Total distance: 93km, average 17.5km/hr, max 48.6km/hr,
Calories: 1223, C02: 13. 95, Time on bike: 5hr 19mins
In my ongoing search for fun group cycle rides, this weekend I joined up with the Lewisham Cyclists group for one of their regular-ish visits to the Home Counties.
It was kind of lucky really; during the week I’d been talking about how Lewisham Cyclist events never seem to pop up on Facebook these days, and it was late on Friday evening when I remembered to check them out for upcoming events. And there, by chance, was a ride advertised for the next morning, leaving Blackfriars just after 9am! Fortunately I hadn’t been down the pub all evening, so this seemed do-able if I could get up in time.
Next morning, it’s a sunny start in London (and not as cold as last weekend) so I decide to go for it. Quick breakfast and then I’m off, heading into town via the nice quiet back route through Surrey Quays and Southwark Park, which is always nice at this time of day.
At Blackfriars I meet a lady called Fiona, who’s also just arrived. She says the rest of the group have gone up to the platform. We get our tickets then take our bikes up the escalator to join them. Breakin’ the law!
They’re certainly an older bunch than the Beer and Bike crew, but they seem friendly enough. I introduce myself to Jane, the lead rider and a well-known voice on cycling issues in SE London, and she also is welcoming and friendly. On the train I don’t talk too much and use the time to rest my eyes a little, shall we say.
We get off at a station called Harpenden and assemble outside. Jane gives a brief run through the route, explains that we’ll try and keep moving as much as possible, people will mark turnings and junctions, there’ll be a back marker (Bob) and there’ll be no blocking to try and keep the group together. There’s 14 of us in total, which turns out to be quite a nice, manageable number.
And then we’re off. The pace is somewhere between leisurely and comfortable; I soon warm up but am never struggling to keep up. Again, most people have road bikes but it’s definitely a group of mixed ability. There are occasional stops, mostly just at junctions when Jane needs to check the route. The terrain is good for cycling; there are a few hills but nothing too taxing, and the roads are generally quiet. The rolling hills of the Chilterns, even at this time of year, provide great scenery.
The highlight of the first half of the day is passing Whipsnade Zoo and seeing kangaroos, quickly followed by a spectacular landscape view and a great downhill section.
We have lunch at a cosy little pub, The Old Swan, in Cheddington. It has a real fire and is showing the lunchtime football game (which turns out to be a crazy 4-5 win to Liverpool over Norwich). There’s nothing vegan on the menu (yes, I’m doing #Veganuary, it’s an actual real thing) so I order chips and combine it with my cold sweet potato and beetroot risotto from last night. Washed down with a black coffee.
Over lunch, I get to know a few more of the crowd and there’s some anecdotes about viagra and sharing a name with a wanted IRA terrorist in the 80s… Most seem to know each other pretty well, some have even done this ride before (the group do the same rides at roughly the same time each year), but they’re definitely a friendly bunch.
One girl drops out at lunch; she’s on a brand new bike and can’t get out of her easiest gear, which means she’s finding it hard to put on any speed. She’s also never cycled this far before, so is having double the hard time. A shame for her, but definitely a lesson for anyone wanting to do a long ride with a new bike.
The afternoon brings fine views of the Whipsnade Lion when we reach Ivinghoe Beacon, but also a puncture and, more worryingly, an accident. I don’t see it happen, but a tall South African guy comes off his bike apparently while riding in a group of 4 or 5; perhaps someone ahead of him did something suddenly and he had to swerve to avoid it.
I’m not sure of the exact details but luckily he is (eventually) OK and able to ride on. It looks like his ruck-sack took most of the force, as it’s badly shredded. His accident does make me think about the safety of riding in ‘packs’ – especially downhill or at speed – and I try and keep a little extra distance between myself and the person in front for the rest of the ride!
There are no more dramas after this but it does put us back an hour or so, which means it’s getting dark and cold as we make our way back to the railway station. By this point we’ve somehow become separated into two smaller groups but everyone manages to find their way back OK.
Then it’s hot (black) tea, sweets, and a train that whisks us back to City Thameslink in no time. From here I’m hoping Jane will guide me through Burgess Park (I’ve never quite figured this route out!) but I lose her when saying goodbye to everyone.
I cycle off anyway seeing if I can figure it out myself. At Elephant & Castle I get a little confused by all the new cycleways and road closures, ending up on a road that is most definitely completely closed. Rather than turn back, I end up cycling through the grounds of a Baptist church which luckily has its gate open.
Back on track, I pick up the backstreet route towards Peckham and then, as if by magic, I see Jane and another guy up ahead, just about to go into Burgess Park. It’s completely dark in the park, so I’m not sure I could navigate it again in daylight, but we end up on a cool little path that used to be the old Surrey Canal (which flowed all the way to Peckham back in the day). It plops you out just by Peckham Library and the Peace Wall where, Jane tells me, there’s an application in for a huge new block of flats to replace the arch structure that you cycle under at the moment. Back in Peckham and knowing exactly where I am, I head off home. Tired, yes, but not dead on my feet like I was last week.
It’s been a good day and a good ride. As you might expect, they’re much more sensible and grown-up than Bike & Beer, but I like the Lewisham Cyclists and reckon I’ll ride with them again too.