Tuesday 22 September 2009

Skyride, central London

It only comes around once a year, so it is well worth taking this opportunity to ride past many of central London's most famous landmarks on traffic-free roads. Unfortunately, you'll be joined by tens of thousands of other cyclists on the route from Buckingham Palace along the Mall, which then skirts Trafalgar Square before swooping down Northumberland Avenue to the Victoria Embankment. It is tempting to watch the cruise boats on the river, but you'll need to keep your eyes trained on the kids swerving around in front of you and the human traffic-lights who frequently raise their stop signs to let pedestrians cross the road. A mile or so downstream, the route turns up to St. Paul's Cathedral, before looping through part of the City, where the mass of cyclists thins out a little. You pass an enthusiastic band of drummers as you enter the "noise zone" inside the Upper Thames Street Tunnel where all the cyclists ring their bells and shout - a lot of fun. Then you head to the Tower of London where you do a sharp turn into the return trip directly along the river, making for a 15 kilometer round trip.

Daredevil teenagers
Your fellow cyclists will be an eclectic bunch ranging from young families riding slowly in formation to lycra-clad, Tour de France types weaving through the traffic. You might see daredevil teenagers doing wheelies, the odd unicyclist and perhaps a Victorian gentleman riding on a penny farthing. On route, there are a few sound systems playing dance music and radio-style DJs with microphones chattering about the significance of the event. In the city, you might pass a town crier in full regalia and at the Tower of London, Sky lays on a group of cheerleaders in skimpy outfits. You'll also pass photographers taking pics of the cyclists, which you can find on the Web later, if you can remember when they were taken. Before or after the ride, head into St. James Park to get a free luminous vest and goody bag containing gimmicky products such as watermelon juice and sugar-coated cereals. Here, you can sit amid the fallen leaves and watch the musicians on stilts in bizarre costumes. On the other side of The Mall, young dudes demonstrate BMX stunts. Skyride is too popular for its own good - you will likely see some collisions and even some ambulances in attendance, especially around the slope looping back from Tower of London, which may lead to the route closing temporarily and a big cycle-jam. Even so, it does feels really good to ride through the heart of London without a car in sight. 8/10