30+ in Chingford and 60+ in Walthamstow met to cycle together to the London Skyride this September
Families with kids and trailers, seasoned cyclists and cycling novices on brand new bikes joined marshals from the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign on guided rides o attend the September Skyride. LCC organised 50 such rides throughout London to help cyclists and get to the traffic-free zone safely.
With over 85000 people riding streets specially closed to traffic the Skyride was a huge success – perhaps bigger than anticipated. We call on the organizers to close the entire Zone 1 to motor traffic next year.
The morning was cloudy as I cycled to Selbourne Walk in Walthamstow and wondered just how many people would take their chances with the weather for the thrill (or lack of it) of car-free cycling.
I greeted everyone as a WFCC marshal. I had to compete for their attention with two lads handing out Sky-branded tabards. That wasn’t too difficult: they gave out their yellow merchandise in silence and with vacant visages.
A family from Chingford arrived with a child trailer. Inside, a chirpy and curious boy tested his dad’s multitasking. His sister had her own bike and a proud expression on her face to go with it. I walked up.
‘Hello and welcome I’m Mat and I’m leading this ride here’s my number in any case.’
I gave them a small LCC card, a bunch of which I had laboriously filled in the night before.
Another dapper father arrived on a streamlined tricycle, carrying his child at the front.
‘Here’s the meeting time and place for the return ride.’
He showed me how the front of his trike detached ingeniously to make a stroller.
Most children were older and rode their own bicycles. Who knows, perhaps they were to thank for the high numbers?
‘If you want to win a cycling holiday please fill in the bit at the bottom and return it to me!’
Flustered and sweaty, I looked triumphantly at the Sky personnel. There were two of them and they had a rich uncle, but my message was more personal and immediate. I hurried on, trying to hit newcomers first.
Riders kept coming, some on shiny new bikes, evidently keen for Sky Ride to be a start of a new love affair. ‘What I beautiful bike you have,’ I croaked speedily. ‘Be sure to ride it a lot!’ And I moved on, glancing with spite at the bib blokes.
I was losing my voice. I still had the briefing to deliver. My coup de grâce to those two mutes. I cleared my throat. I could do it.
The sky may have been wrapped in dark clouds but by 10am we were sixty, a good number and a clear proof to the tenacity of the East London folk in all their shapes and shades.
Following my sonnet to fellow cyclists (shall I compare you to a bunch of cars? You are more nimble and you’re not as fat. Long traffic jams do rot their arse while you zoom past them like a buzzing gnat) we were on our way. The Marshes were green and pleasant, but by the time we reached Whitechapel the marshals were busy getting our large group across lights and lanes. Pete Lomas and Matt Halliday zoomed back and forth stopping traffic and ushering people through, while Tom Lynch made sure no one stayed behind. I just made sure no one got ahead of me, occasionally turned around and, for want of voice, gave grave nods.
For anyone used to London’s car madness arriving in the traffic-free zone was a weird experience. Loud as ever and chock-full of cyclists garishly branded by Sky, it was somehow – friendly. Less intimidating. Relaxed. Dreamy…
Relieved of my marshalling duties I stepped into the bike flow as if into a new, foreign sea. It carried me away.
Down the Embankment I wove slowly with tens of thousands, dazzled by bibs like the setting Sun (the sky – the real one – was still overcast), without a thought for my safety, without a worry for my whereabouts. We cascaded down the Blackfriars Underpass with shouts and whistling to wreck Jericho, greeted in the netherworld by drummers and semi-nude dancers.
Out on the other side the Sky-sponsored dream ended and everyone stopped. Congestion. At 85000 we were too many for the narrow straits we were given. We ground on, stopping and starting like on the M25. What would the headlines pronounce?, I thought. ‘Success took Mr Murdoch by surprise’?
Despite the overcrowding, all Sky Riders I passed seemed to have a ball, from teeny-kins veering about on like-a-bikes, to elegant sylphs and squires in caps and breeches riding their old Dutch, to lycra lovers legging it through what gaps they could find between the Joneses cranking on creaky Tescos.
St James’ Park was given over to refreshments and family entertainment (more semi-nudes, I wondered?) but by the time I got there I had to forsake it all and head straight back just to be in time for the home ride.
By the time I got to Tower Hill I felt elated but guilty for the pleasure I shared with so many. I was ready to punish myself with car traffic on the way back home. I put on my Sky-branded marshal’s tabard – blue for a change – and joined my fellow flagellants – including some kids who toughed it all out – heading north-east, to Hackney, Walthamstow, and Chingford.
To the Mayor and the Sponsor, big thanks, along with hopes that perhaps cycling can now stop being a corporate carnival to remember and become an everyday thing to enjoy. The masses in attendance – many of whom were not everyday cyclists – seemed to say that would also be a success. Not necessarily a surprise one, if you know how to crunch your data. In the meantime let’s remember that feeling of being caught between the Tower and the Parliament.