96.7km, av. 19.1km/hr, max 47.2km/hr, CO2 offset 14.5kg, time bicyclating: 5hrs 2 mins
Sunday 13 March is a glorious, sunny day, but still really quite cold. London Bike & Beer group have organised a ride to Windsor and, although I’ve been to a gig on Saturday night and getting out of bed so early on a Sunday is a struggle, I’m glad I did.
I cycle on my own to Richmond Park – having done it a couple of times now I almost don’t need to check the map – but I am rather late and get the feeling they may have already left. I kind of dawdle around the cafe for a while, considering my options (maybe a few laps around the Park and then a relaxing ride back to SE London) when I spot Sophie, who’s organising this ride and who I know from previous events. It turns out I’ve been stood right next to the LB&B lot, I just don’t recognise any of them, since they’re pretty much all different to the people I cycled to Box Hill with.
These guys have been here for a while so as soon as I’ve found them, we’re off. This time the pace is more manageable, in the Park at least, and it’s quite a big group (maybe 18 of us at the beginning), so I don’t have the same worries about keeping up.
We also manage to go the whole day without any serious mechanical faults or even punctures slowing us down, which is a rarity on rides like this. And we have a nice easterly wind pushing us westward most of the time. There are still the long stops at shops and service stations for people to use the toilets, get a coffee and roll a cig. We also spend a good 15 minutes trying to figure out where a girl who got left behind after stopping to take photos of some ducks is, and whether she can catch us up. She never does, but we do later see her in Windsor.
I’m not entirely sure about the route we take, as it’s definitely not direct. It starts off similar to the Box Hill ride, passing Hampton Court Palace, and then through Walton on Thames and on towards Chertsey and, eventually, Chobham Common, where the landscape opens up. On a grassy spot by the road we take an impromptu lunch break, as some of the group are feeling the effects of the hills – which haven’t been massive but if you’re on a bike with only 3 or 5 (or no) gears, I guess they’re gonna be hard work. We also lose a couple of riders who turned up on mountain bikes and are finding the pace and/or the distance a challenge.
At one point we cycle past the same junction for a second time; I’m thinking either it’s a weird case of deja-vu or I’m going slightly mad, but apparently it’s all part of the plan. By this point Sophie has dropped out as she’s finding it tough going, which means we’re back in the hands of speedy Sam, who’s super-fit and has a snazzy road bike, which makes him super speedy. He and some other road-bikers tend to cycle off ahead then wait at junctions or turnings for everyone else to catch up. It’s kinda weird, and also means for the slower peeps trying to keep up, they never really get to rest and always feel like they’re holding everyone else back, which is why people tend to drop out, I think.
I like the idea of riding in a group, but the question of pace is always asked by people in advance of the rides, and the same response is always given – “we don’t go that fast and we’ll always make sure we never leave anyone behind”. The second part is true, but I definitely think there’s a case for organising separate rides for the speedy road-bike crew, and ‘leisure’ rides for people who enjoy cycling, just not that fast.
Maybe it’s me, but there’s also a strange lack of camaraderie on these rides. Sam’s a great navigator but maybe not such a great communicator, and people don’t really talk to each other that much. I guess the truth is, compared to the London to Paris ride, I just haven’t found ‘my people’ yet on these other rides – maybe I should organise one (or just go off on a long ride by myself for a change).
Riding through Windsor Great Park is good fun though. The view from the top of the hill down the Long Walk towards Windor Castle is pretty cool, and yep, we also see lots of deer. There’s a ridiculous moment when a park ranger asks us to split into two smaller groups – max 6 riders per group – because other park users can find cyclists “intimidating” (but Toad of Toad Hall, sorry, Prince Andrew, ramming the park gates in his Land Rover, that’s just fine).
We end the ride in Windsor and at this point I peel off on my own. I think it was the hanging around outside all the different food places with everyone trying to group-decide where to go, while starving, that prompted me to abandon them! I get some soup and bread from Eat and then head off for a little ride around town (not much to see, just some posh bird’s Castle), then onto Eton, where the whiff of privilege is pretty pungent. It’s ridiculous that this little anachronistic enclave continues to have such a strong impact on my life thanks to Cameron, Boris and the Royal Family.
I cycle to Datchet station, via yet another crossing of the Thames (must be about the 6th of the day!) to pick up the direct train back to Waterloo – the easterly wind means I’m in no mood to cycle back west into London. Despite having my gloves on all day (that’ll be that cold easterly wind again), when I get home I realise my nose is sunburnt. In March.