FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

I missed the send-off. Inevitable when buying 100 Tesco Meal Deals (100 sandwiches / wraps / pasta dishes, 100 drinks and 100 snacks! Food of champions). I didn’t get to see the Official team photo, the Tour de France-style chalked pavement, the cheering, flag waving kids giving their parents a Geweldige Start (Dutch for Grand depart. Destination London to Amsterdam. Not Paris). 


It wasn’t the last thing I was going to miss on the Thompson House Parents’ London to Amsterdam 24-hour Cycle Challenge (one of the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Sponsored Rides for Schools).   

Next up was the relaxed coffee / lunch break in the Hare & Hounds just around the corner from the school. The strict 24-hour challenge schedule meant that the Geweldige Start was more of a prologue as our riders headed straight to the pub.  

For everyone but me that is. I had those last-minute things that always need to be ferried to and from the support vans before they headed off across London. Lunch was a hastily made honey sandwich, wolfed down so that I didn’t miss my crew’s rollout. I hoped it was going to be enough to fuel me to Harwich. I hoped my stress levels were going to subside before Harwich too.   

No chance. From East Sheen to Harwich via 30 kilometres of Inner London. Through Clapham, past haunts of our distant youth. We all missed those days. We missed more than 1 green light as we cut east, south of the river, battling through Friday gridlock, London is far from a fluid cycling city. We were mostly seeing red. 

Looking back now, it was tough, maybe the toughest bit of the ride. We didn’t miss London once we’d successfully traversed it, from Putney, through Elephant and Castle and out past the Olympic Village.

Chigwell onwards we felt free, released from our urban shackles. Next stop Chelmsford. It was hot. Some of my group were feeling the pace. The afternoon break couldn’t come soon enough. A Tesco Meal Deal was never so tempting. Of course, we missed the designated stop. 

Then my Crankset fell out of the Bottom Bracket. During a humiliating dressing down at Evanscycles Chelmsford, I was told I was missing spacers (I took it humbly and thankfully – the Evanscycles boys kept me in the ride). Key Learning Point: don’t ride without testing new kit first. A new Ultegra di2 groupset is a good thing, when it’s had a few KMs to bed in. 

I never did get my afternoon meal deal. Instead, being last man on the road and a lowly Support Rider (abandoned by my Ride Director), I had to chase back hard for 30km. Like a lone breakaway (just at the back). I didn’t miss the Ferry but many of the front group had missed the memo about heading for dinner at the passenger ferry terminal and were enjoying post ride refreshments in the old port district of Harwich. Off I went to collect. 

I didn’t miss out on a mild hangover the next morning having missed the opportunity for an early night. If you look after the guys on the road they’ll look after you in the bar. I had to rely on electrolytes and hard riding, my sure fire cure for my post ride excesses the night before. I did miss our very own BMC Missile, he’d got the train home the night before. It meant that I had to move up to the front group. I’d did my best to hold their rear wheel and offer ‘support’ from back of the group. Besides they seemed content enough to do the hard work. 

The Dutch side of the route was all segregated cycle path. Surprisingly difficult to follow through the towns. Cycling on the road is the Dutch equivalent of a faux pas. We did our best to abide the rules of the cycle path even when the cycle paths became unruly, cutting through the coastal sand dunes, rolling and pitching like the waves to our left. I’d missed this, a 50km bike park entirely dedicated to the cyclist. 

Thank God I missed the bollard that appeared from behind the rear wheel of the bike in front. How I don’t know. It would’ve been nasty. I thanked mountain biking for honing my bike handling. (Later Stevo wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t miss the kerb, he hit it square on. Snapping his bike in half. There’s not much worse than can happen to a Support Rider. He jumped on a spare bike and gave chase in his torn and ripped Lycra. Catching up just in time for the photos). 

With the clock ticking down, ever closer to the 24 deadline the decision was taken to crack on without the missing back-markers. Controversial. As long as it wasn’t the Support Riders decision, we just did what we were told, just went with the flow, put the hard work in at the front or dropped back and brought the stragglers back up to the main group. It’s hard graft this support riding lark. 

The run in to Amsterdam was pan flat (as you’d expect), tracking the canals into central Amsterdam. Progress slowed as we got closer to the Central Station, delicately negotiating the traditional Dutch bikes hogging the cycle paths.   


Thompson House had done it. In 24 hours. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. All that was left was to load the vans. Our stay in Amsterdam would total 30 minutes, we’d miss the celebrations on the roof top bar and the boat cruise. With Stevo’s bike folded in half and forced into the small gap remaining in 1 of the vans we were heading for home. What could possibly go wrong now? Job done.   

What about missing 3 bikes? That will be it. We spotted them in the rear view mirror just as we pulled away. They were loaded somewhat more carefully than Stevo’s and with only a ferry left to miss we battled out of Amsterdam, hit the Autoroute hard and hurtled towards Calais.  

Why the rush? It was Father’s Day the next day and I didn’t want to miss that. 

Congratulations to Thompson House School. Their dedication to training, riding and fundraising was exemplary.  Hoed (chapeau in Dutch).

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the importance of backing up

the importance of backing up

Monday is the worst day for me to get on my bike.  Firstly, it’s Monday.  First day back at work.  If I’m lucky I’ve had a long ride on Sunday.  Not forgetting the destination is work.  Did I mention work already?  Did I mention I don’t want to go to work on Monday?  (I’ve not landed my dream job of being paid to write about cycling. Yet!)

If I rode MTB then I’m doubly reluctant or simply unable to drag myself out of bed, kit up and ride to work.  More likely I’m feeling like I’ve been run over by the bus I need to catch to the train station.

Monday morning trains run chaotic. Worse than usual.  Of course, it’s the Train Drivers first day back too.  I’m guessing many of them don’t want to go to work either, their boyhood dreams of being a train driver have long evaporated under the onslaught of the early morning alarm.

The sardined passengers are in a worse mood than usual too on a Monday, many sense of humours have been lost in the act of getting out of the wrong side of the bed.

Riding then makes best sense.  It also makes sense in the case of ‘backing up’ – riding for a few days in a row – between scheduled and well needed rest days.

Often the http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com big summer rides are big multi day affairs – 300 miles in 3 days –  long days in the saddle, or consecutive assaults on big mountains.  Backing up in training is essential.

It’s quite clear the Democrats didn’t back up.  True they put 2 hard terms together thanks to their star player: Obama.  However, they didn’t look far enough ahead, they rested on their laurels, they failed to back-up for when the big test came along.

Here’s some very unscientific research to substantiate my weak hypothesis.

Rewind Saturday Night Live to pre-Barack, 2008, watch Tina Fey lampoon then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, sit back and enjoy the comedy gold.  Fast forward to the 2016 US election, sub Fey with Alec Baldwin and the jokes are the same.

What’s going on?  Different but the same message.  Lazy SNL script writing or did Barack’s two lauded terms fail to help Good Ol’ Joe Six-Pack and make America Great Again?!

Back in 2008 the SNL team had a lot of material with the ‘Washington Outsider’ stuff, ‘Joe Six-pack’ as the Republicans targeted the traditional blue collar vote.  Sound familiar? Maybe I shouldn’t take my political insight from SNL but essentially SNL lampooned the same electoral message in 2008 as they did in 2016!

There it is.  Indisputable.  The Democrats had plenty of warning, at least 8 years.  They can’t then be surprised that the same disenchanted, alienated voters targeted by the Republicans in 2008 were the same disenchanted/alienated voters in 2016.  They’re still there, just more so, the so called Deplorables.

(Note to Hilary: don’t insult the voters that you need to vote for you to win).

The Democrats got lazy, got complacent. They didn’t clock up the hard miles in training so that they could put a run of strong back to back performances together.  They resorted to the classic under-trained cyclist’s desperate solution: throw money at the problem.

How often does that work?

safety in numbers

safety in numbers

Yesterday London celebrated the first of its Tube Strikes – there are sure to be more when 2017 really gets going.  In response London got active: walking, running, cycling.  

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Maybe in the interests of public health (if we ignore the increased pollution from gridlocked traffic) the Tube should be shut down for 1 day a month with a corresponding hike in the Congestion Charge to deter commuters from jumping in their cars.  1 day a month to fix / improve the Tube funded by 12 days less pay a year for striking workers who swap strike days for 12 extra days holiday (or be paid for valuable fix / improvement duties thus providing in-job variety and new skills).  Who isn’t winning?

The London economy is said to lose between £10-300m from each Tube Strike (which seems an equally worthless estimate I.e. nobody really knows!) but if we harness the famed London Spirit that was evident yesterday as London’s plucky commuters got to work by any means available, surely a monthly Tube-break could be made into a key differentiator for London.

What’s this got to do with cycling?

I often cringe-inwardly at the behaviour of my fellow cyclo-commuters as they(we) swarm through the traffic taking unnecessary risks and concluded that there were just too many cyclists on London roads.  Over the last few weeks whilst I’ve been ‘working’ my Notice I’ve been riding home before peak-commuting hours.  It’s been great right?  Free to enjoy the freedom of the open roads?

 Well no. It’s frequently been terrifying.

Without safety in numbers, not being safely within the bunch, I’ve ridden home alone in the dark and experienced Taxi-flybys, cars pulling across/through/out and pedestrians throwing themselves in front of my wheels.  It’s been a relief to get home with only near misses to trouble me.

Without the bad influence of the unofficial commuter peloton my cycling has been calmer, slower and less invasive of the traffic so why the increased near-misses?   Maybe drivers/pedestrians using the roads outside of peak-commuting hours aren’t use to ‘sharing’ the roads with cyclists.  Maybe I’m experiencing their bottled up wrath from when they have to and being picked-off as I ride outside of the safety of the pack – like a lone gazelle (small buffalo might be a more accurate description).

Perversely I began to yearn for a return to normal, longer work hours, getting up early / staying in the office later, when I’m forced to ride at peak times safely with my fellow cyclo-commuters.

That was until Yesterday – Tube Strike Day – multiply the number of peak-commute cyclists by 4 at least, on any manner of bikes, riding at varied speeds with varied control. It was chaos.  Dangerous.  Just on the London Embankment Cycle Super Highway alone I must have seen double-figure near head-on collisions.

Which is where a monthly Tube Closure could help, by forcing (I mean ‘encouraging’) more people to commute by bike more often will improve their skills and awareness, increase the number of riders and demand more of London’s Transport £££ being spent on cycling infrastructure.

No longer would a Tube Workers strike be regarded as a near Armageddon type event. 

Just another way cycling (walking, running and River Boats) can save the world’s problems.

(Even as the headwind buffeted me, the rain soaked me I was still pleased I chose to cycle yesterday especially when I saw the mass-overcrowding at stations and unruly queues at bus stops. Velominati Rule #5).

making everyone happy

making everyone happy

My friend was knocked off her bike Yesterday and ended up in A&E.  It was a classic car/bike accident where a car turning right down a side street cuts through static traffic but doesn’t anticipate the cyclists still riding up the inside. Car/bicycle meet at 90 degrees.

Or was it the cyclist not anticipating a car turning right down a side street cutting through static traffic.  It’s rarely clear cut.  I’d put the onus on the cyclist to anticipate – they’re the most at risk – and they can’t rely on anyone else to look out for them.

The London Mayor is going to drop £770 million on cycling over the next 5 years to make cycling a “safe and obvious choice for Londoners or all ages and backgrounds”. That’s £17 per Londoner (whether they want £17 to get them cycling or not!)

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/sadiq-khan-announces-770-cash-injection-for-london-cycling-infrastructure-a3412221.html

This will buy new segregated cycle superhighways, extensions to existing cycle superhighways and mini-Holland schemes in the suburbs.

Car drivers and the Daily Mail are no doubt in outrage – why are cyclists so indulged? But put this in context: its only 5.5% of total TFL budget.  Cars, Trains, Buses, Underground are still hoovering up the lions share.

What’s the solution? Segregation is great (of bikes and vehicles) until the segregation ends, then chaos breaks out. Cyclists become complacent, forget that the risk factor has just turned up.  Cars have forgotten that they’re sharing the road with cyclists and have a duty of care (NB. a cyclist is a real live person (just on a bike)).

The solution: cyclists need to be controlled and drivers need to be educated – the best way is to get drivers on a bike.  Which will only happen if they are incentivised to do so. How? Penalise them?  That won’t help. Make it safe? We’ve tried that.  Make it easy?  Easier said than done.

What about paying them?

Smartphone technology could make a carbon offset scheme work.  What about £10 of your road tax for every 100 city miles cycled? (Paid for by: VAT on bike sales, decreased NHS costs from a fitter, healthier population and reduction in pollution/respiratory related illnesses).

Surely it’s worth a try.

a non-race

a non-race

I wasn’t racing.  If I was – single speed V mountain bike – would be a good match.  The MTB had slicks and gears, lots of them.  I had 1 gear but narrow tyres with trick Mavic hubs and 35mm deep rims – those wheels fly (I think I’ve bored on about them already).

As we left the office together, the guy from my office on the red mountain bike and I didn’t discuss the ‘race-that-wasn’t happening’.  We didn’t have to.  It was on. I was confident.

Naked, in the office showers last week he’d proudly announced he’d kept up with me all the way from Priory Lane. I hadn’t realised I was being followed.  I recognised him in his cycle helmet now.

Down potholed, rutted and pedestrian strewn Cornhill, I’m happy to let him lead, until the lights at the infamous Bank crossroads, draw alongside, wobbly track-standing as the lights counted down, avoiding eye contact.  On the ‘G’ of the green light I’m gone.  Covering the ground super quick to the next set of red lights 50 yards ahead, then the next and then the next.  Stopping at each.  My track stand is improving.  Red MTB is next to me again.

Queen Victoria Street, left onto White Lion Hill, a perfect right hand bend with a rampart leading down to the Embankment, you can pick up some speed but at the foot of the rampart there’s a tricky junction with a choice: stop (brakes on hard), look, listen.  Or hit the inside of the two lanes at speed.  Hopefully faster than the oncoming traffic, keeping out in front.

The Embankment Super Cycle Highway isn’t very super today.  I join a queue of slow moving bikes.  Overtaking is a squeeze, risk pulling past a Boris Bike it could be too late to see the oncoming Hipster with no lights.  I practice patience.  Red MTB will be held up too.

It’s dangerously dark.  Visibility is limited, headlights glare on my glasses, cyclists pass in and out of shadows but as I wait at Parliament Square I clearly see Red MTB jump the kerb and get ahead of the 30-strong stationary cyclists.  He can cheat if he wants.  It’s about to get fast. He’s not.

The trick is to get through just one of the many set of red lights ahead of Red MTB.  Easier said than done.  At each red light, I draw up to and wait, look back nonchalantly.  Each time as the lights turn, Red MTB sails through, whilst I power up back up to speed.  We leap frog from Westminster to Chelsea.

No matter how hard I push, legs milling around, wheels jumped on I couldn’t get away.  It’s a familiar feeling.  Factors outside of my control constraining and halting my progress.  At least it was only pre-programmed traffic light sequencing rather than someone deciding to knock my house down to build a runway.  Or move my job to mainland Europe post BREXIT.  That might still happen. 

No sign of Red MTB through Parsons Green.  He might have gone through Chelsea Village.  Or I’ve got ahead. At last.  Over Putney Bridge I get caught by the lights at the last moment.  Re MTB arrives just as they turn back green, predictably.  It starts again, from scratch.  All that’s left is the Lower Richmond Road.  I gun it, give it everything.

Inevitably the lights onto Upper Richmond Road West are red. Inevitably Red MTB draws up just as the lights turn green, he squeezes to the left of the traffic I go right and get boxed in.  I race alongside, round, in between crawling traffic to regain ground.  Back at Priory Lane Red MTB is nearly wiped out as a car turns across him, he scrapes through a narrow gap.  I must wait until my path is clear of cars jumping the lights.

The ride was not an analogy.  It was just life.  The more I thought about life’s ironies, of control by unseen forces, of lack of results versus effort, the further ahead Red MTB got.  The red lights had levelled the playing field.  Any advantage I had was negated, any effort expended unrewarded.  Corbyn would approve.

400m to home. Buses pulling in / out. Cars gridlocked.  Traffic lights poised to turn red again.  As I turn off for home I think I’m ahead. But can’t be sure.

(NB. No red lights were jumped in the making by of this non-race (by me at least)).

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

For no good reason, I decided to deviate from my usual route home.  Have you ever taken a wrong turn and instead of turning back you won’t/don’t make a U-Turn – you plough on regardless? Stubbornly making things worse when a quick pride swallowing U-Turn now could limit the damage.

Instead of riding home along the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, I went sightseeing, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral at dusk.  I don’t know the roads well.  It started going wrong as I dodged pedestrians and traffic down Ludgate Hill, waited for slow traffic lights to cross Farringdon Street and on to Fleet Street.

Ignoring the danger signs, I struggled through closely squeezed, crawling traffic, red tail lights glaring, narrow gaps between cars.  The value of Sterling down 20% since the Referendum.  I could’ve cut left down onto the Embankment but I’d gone this far, with the Pound at is lowest value against the US Dollar since the mid-1980s, an easy change of direction seemed like whimsically leaving the casino early.

It felt lonely on the Strand, 1 bicycle struggling to survive amongst the bigger, stronger cars, vans, trucks.  Most cyclists are likely on the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, which is not without its risks or difficulties but is significantly more sensible than trying to go it alone between the Australia House and Somerset Houses. I was on my own.

Waterloo Bridge offered me an escape route. Straight on regardless, heading for a Hard BREXIT.  Instead I chose getting caught out by unfamiliar traffic flows and being blocked by kamikaze pedestrians launching off pavements as I track-stood and scooted through Theatre Land.

I hit Trafalgar Square and the weight of my wilful selection of the hard way home hit me, disorientated, worn down, frustrated.  Inflation rising to 1%, nowhere near a historical high but the highest month on month rise since June 2014 and forecast to hit 3% next year.  When Inflation hits 2% that’s when incomes are felt to be falling in real terms, with an upwards squeeze on the cost of living – mostly food, clothing and other household goods.  It hits the lowest income families first and hardest.  EU Referendum analysis suggests they wilfully volunteered.

From Buckingham Palace, I found myself at Victoria, then roughly headed South West, I wasn’t lost per se but making it up as I went along.  Battling to dissect lines of traffic, repeatedly putting myself at risk.  Cutting across the flow, rather than going smoothly with it.  I had no plan.

Admittedly, there was some fun, adventure, drama, challenge to be had in my divergence.  But it wasn’t rewarding fun, adventure, drama, challenge.  There were a lot better things I could be doing with my time and energies rather than taking the long way home on a pointless, tortuous, self-inflicted journey.

Best not mention Marmite.

how dare you try and save my life?

how dare you try and save my life?

Good Press / Bad Press cycling and cyclists are rarely out of the news. One day it’s an Olympic Gold Rush. The next TUE shame.  Cycling sells newspapers and generates clicks.  Even an advert about cycling safety makes the headlines.  For all the wrong reasons.

Think! (that unspeakable road safety advert)

Cyclists hated it because it patronisingly blamed cyclists (that was lost on me). Non-cyclists hated cyclists for hating the advert trying to save their lives.  It also reminded non-cyclists that they had to share the road with cyclists which made them hate it too (and probably hate cyclists more than they already did).  The media loved it, it filled a slow news day and gave them the opportunity to further fuel the cyclists v non-cyclists feud that sells newspapers and generates clicks (see what’s going on here?).  When did the simple act of riding a bicycle become so hateful?

I liked it. There I’ve said it. I didn’t feel persecuted, victimised, ridiculed or shamed. I liked the fact that someone somewhere was looking out for me. That they had spent a large amount of the Department of Transport’s funds on making an advert to highlight cycle-safety. Let’s face it if it been just another dull public safety advert we’d all have ignored it.

As I cycled to work and thought about squeezing up the inside of a Tipper Truck to gain 10 maybe 20 valuable seconds on my commute (and get to my desk quicker?!) I thought about that advert.  Instead, with it’s hard hitting images at the forefront of my mind, I passed to the right of the big scary truck into the oncoming traffic!  At least I would make eye contact with the vehicle that wiped me out.

I’m hoping that other cyclists, whether they’re still grinding their teeth in patronised fury or not, thought about the advert too. Maybe the driver of the Tipper Truck thought about it.  He doesn’t want to live with killing a cyclist for the rest of his life, or worse lose his job.

(Am I the only person out there who rides a bike, drives a car and walks?)