In the end it was all Marcus' fault: he posted "Fabulous ride. Frustrating, slow, impossible to navigate – but just great fun." It sounded too much like a ride where the scenery was more important than the time, and the scenery consisted of dozens of London's best sights. I had to ride it!
I entered late on Saturday and Bill, the organiser, emailed over the route sheet — seven pages of it for a mere 105km!! I took a routesheet of the same length on Paris-Brest-Paris, and that's 12 times longer!! I also knew that GPS would be unreliable with the satellite signals bouncing around between the tall buildings.
From the outset the challenge of this ride definitely looked to be the navigation: there are plenty of audaxes where the navigation is straightforward, but the distance is quite far; London Sightseer is the exact opposite: the navigation was going to be tortuous, but the distance is really not far at all — I was looking forward to the challenge!
A quick check of the train times and I realised there was no option, I wouldn't be able to get there by train and ride back to turn it into a 200 (ECE) — to be honest in the end it was good I didn't try. For only the second time this season I drove to the start in West London.
The route starts near Twickenham and heads east on the north bank of the River Thames to Olympic Park in Stratford, East London. The only proper control was in the café of the velodrome, where we were met by Bill the org. The return route is then mostly on the southern bank of the Thames to Hampton Court Palace and thru Bushey Park to arrivée.
The start was a low-key affair even for audax — as a 100km brevet populaire there are no points on offer, so we set off as we were ready. I didn't know anyone at the start, so I pedalled off on my own, aiming for nothing more than to enjoy myself. I quickly caught and passed a few other riders after passing under Twickenham bridge and ended up riding on my own for quite a way, far further than I thought I would. The twists and turns in the first section aren't so bad and I made good progress to Bayswater Road.
At the turn off Bayswater Road into Hyde Park, it became apparent that there's a down-side to a detailed and complicated routesheet: some riders would spend more time looking at the routeseheet and worrying about when they had to turn next, rather than looking at the sights, as suggested by the title of the ride! I rode behind a couple of gents and they seemed utterly oblivious to the fact they were passing Kensington Palace on their right, one of the great houses of the British aristocracy and royalty from the early 17th century to today. Instead they were looking left at Round Pond, trying to work out which path to turn down
Nevertheless, Hyde Park is the Central Park of London: a huge open space bang in the middle of 10 million people's homes and livelihoods. In my eagerness to capture the Shard and London Eye poking up on the horizon, like alien invaders, I missed the Diana Memorial on my left — I still have never seen it. I spotted Albert on my right, though:
The route takes in Buckingham Palace, of course, and in spite of a gazillion tourists hoping to see the Queen — look at the flag, folks, it's the Union Flag therefore she's not home! — I managed a wee bike shot in front of the gates:
The tarmac around Buck House is dyed red, because the Queen should always parade on the red carpet — we visited the State Rooms a week before and had this explained to us. The whole length of the Mall up to Admiralty Arch has a red surface, and I'm sure I spotted young Prince George on an electric buggy playing in the street watched by a police escort, but I could be wrong.
Swinging past Trafalgar Square and turning in past St Martin in the Fields (no fields any longer, sadly), the Palladian style of the architecture is obvious (once it's been pointed out in an apposite article). The National Portrait Gallery also exhibits the same.
Around the Aldwych and into the infamous Fleet Street — the home of the High Court, as well as former home of the national papers (they've moved east out of the centre to where there's more space). This is also the UK's smallest and flattest/lowest county — the City of London. St Paul's Cathedral with the London Stock Exchange next door, The Bank of England, and the HQs of most of the major banks in the UK and many from around the world all reside in this tiny county barely 3km across.
A quick detour through Leadenhall Market just for the sake of it, a fleeting glimpse of the Gherkin and then it's through the backstreets to Whitechapel. Here we had a diversion: a road had been closed because a window had crashed down into the street and there was glass everywhere. I carried the Brompton over the worst of it — no point risking a puncture for the sake of a few seconds.
Although it looks like we're heading to cross Tower Bridge, we head down the side of it to St Katherine Docks, where we're treated to a great view of The Tower of London, imported by the Norman invaders after William conquered Harold in 1066 and "was resented as a symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite" (Wikipedia).
Tower Bridge is a remarkably modern bridge in spite of its outer stone casement designed to complement the Tower adjacent; it's a shame we don't get to ride across it, but we get great views of it from below, as to some Japanese tourists sat painting it from St Katherine Docks.
A brief view of Canary Wharf across one of the loops of the River Thames and we head northwest to Stratford and the Olympic Park. I didn't go to the Olympics in 2012, something I will live to regret, I'm sure, and I was surprised at the sheer scale of the place! It is a fair old ride from one end to the other, as we were to meet the organiser in the vélodrome for a stamp in the card and some lunch.
The visit inside the vélodrome was another first for me: they were running track-taster sessions and it got me thinking …
The second half of the route takes a more southerly approach across London in the reverse east-west direction. While at lunch, Judith, a friend, mentioned that her GPS had frtzed itself and asked whether she could tag along with me, as I seemed to know where I was going — I thought the company would be most welcome, having ridden largely on my own to the halfway point.
I've bumped into Judith many times over the years, recognisable by her usual little-wheeled, custom Moulton "Casper", or else a hub-geared mountain bike in grotty weather. Usually, though, she's quicker than I am and so it's a fleeting hellooo across a car park, but not today. Judith is one of the most experienced cyclists in the country and is approaching 300,000 miles of recorded distance ridden!
The route heads south directly towards Canary Wharf. A bit of detour to see the towers at their best — the whole ride is made up of detours to get the best vantage points, which is why the routesheet is so long! From Canary Wharf the route heads right to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs and an elevator down into the ground: we had to walk our bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the River Thames to Greenwich — it's just 2m wide and a bit claustrophobic for some.
At the far side we popped back out into the middle of a carnival: the area around The Cutty Sark is closed to traffic and a Jazz Carnival was taking place. We headed through the throngs and climbed up through Greenwich Park to the observatory at he top, which overlooks the Old Royal Naval College and the Isle of Dogs.
Now that we're on the south bank, the buildings are much more crowded together, forming tall, narrow canyons. These building have long been converted into flats and offices, but all those vertical reflective surfaces bounce the GPS signals around, causing my Garmin to think I was 100m to the right, somewhere out in the Thames!!
We almost lost the trail, but a narrow path, suspended from the side of the buildings led us onwards, and through a tight sally port onto the Thames bank promenade. We almost missed the archway back onto the road parallel and then it was back into the canyons.
In these canyon sections we had to rely had to rely exclusively on the routesheet, but due to its complexity and being in London traffic and/or London tourists, it was almost impossible to follow while riding! We managed, though, just about, although at times we had to walk due to the sheer volume of people out on this glorious September afternoon.
The route pops out of the canyons at the southern end of London Bridge and then heads along the Queens Walk River Path past City Hall (the squashed egg), HMS Belfast and the Tate Modern and on past the National Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye. Then a right turn onto Westminster Bridge to pass Big Ben's Elizabeth Tower and the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, before heading along Embankment.
A quick river crossing to visit Battersea Park and then cross back to the north bank, but not the final crossing of the day.
We're definitely heading into the suburbs now, but there are more sights to see. We cross back to the south bank at Putney and, after a missed turn, head across Richmond Park — a huge deer forest now full of people out for a weekend wander in the unseasonably warm weather. We cross back to the north bank via the footbridge at Tedington and pass Tedington Studios, but we can't see anything as fences surround the buildings for some renovation work.
We pick up the Riverside Path that heads around Hampton Court Park, a bit of a dirt track, but good enough to ride the Brompton along. Judith is moving swiftly too on her Moulton, the suspension soaking up the bumps gracefully — you could see the suspension in action, it was sublime to watch! We pick up a couple of Judith's friends along the way.
We turned into Hampton Court Palace through a side gate and rode past the front of this great palace — I visited a few weeks previously with my wife and kids, but it's still an astounding piece of architecture.
It's then a short spin through Bushy Park and we're at the arrivée, 106km ridden in a silly-slow time of 7 hours and 44 minutes — all that chicanery and sightseeing really dulls the speed, and not helped by regularly stopping to take photos. But what fun!
This is a spectacularly silly ride, absolutely bonkers! The route is positively gratuitous in the number of unnecessary diversions it takes — oh, but the joy of the sightful discoveries at every one, all those guidebook scenes, it's mesmeric! This is a ride to do again and again — it's only a 100km BP, so no points, but who cares? It's brilliant!