It was hard to believe that the day had arrived. It was back in January this year when I grabbed to opportunity to take part in the London Nightrider and raise money for charity. Here I was, waiting at Newark station for the 20:01 to take me to London King’s Cross.
I had booked my bike on the train and was told to wait at the very top end of the platform, I cut a very lonely figure! The train arrived and the guard opened the door for my bike. There were proper bike racks with clip locks so that your bike was secure, very impressed. I jumped out and the guard told me to jump into first class, which was the next carriage, carriage M. My seat was book in carriage C! it was a LONG walk to get to my seat and negotiate my way while the train was doing 100+ mph! It has been a while since I travelled on a main line train and was amazed. Not only was it smart and clean but had free Wi-Fi and power points to charge mobile phone laptops etc.
Kings Cross station is huge, it is a main line station for people coming as far a field as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, York and Leeds. Always bustling and with an international atmosphere. On my journey home I had a couple of hours here and it was a wonderful place to people watch and try to guess where people may be from. The station itself is an amazing mix of traditional station with a very modern style, I loved the roof.
It was a short walk across the road to St Pancras station which would take me to the Olympic park and the Velo stadium. I shoved my bike in the lift and went up to the second floor to locate the platform I needed. I spotted a couple of blokes with bikes and it was not hard to figure out where they were going. ‘Nightrider?’ I asked and was not surprised to get a positive reply. We made our way to the front carriage where there was loads of room for bikes and got chatting. They were from Stevenage and had travelled by train but were going to cycle home after doing the Nightrider! That was an additional 37 miles! Their route was going to be along the tow path of the Lee river, nice one.
I have only ever seen the Olympic park on TV and this was my first time there and its amazing. It was for the 2012 Olympics and a few years later means that all the landscaping has got established, its worth a visit. We got to the Velo Stadium and made our way through scenes of organised chaos while people got ready and registered.
Me, in high-vis vest, in the background you can see the archway which is the start line and there were bikes everywhere! My start time was 23:30 and so had an hour spare, the lads I met went earlier due to them cycling back home afterwards. I used the time to make sure I was all ready, settle myself and have a quick bite and a drink. Soon the time came for me to get to the marshalling area and to start, gulp!
We lined up and had a bit of a briefing which included ensuring you knew which signs to follow! The one thing the guy said which struck a chord for me was that he said it was not a race and just go out and enjoy the ride. This was something that I had already decided I was going to do, I wanted to go and absorb the WHOLE thing, not just a case of getting to the other end. Oh and he mentioned that the traffic was worse than they estimated, huge understatement! Once we got out of the Olympic park it was apparent that the traffic in London was going to be like it is at any other time of day, heaving. We cycled through areas which I like to think are ‘proper London’, meaning not ‘touristy’. Hackney, Highbury & Islington, across the Caledonian Road and into Camden. There were people everywhere, out for a Saturday night clubbing, it was an amazing atmosphere. The route then took us around the top of Regents Park and London Zoo.
The first street we came into was Baker Street and was able to give a wave to Sherlock at 221b! As I mentioned before I wanted to absorb the whole experience and it seemed to me that the other riders I was with were oblivious to some of the landmarks and areas we were in, where I was trying to take as much in as I could. We skirted around the U.S embassy, Grosvenor Square and then Berkeley Square (where I understand a Nightingale once sang!) Once we got to The Ritz the traffic was really bad and we had to start to weave a bit through the standing traffic just to make any progress. Piccadilly Circus was gridlocked.
As we made our way through the traffic we started going through Shaftesbury Avenue and the West End theatre area. There were people everywhere, many nightclubs open with people stood outside smoking. By now there was a group of about 60 riders which had gathered due to the traffic. We stopped at one set of lights right next to a lively nightclub and there were lots of people stood outside. One girl shouted across to us asking what we were up to, nobody spoke so I shouted back that we were taking part in a charity bike ride. Lots of questions followed including, ‘how far?’ When I told her that in our group we were doing 40 miles she said in a broad London accent, ‘Your ‘avin a larff!’ At this points the lights changed green and I realised I was holding people up so I said goodbye to the girl and then she and all the other ‘clubbers’ started cheering. This then caused the revellers in the nightclub on the other side of the road to start cheering, this then caused a ripple effect all along the road we were cycling and for the next 15 minutes we were being cheered on by folk who probably didn’t know why they were cheering! It was brilliant and for me a real stand out moment.
I arrived at the halfway point, The Imperial War Museum and not a moment too soon. Drinking lots of water has its consequences!! At this point I have a big confession to make, I seriously underestimated what the temperature was going to be like. I wore shorts and my legs were fine, didn’t feel cold at all, unfortunately my top half was really cold. I had long sleeve tops but they were thin and also I had fingerless cycling gloves which were ok but my fingers were frozen. It meant that I didn’t take anywhere as many photos that I was hoping to as I nearly dropped my phone twice while taking pictures. I didn’t hang about long at the break point and got back to it.
The rest of the ride took me past so many iconic landmarks. Sights, sounds and smells that you only appreciate if you are on foot or on a bike. I must admit I got a bit choked up as I cycled over tower bridge and I was saying to myself, ‘I AM CYCLING OVER TOWER BRIDGE!!!!!!’
London at night on a bike was a whole new level of experience for me. I have been to the Capital many times, even at night, but this was something else. We left the city and headed into the famous Docklands area Including Canary Wharf. The streets around here were deserted, this is a largely business district, we negotiated our way through leviathan tower blocks of glass and lights. The finish point was back at the Olympic stadium and as I crossed the finish line I had mixed feelings of pride and achievement but tinged with a bit of sadness that it was over. Would I do it again, you bet. I would encourage anyone to have a go, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Just remember to take some warm clothes!