With two pairs of legs powering us along the 100-mile course, we should have crossed the finish line at under six hours, but instead the Team Thompson tandem finished in seven and half hours due to unavoidable hold-ups.
Slightly disappointing time-wise due to a crowded, crash-heavy course (not us, thankfully), but with shouts of ‘Go tandem!’ ringing in our ears as we powered our way round the picturesque circuit of central London and the Surrey Hills on a bicycle made for two, this year’s traffic-free RideLondon-Surrey 100 was another splendid day out.
Roadside support – from friends, our chosen charity (Muscular Dystrophy UK: donations still welcome!), RideLondon-Surrey volunteers and the hugely encouraging residents who came out of their homes to cheer us all on. Massive thanks to them all.
The joy of tandem – Everyone loves a tandem, it turns out, and it was heartwarming to put a smile on so many faces as we pedalled by. Solo riders admitted they were a bit jealous of all the attention we attracted!
Having two on a bike leaves one (me, the stoker at the back) free to wave while the other (my husband Piers, the pilot at the front) steers, changes gear and worries about braking. We both pedal like billy-oh, obviously.
Setting off in a tandem-heavy wave – there were at least 15 leaving at the same time as us – gave us a real sense of camaraderie, and what lovely people they all were.
The weather – after the rain-fest that was RideLondon 2014, cycling in warm sunshine with a cool breeze was heavenly.
Being on a bike with my husband for seven hours – might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but sitting astride a tandem means you can have an ongoing conversation without worrying about getting left behind. Also, it meant Piers (whose back wheel I normally stick to like glue on bike rides) didn’t have to keep glancing over his shoulder to check I was still there. And I could easily raid his back pockets (our in-bike tuck shop) for high-energy snacks as necessary. The perfect fit-date!
Riding on traffic-free roads – there is a peculiar thrill to cycling through red lights, the wrong way around roundabouts and on the right-hand side of the road, totally legally.
The final sprint – the RideLondon-Surrey course ends with nine-plus miles of mainly flat and downhill roads including Putney Hill, The Embankment, Whitehall and finally The Mall, lined with enthusiastic cheering crowds. Wow, what a feeling to get your head down and literally sprint the whole way home.
We averaged 22mph over the last nine miles, powering past hundreds of riders (how good did that feel?!) and crossing the finish line at 24mph, lungs gasping and legs utterly spent. Whoosh! Proof that when you really get a tandem going, it goes like a bullet.
Delays – it could be because we had a late start time (a mightily civilised 08.24) in the tandem wave, but the course seemed a lot more congested than in previous years. Water and hub stops were also having trouble coping – long queues for water refills and loos.
From 16,000 riders in 2013 to 20,000 in 2014 and 26,000 this year, perhaps the RideLondon-Surrey 100 has reached – or even exceeded – peak bike?
Crashes – I feel so sorry for the people we saw being treated by medical teams: there seemed to be a lot more than in previous years. Again, perhaps the sheer number of cyclists contributed to this? Unfortunately, the logistics of getting ambulances to them meant there were numerous times when we had to dismount and either wait or walk as congestion meant cycling was impossible for anyone, let alone a bulky tandem.
Leith Hill – we found out later that a cyclist had suffered a heart attack and died at the bottom of Leith Hill during Sunday’s ride. Very sad: condolences to his family. The fall-out of the situation was that the road had to be closed, and thousands of cyclists (including us) ended up stationary for more than hour as treatment was administered and ambulances made their way to the scene. Such was the number of bikes that it was impossible to get us all back in the saddle so we all ended up walking almost halfway up Leith Hill before there was enough space to get cycling again.
Aching hands – ouch: after seven and a half hours spent trying to force some traction from our woefully underpowered brakes, Piers’ wrists ended up suffering from temporary ‘handlebar palsy‘, yes it’s a real condition.
Some RideLondon 2015 stats:
Total time on the course: 7.5 hours
Average speed over the first 40 miles: 21mph
Average speed over the final nine miles from Wimbledon Common: 22mph
Speed as we crossed the finish line: 24mph
Snacks consumed per person: one banana, one Bounce energy ball, two energy gels (Gu, salted caramel, espresso love: highly recommend); half a Nakd bar; four bottles of sports drink
Number of times someone yelled ‘Go Tandem!’ at us: too many to count
We won our RideLondon 2015 tandem places in the ballot and paid for them, but chose to cycle in aid of Muscular Dystrophy because it is gradually – but quickly – stealing the mobility of the children of some very dear friends. All donations will help fund ways to tackle this devastating condition. Find out more and donate at our Just Giving page: justgiving.com/ThompsonTandem