‘How much training have we all done?’ Margo asked nervously as we assembled in the kitchen before cycling to Crystal Palace Park to begin Nightrider London. Two of the group had managed a 15-mile training ride, one had limped through an 8-mile ride, another had clocked up 50kms as a bike volunteer for Moonwalk London.
I said nothing. My bike and I knew we’d last been out together the previous summer. I was counting on muscle memory, spin classes (abandoned six months earlier), and the occasional scoot to and from the shops on my hybrid bike to get me through.
I love cycling. It gives me a real sense of freedom: cycling from door-to-door without having to rely on public transport or taxis. And I love how riding a bike in the city or the countryside gives you sights and sounds you’d miss sitting in a car, bus, train or taxi – and you get to feel the weather! So Nightrider is the perfect bike ride for me: 100km around the streets of London, starting late on Saturday night and finishing early on Sunday morning.
A few days before I’d checked the distance for the Olympic women’s road cycling event, 140kms, worked out the route to/from Crystal Palace Park and realised I *just* needed to cycle another 25kms to clock up the Olympic distance and complete my first event. How hard could it be?
Our band of five left the park at 11pm and almost immediately became separated. We’d agreed to meet at each stop – to refuel and check how everyone was doing. So I chatted to anyone I found myself cycling beside: a big hello to the man cycling for Amber Trust! Tooley St was the first stop and our group arrived within 10mins of each other. I gave a shout-out to the cycling Elvis, tucked into a Tunnock’s, and headed off across Tower Bridge.
After the quiet suburban streets of south east London, the city was bright and buzzing: people lurching between bars and clubs called out support and cheered us on, streets familiar during the day took on a different complexion at night. Traffic became gridlocked around the approach to Rotherhithe Tunnel and I was grateful to be in a mass of cyclists negotiating some tricky junctions. Cobbles are not a cyclist’s friend and Limehouse has more than its fair share. Sometime around 1am I cycled past a woman walking home alone, shoes dangling from her wrist.
My tactic for Canary Wharf is to get in and out as fast as possible – this applies during the day or night. The only people on the streets were security guards. Leaving behind the glass towers, we cycled past revellers falling in and out of a nightclub and the temperature dropped as we arrived in the open space of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The Velodrome at Lee Valley Velo Park was the midpoint pit stop. We devoured hot drinks and pastries, added some layers, and set off across east and north London.
Alexandra Palace is a lovely spot to watch day break over London but you have to get up there first. I cranked through the gears and arrived at the top to see the day hadn’t yet broken and the sky was heavy with clouds. Spinning down through the park I remembered the climb to Highgate and Hampstead and decided not to mention it to the first-time-Nightriders. Day arrived as we moved through the wilds of north west London and St John’s Wood, we skirted Lord’s Cricket Ground and Regent’s Park and hurtled along the streets of Marylebone. We passed cars, engines purring, outside a nightclub in Mayfair and a cyclist called out: ‘I feel like I’m doing the whole of the Monopoly board!’.
We crossed the Thames for the second time – but the first time in daylight. I noticed a group of cyclists who’d stopped on Waterloo Bridge and looked to my left: a flotilla of hot air balloons were drifting across the sky. We stopped to watch the balloons and take a few photos, then pushed on to the last stop at the Imperial War Museum. After self-medicating with jelly babies, we turned right over Westminster Bridge then left over Vauxhall Bridge to cycle past Oval Cricket Ground and on to Brixton. We bypassed a second velodrome, at Herne Hill (and expect to hear more about the magnificent Herne Hill velodrome, only venue from the 1948 Olympic Games still in use, in future Freyathlon escapades), and weaved through Dulwich to make our final ascent on Crystal Palace. ‘Hoo-Fricking-Rah’, said the man cycling beside me as we approached the finish line.
Which wasn’t the finish line for me. Our group cycled back to Catford, home to the all-seeing Catford Cat, and I waved goodbye to begin ploughing along the Waterlink Way, a 12km route following the rivers Pool and Ravensbourne through parks and green spaces, to accrue the final 25kms I needed. I kept a close eye on my speedo, willing it to move, and even started to think it was broken. Eventually it hit the magic number, 140kms, and I turned for home in perfect time for a victor’s breakfast: scrambled eggs, mushrooms, muffins.
I finished off the jelly babies, rehydrated, took a few photos, showered and fell into bed. I’d finished my first Freyathlon event.
Road cycling. 140kms. 6/7 June 2015
TeamFreya: Alyson, George, Margo, Trace
Cost: £39 registration fee