The London Nightrider is a 100 km (62 miles) charity-based ride around London in the middle of the night! The attraction for me was that it gave me a rare opportunity to cycle round some of the areas where I grew up, or where I have worked or where I just hung out. Many of the roads I had cycled on as a kid (doing my paper round, etc), while others were part of various commuting routes I used to use when I worked in London.
It’s not a sportive, so there were no timing chips or Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. A large number of the participants were not ‘hard-core cyclists’, and it’s to those individuals that I raise my hat. They are the ones who surely found it quite a challenge. They deserve congratulating. In fact I felt a bit of a fraud. There I was, supposedly undertaking a significant challenge in order to raise money for a good cause, whereas the reality was that this ride was like a walk in the park for me.
Riding around the greatest city in the world is a whole lot different to riding around country lanes. There is so much more to look at. I don’t know how many participants there were but it was probably something like 4000. There were bikes literally all over the roads. And the really excellent thing was that for the whole of the 100k, I didn’t see a single incident of a driver showing signs of frustration. In fact all the other road users were really considerate and patient.
The main difference between this ride and my normal rides was having to frequently stop at traffic lights. On my usual routes through the countryside I could quite conceivably (and have done) cycle all the way to Dymchurch without unclipping my pedals!
The Nightrider route allowed you to start from either Alexander Palace in the North, or from Crystal Palace in South London. I chose the latter, and arrived there at about 11:00 PM. As I approached the car park, I lowered my car window and waved my car parking reservation at the steward, only to be told “the car park is full”. “What was the point of paying £5 to reserve a space?” I asked. “For love” was his irreverent reply! Luckily, there was plenty of other parking just nearby so I didn’t push the point.
The weather was just about as perfect as could be hoped for. It was a mild and dry night with almost no wind. It was slightly muggy. The route started from Crystal Palace Park, on the Anerley Hill side, just a short distance from where I had lived the first few years of my life. Then it made its way through Sydenham and Downham to Lee, where I had also lived, about 30 years ago. In fact my parents still live there and they even came out to wave at me and the passing cyclists as we passed the end of their road, even though it was gone midnight! Thanks Mum and Dad for your support!
We then made our way through Blackheath, Greenwich and Deptford and on to another area where I grew up between the ages of 4-13, namely Southwark Park and Bermondsey. Then it was on towards the city. The route passed lots of great sights like Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, etc.
Equally, we often found ourselves cycling round some pretty insignificant back streets, which seemed a bit odd. There were several feed stations along the route. I only stopped at the one that was situated at the Olympic Village in Stratford.
There were only three notable climbs on this ride:
- The road through Alexandra Park up to ‘Ali Pali’
- The road up to Hampstead Heath
- The climb from Dulwich up to Crystal Palace at the end
None of them were in any way ‘epic’, but they were steep enough to have loads of ‘riders’ walking up them. The descent down from Hampstead Heath was amazing. Two miles of steady downhill from the heath via Fitzjohn’s Avenue down to Swiss Cottage. It was great to be able to experience this without traffic.
Dawn was breaking around about the time we were at Hampstead Heath and by the time we hit Piccadilly it was quite light.
One thing that really surprised me was just how busy it was in London at 5AM on a Sunday morning. There was loads of traffic, lots of people around, buses, restaurants open, etc. It was like Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour!
About five minutes after that we rode onto Waterloo Bridge to be greeted with the most amazing sunrise. The photos and video don’t really do it justice. Needless to say, nearly everyone stopped to take in the view.
Another photo opportunity over I set off again and was soon riding down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace
We looped around St James Park, then crossed the Thames for the final time, courtesy of Lambeth Bridge. Then it was past the Oval, through Brixton and Dulwich and one final climb up to Crystal Palace to the finish by about 6:35AM. I then queued for a much needed bacon roll. It was a really beautiful sunny warm morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Although I no longer live there, London will always be my ‘home town’, so I loved it from that aspect. It was also much more eventful, in terms of things to look at, than your average ride down country lanes, which can, dare I say it, get a bit boring. The only regret is that I wish I had taken more video, especially at the start.
I would like to thank all the people that sponsored me and helped me to raise £270 for The British Red Cross.