Leader: John Chamberlain
Assisted by marshals: Ellen Gates, John Hartley, Morten Schultz, Stefano Casalotti, Steve Richards, James Brander, Clare Shanks and Geoff Stilwell.
I met neighbours Morten, Oliver and his school friend Antonio riding outside the house, practising on the bike they’d borrowed from me.
We met up at Sidings Community Centre at 9:30 and waited for others to join us. Next to arrive was Steve who had come to help marshal. He was the last so we set off and arrived at Swiss Cottage soon after.
At Swiss Cottage James was dashing around with a track pump making sure bike tyres had enough air. It was good to see old friends there who I haven’t seen for a long time as they’d had their bikes stolen so hadn’t been able to ride for a while. And lovely to see new people. One family had come down from Cheltenham to join us for the day.
John started the Marshall briefings at 10. We were taking a new route to the main circuit because Bond Street was closed with Road Works. Two cycling PCSOs, Halil Abdullah and Harris Golap, were there to assist us, who said they would stop traffic at signal controlled junctions so the whole group could get across the junction in one go. Marshals would be primarily concerned with the cyclist’s safety and blocking traffic from getting mixed with the group.
We set off at 10:30. Ellen counted everyone as they passed and at this point there were 75 riders. We did pick up a few more on the way who preferred the safety of a large group so there were between 80 and 90 riders delivered into London.
We headed south and west, across Avenue Road and headed down Lisson Grove where we encountered the Westminster feeder group going in the same direction. The Marylebone Road junction was the trickiest bit as the police were insisting we let backed-up traffic past and there was a lot of it.
Generally speaking the motor traffic was very cooperative, considerate and patient and I don’t think it was all because of the presence of the uniformed police riding with us. There were occasional drivers who were advised to slow down but there were no angry horns or verbal exchanges. The pedestrians we passed were mostly cheering us on as we merrily rang our bells.
We crossed Bayswater Road into Hyde Park at Stanhope Place, where there is a narrow cycle crossing, without further incident. Of course, there is no motor traffic in Hyde Park, but as we were taking up the whole of the cycleway, cyclists coming in the other direction were a bit nonplussed and had to get out of our way.
John always says that leading a large group like this is like driving a very long, heavy goods vehicle. We’re a bit difficult to get around.
At Hyde Park Corner there are a number of signalled crossing points which the PCSOs were able to ferry us across successfully. At Wellington Arch John told everyone that although, we were effectively just across the road from the closed circuit where motor traffic is denied access for the day, we would rendezvous at 3pm at Spring Gardens just underneath Admiralty Arch.
Cyclists were then able to join the main ride down Constitution Hill, around Buckingham Palace and up The Mall to Trafalgar Square.
Having cycled all my life, I cycle around these places with impunity. It is always a joy to see so many people of all descriptions: young and old (and there were some very young children enjoying pedalling their tiny bikes alongside their parents), male and female, bikes of every size and shape. Later on the route I cycled alongside a man riding a Penny Farthing. Watching him I realised that every time we were stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the road, he had to get off the bike and climb back on again which was very tricky to do. I’d have fallen off every time. Later I saw another three around Buckingham Palace and I think another one elsewhere.
To me it seemed as if there were fewer cyclists on the road this year. The circuit was also different and seemed shorter, we didn’t get to see the Tower of London. I didn’t see anyone else I recognised all the way round.
I met up with fellow Marshall, Steve, at the Marshalls’ Area where we sat and ate our sandwiches together. There was a choice of Cheese and Pickle or Cheese and Pickle. I did manage to find a Vegan option. hummous and tomato which made a change. After lunch we went for a walk to the festival area in Green Park just to see what was going on. There was the usual display of Trial Bike ‘acrobatics’ on high and thin obstacles and several other areas for food and cycling interest. We stopped at the London Cycling Campaign stall where we signed the petition about educating motorists to allow more space when they pass cyclists and were given cycle clips with the slogan “Stay wider of the rider>>>”
Back at the marshals area we met up with John and Ellen and sat with them for a while until we set off to our rendezvous point under Admiralty Arch. The steward there was reluctant to break the barrier fence to let us through to the rendezvous point but one of the PCSOs managed to persuade him.
The return route was the same as previous years and apart from some congested bottlenecks around the works for the Crossrail Project and the Oxford Street crossing we managed to travel safely back to and around Regents Park to Swiss Cottage by about 4pm where we took some Panoramic photos of the whole group. The group showed their appreciation of the work of the Leader and Marshals and a very good day was had by all.
Report by Geoff Stilwell. Photos from Geoff Stilwell & Morten Shultz