely 9 am
- The route avoids the hills of Surrey and takes in the best of central London. It is fantastic.
- Finish in time for lunch (depending on your pace!)
- Closed roads in London. Wow.
- Finishing on the Mall. There’s nothing quite like it. Sprint as hard as you can!
I’m a veteran of two RideLondon 100s (well, one was a hurricane swept 86!) yet I was perhaps even more excited about riding the 46. I arrived at my start point, cool. Unlike the fella on the floor, who had crashed into the entry gate. I crossed my chest and whispered a few Hail Marys Bradleys. Take it easy.
Ride London start area
Sun warming my calves in the starting pen, velodrome to my right. Go! Oh no, we left the gate only to queue for another hour, bringing the total start wait time to 90 minutes. This is a cyclist’s equivalent of kettling, the police tactic of containing an angry mob. Only this mob were not angry, they were nervous.
Last minute dashes for the toilets, Froome like figures running on cleats, not to the summit of Ventoux but to plastic portaloos. Not quite so dramatic, not for me, but for them perhaps.
The long queues of cyclists are necessary to process the 30,000 riders and once again the organisation was fantastic as I began the ride exactly at the planned start time. Bravo. Yet despite the temperate weather, an hour into my wait I began to get cold. I thought back to the warm bed I’d left. I tried not to think of the miles I could have already covered if I was riding solo. Never again I said to myself.
Two hours passed between leaving my house and starting. Which is pretty much the same length of time I spent cycling! The cheesy, sorry, uplifting, pop music blaring through the tanoy did little to lift my sinking spirits. I closed my eyes and dreamed of the closed London roads ahead. Let me at ’em!
Lycra all around me, more superheroes than Comic Con, and not the usual whippet thin stick people I’m used to seeing. Here there were all shapes and sizes, a great sight to see so many people on bikes.
Ride London 46 is for everyone. Evian bottles in water cages, backpacks, time trial bikes, bar bags, frame bags, mountain bikes, big tyres, little tyres. Great to see so many people enjoying cycling although I did wince when I saw someone trying to thumb test their tyre pressure whilst riding their bike!
The ride begins
Finally, we were underway. Ahead the tail end of RideLondon 100, a lot of traffic to weave through although the roads are very wide to begin with so this is an easy task. I always marvel when I find myself cycling down the A12 and the Limehouse Tunnel with no cars in sight, very surreal. Silence.
It was nice to enjoy the closed roads of central London, which in the 100 ride you rush through at speeds approaching 30 mph, your heart pounding out of your chest, your eyes out of your head. Not so this time. It was an amiable pootle towards Big Ben. I stuck to the right of the road, overtaking most on the wide roads all the way to Richmond Park.
At Richmond the road narrowed and the cyclists bunched up, dragging down the speed and causing a few nervous moments as riders moved left and right, unsure of how to cycle in a bunch. It didn’t help that a number of riders were wearing headphones and moving to their right without even looking behind them.
Before long we were brought to a standstill, overcrowding or a crash on a corner. Bottleneck ahoy. No crashes were witnessed which was great although I’ve seen news of a couple of serious accidents. Take care people, it’s a ride not a race (he says!).
The ride really begins
I almost missed the turn for the 46 route, dragged along by the masses riding the 100 route. You could quite easily ride the 100 if you wanted but my legs certainly didn’t want to! (I had to refuse a 100 medal at the finish!)
The road ahead for the 46 route was empty – joy! Or was it? A headwind was blowing my way and I was riding alone. Fortunately I could see a faster rider up ahead who had jumped me earlier. I sprinted after him and bridged the gap to the man I’ll call the beast, a big frame, swift legs – perfect shelter.
Before long a fast train of cyclists came barrelling past, this was the sharper end of the 100 ride. The beast and I jumped on their coattails. Whoosh. Our speed went up from 22 mph to 27 mph. The train stayed together all the way to the finish, my heart rate at threshold, the grin on my face wide! I love riding quickly in a group.
Before I knew it we had climbed the Wimbledon ramp, thrashed through Putney and were soon cycling beside the Thames, the crowds building and getting louder, every one of the riders in the train already thinking of the turn onto the Mall and the amazing finish towards Buckingham Palace.
Through Admiralty Arch we went and bang, the pace picked up ready for the sprint finish. This is not a race, I reminded myself as I pulled out from my lead-out man and sprinted for the line. Boom, sprint won, I was a happy man, not because I had ‘won’ a sprint that didn’t really exist but because I had just finished a bike ride on the Mall just like the pro’s. Amazing!
Should I do RideLondon 100 or 46? Which is best?
This very much depends on the type of rider you are and the ride you want to complete.
RideLondon 46 is best if:
- You don’t like hills
- You have never cycled before
- You don’t want to do too much training
- It rains (!)
- You want to enjoy the day and the scenery
- You don’t like early mornings
- You’re happy to pootle along through central London
- You want to experience closed roads without having to slog it through Surrey
- You want to experience a mass participation cycling event for the first time
RideLondon 100 is best if:
- You enjoy riding fast
- You’ve been regularly riding 50 miles plus, or
- You’re happy to train to ride 100 miles
- You’re comfortable riding fast in a group of cyclists
- You’re happy to get up about 3 am to make it to the start line for 6-7 am (a little later for the slower groups)
- You want to challenge yourself with some steep hills
- You want the shiny medal (the 46 medal was a little sub-standard by comparison)
- You enjoy pain!
Is RideLondon worth doing?
I’ve asked myself this question a few times now. I’m not sure. There’s a whole lot of waiting around at the beginning when you could just go for a ride yourself any old time.
It’s also quite expensive. Closed roads are less attractive when they’re crammed full of cyclists. And yet, that finish on The Mall is worth doing, if only once, and riding closed roads in central London is a joy. The event is also superbly organised making the wait a little more tolerable.
RideLondon is a bit like a new rollercoaster ride at a theme park. You queue for ages and question why, but then whoosh, you’re flying, loving every twist and turn, a broad grin as you spin through the final crazy loop the loop, no time to breathe, done, all that’s left to do is run and join the queue again.