Tuesday 12 December 2017 07.30 GMT
It’s half past seven on a mild October morning, just getting light, and I am waiting with my bike at one of the most tranquil spots in central London, under a canopy of trees on the Inner Circle. Hidden away inside Regent’s Park, the Inner Circle is a circular road where my cycling friends and I are to rendezvous before setting off for an hour’s training.
“Training” might be overstating it. Right now I am not in training for anything, nor to my knowledge are the others – Lewis, Charlie, and Graham. We are here to play.
I see Lewis approaching. Pretty soon we are quorate and the ride can begin. The four of us head to the Outer Circle – Regent’s Park’s perimeter road, measuring a little under three miles and for many years now an unofficial cycle training route. A wide thoroughfare where greenery abounds and vehicles and traffic lights are relatively scarce, it is a unique facility in central London, which amounts to a secret cycling idyll.
Not that it’s so secret any more. I started making bike trips to Regent’s Park more than 10 years ago. In those days, cycling of this kind was a relatively obscure subculture. Now it’s mainstream and in pre-work hours the Outer Circle is thronged with men and women on two wheels.
Pay a visit any time between 6.30am and 8.30am and you’ll see us – dozens and dozens of Lycra-clad figures on our not-inexpensive road bikes, riding mostly in groups, some as big as 20- or 30-strong. We aren’t going anywhere. We’re riding the circuit, getting our heart rates up, feeling the speed, revelling in the sensation, trying to improve, or just stay fit. The ride is an end in itself. It serves no outward purpose. It’s the very essence of play
• This essay is from the latest edition of London Essays, a journal published by Centre for London