I got a surprise in the post this week. Congratulations! You’ve been successful in gaining a place in the 2020 Prudential Ride London 100!
Interestingly, I don’t remember entering the ballot…that might have been done in a moment of wine-fuelled inspiration. I really must find out if there’s a way to disable the credit card autofill on Safari automatically when iPhone notices I’m using ApplePay in a drinking establishment.
What’s the Prudential Ride 100 though? I’m glad you asked. Happily, my Congratulations Letter came with a congratulatory magazine to explain what I’ve just stitched myself up with. I’m now looking forward to (shitting a brick about) riding my steel-framed vintage Peugeot over 100 miles of road through central London, out into the Surrey countryside and back again.
You cycle all the time, should be alright. That’s right. I cycle about 50 miles a week (6 miles to work, 6 miles back probably four out of five days). I spend about 40 minutes at a time on my bike, usually stationary at traffic lights, inhaling exhaust fumes from the bus in front of me. In the Ride 100 all the London roads are closed, so there will be no chance to catch my breath at the lights, but also no chance of being crushed under a cement lorry so comme ci comme ça.
Surrey countryside sounds nice though. Yes, it does. The helpful magazine mentions the rolling hills of Surrey. Excuse me, what? Hills? Hills!? There are no hills on my zone 1-2 commute! It’s OK, the magazine contains a training plan. Wait, no. It’s an advert for some kind of indoor Peletonesque video game. Right then.
You could just not do it. Ha ha. No. In this year, the year of Adventure, I couldn’t possibly say no to something Drunk Laura thought was a good idea in the heat of a moment. I mean, in all honesty Drunk Laura can be a liability, but she does have some good ideas (I did say some), and she thought I’d enjoy the challenge. Off we go!
Let me tell you something about bikes. I love cycling.
I think I was about 6 or 7 when I got my first bike, it was pink and white and had a white plastic basket with a picture of Barbie on the front.
I rode it with stabilisers until my dad taught me how to stop falling off sideways – turns out the secret is to stop looking over your shoulder to make sure your dad’s still holding you up. The brakes were great; my neighbour Corrine did a spectacular air flip off over the handlebar when she pulled the front brake a little too keenly on her descent down the steep hill at the top of our street.
Later I had a very cool BMX, it was a hand-me-down from my Auntie Susan who’d won it several years earlier in a competition in the local paper. It was miles too big for me at first, and the brake levers were stronger than my 10-year-old hands, so inevitably, I couldn’t stop the bike and ended up suspended in a hedge at the bottom of a steep hill.
I had that bike until I eventually outgrew it, in size and in style. When my friends started getting cool new mountain bikes with 21 gears they didn’t know how to use, I was still trailing along behind them on my single speed BMX, cursing every hill. The hipster in me would love to have that bike now.
There’s a sad thing that happens to teenage girls – certainly in the 1990s, there really weren’t any female athletes or sportswomxn to look up to. Sports and getting sweaty and a bit dirty were for boys. Girls didn’t see girls doing sports and being awesome anywhere in the media available to us at the time. Girls should be listening to CDs, straightening our hair with the iron and reading articles about roll-on lip gloss in Just 17. So that’s what I did. (I never used the iron; I was lucky enough to have a primitive form of hair straightener to scald myself with before I embraced my curls)
Anyway, I didn’t get on a bike again for many years.
In about 2007, having made the mistake of mentioning my new walking boots to a work colleague, I somehow found myself on the starting line of a charity mountain biking and hiking event. 30 miles of mountain biking on an actual Scottish mountain, immediately followed by 40+ miles of hiking along other Scottish mountains. I was vastly underprepared. There’s nothing quite like sitting down to cry for your mum at 2am in an inaccessible location with two hours of night time hill walking still in front of you.
By the time my toenails grew back, I’d forgotten about the agony of the experience, and – fitted with my new rose-tinted spectacles – I signed up again the next year. This time I was better prepared and maybe just a little over confident.
Hurtling at the speed of light down a long gravel hill towards a right angle bend my internal voice was repeating “don’t touch the brakes don’t touch the brakes don’t touch the brakes”, but my fingers didn’t get the message. I touched the brakes. My memory is of a slow-motion skid with one leg under the bike and one shoulder hard into the gravel for about 6 feet. The bike continued on another few feet.
Incredibly, I had only some grazing on the one leg, my jacket had taken most of the energy at the shoulder and huge amounts of adrenaline making my entire body tremble. I picked up the bike, had a quick look around to make sure no one had witnessed my error and tentatively got back in the saddle.
Something I think is worth saying here is that the fear of falling off your bike is far, far worse than actually falling off. When you fall off your bike, just pick it up, check for damage (you and the bike) and get back on.
When I first moved to London, I had romantic ideas about cycling around everywhere, but the reality wasn’t thus. I did have a bike, but since I’d always fancied myself on one of those lovely big Dutch bicycles with bell and basket, that’s what I bought. It was lime green, had a weird backward pedalling braking system I couldn’t get to grips with and weighed approximately the same as a Routemaster. I also had a morbid fear of cycling in city traffic, so I only used it to go around the park a few times.
Eventually, I picked up enough courage to try cycling to work. I bought the coolest hybrid (that’s a bit of a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike for the uninitiated) I could get using the Cycle to Work scheme, and did some research on what kit a sensible cyclist should have. Spoiler – it’s lights and a helmet.
I also discovered that most borough councils in London provide free cycle training to residents. I signed up for the intermediate course and spent half a Saturday pedalling around Hackney Wick with my fellow trainee Tony learning how to ride in traffic.
A good part of my journey to work was along a cycle path in east London with no other traffic and the rest was in the separate cycle lane on the main road all the way to the office. Easy peasy.
The only downside was that I knew how cool my bike looked and every time I left it locked up anywhere, I’d worry constantly about returning to find it stolen. This fear consumed me for a whole year. Then one day I returned to find my bike stolen, so there was nothing to worry about after that.
I needed a new bike. But not a new new bike. I didn’t want to go through that again! Enter The Bike Project. The year before, I’d donated my lime picnic bike to them, so I knew they both collected bikes to donate to refugees and also sold trendy bikes to hipsters (ahem), to raise funds for fixing up more bikes, teaching new bike owners how to ride and running the shop and website. (They’re amazing and you should check out the link to see more about what they do)
I got my first (and current) road bike, which I adore now, although I was terrified riding home in the pouring rain on slick tyres when I picked it up.
I love cycling. In London I can get wherever I want to go faster on my bike than by any other means. I can nip between lanes of waiting traffic to be first off the lights, I can take a canal path shortcut and the occasional pavement (shh!) to get where I want to be. In London there really aren’t any hills. If you’ve been paying attention to this story, you’ll have noticed that I have history with hills.
Back to the Ride 100, the limited amount of research I’ve done on this surprise challenge from my past, drunk self says the two hills I need to know about are Leith Hill and Box Hill. These are on road, so no gravel to worry about, but there is a descent on each, so I’ll have to look out for that front brake lever. There’s also the matter of other cyclists to contend with.
London cyclists are mental. They often don’t wear helmets, or use lights in the dark. They’ve little or no consideration for anything going on outside of their oversized headphones (in traffic?!), they care not for a red light, nor a green man. Mental. I’m obviously a sensible cyclist, one who observes the rules of the road for the most part (ignoring the occasional pavement trespass). The congratulatory magazine has interviews with past participants who all claim to have an incredible time. They remind me of myself, after my toenails had grown back in, all nostalgic and with their chafing burns a too distant memory.
100 miles is a long time to spend in the saddle. Ouch. Thanks, Drunk Laura.