Some rides are good because they’re tough, and challenging (Fred Whitton, I’m coming for you someday). Some are good because they’re sociable. Some are good because of the route, or the scenery, or the sense of achievement. And then some are bad because of the weather, or the route, or poor organisation.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the London Revolution. But it turned out to be a mixture of all of those. Some good, some bad. Some challenging, and some easy. Some good routes, and some bad. And a lot of good people.
There are a few reasonably long and steep climbs – two on day 1, and another on day 2. The challenge is rather in doing 85 miles the day after doing 100 on the first. I hadn’t done that sort of thing since LEJOG five years ago.
Parts of the route were terrible – rough, potholed tar that shook the bikes, and resulted in a number of broken spokes (fortunately not for me). Steep descents on wet, debris-strewn roads that really should have been rerouted given the forecast of rain overnight. Sections going through busy parts of London, where the traffic is annoying, and the traffic lights more so. But, just like the girl with the curl, when it was good, it was very good indeed. Winding through the wooded hills south of London, on narrow lanes. Up and down the Chiltern hills, with beautiful vistas left and right, fields, and chocolate box villages. I’m still surprised by the extent to which I’m still surprised by the beauty of the English countryside. It’s just unfortunate that being so close to London means that you’re close to hordes of people. I started to dread coming to a junction, and finding that I’d left the peace and serenity of nowhere behind, and was once again surrounded by the swarm of civilisation.
Part of the experience that was new to me was camping overnight on an organised ride. When you have over 1,000 people to house in small two-man tents (now there’s an industry that needs to buck up on its advertising standards), the result looks something like this:
That doesn’t even begin to do it justice. It felt like it went on forever. Of course, given the seemingly endless number of possibilities, the guy who snored the loudest had to be put into the tent next to mine. So there I was trying to fall asleep at 3:30 in the morning, with rain falling above, and The Snorer, slowly, with each breath, building up in volume, intensity and exertion to climax in a cataclysmic pulmonary explosion of flailing membranes and phlegm. And then, for a few seconds, bliss! silence!, until his Sisyphean onslaught began again. Miraculously, I managed to make a dash for it during an interlude, and escaped to dreamland in an impressively nimble fashion.
I could go on about the queue for the showers (I missed it, coming in a couple of hours before the rush), or for breakfast in the morning (waking at 5:30 does have its advantages (no, just one advantage)), but you get the idea – there’s a lot of people here.
And it’s the people that I think will be the lasting memory for me. Because this wasn’t a ride where you feel the need to push yourself and compete. I took it relatively easy on Day 1, and finished in the top 2%. This is a ride for the experience, to enjoy, to savour, to talk to and meet others. Like Dave, who I met in the car park before anything had happened. He’s only got one leg, and has severe burns on his upper body. I helped him get his arm warmers on his left arm, because his right one doesn’t work properly. But he did the whole ride. Or another guy whose name I didn’t get, but has a rare blood disease. He’s on drugs that temporarily maintain his current state of health, but at some point any day they’ll stop working suddenly, and he’ll just keel over. He just did Day 1, but will be doing a London to Paris next month, raising money for the Bloodwise charity. I get a thrill out of hearing about people like that, never mind actually riding with them.
So all in all, though – a memorable experience. It’s slickly organised, well supported, and is definitely worth doing. Just use wider tyres, take it easy, and interact. This is a sportive which is definitely not a race – if it’s treated as a couple of day’s riding with mates, you’ll get the most out of it.