The Doc tackles the capital’s biggest cycling event — and gets a terrifying insight into the minds of the masses
I have a theory about bike riders. I formulated it during the RideLondon 100-mile event the weekend before last. It is this: as a group we are composed of takers, givers, and idiots. These groups have almost no crossover — they are balloons adrift in the Venn diagram.
On RideLondon, the first person I saw turned out to be a giver. He was hard to miss, because he was Martin Johnson, whom you will perhaps remember best as the captain of the England rugby team. Johnson set off just ahead of me.
Eight feet tall, six feet wide, he sat upright and rode into a block headwind at 40kph with me tucked in neatly behind him. Behind me in turn were another 200-300 people, all being towed out towards Surrey by this magnificent ship of state, and at a speed about 10kph faster than any of us deserved.
When Johnson suddenly slowed in Kingston, we left him behind without a thought or a thank you. That’s because we were takers.
It struck me as the morning progressed that I wasn’t just a taker, I was an arch-taker. I spent my ride sneaking around among the wheels, avoiding at all costs the sight of fresh air in front of me.
Even worse for the common good of humanity, if I ever did find myself face-to-face with the clean wind and the fair horizon, I made sure that there wasn’t someone who was even more of a taker than me sitting on my wheel. I didn’t mind doing a bit of riding, but only as long as there was no benefit to anyone else.
It’s sobering to realise that if everyone were like me, all 28,000 RideLondon participants would still, to this moment, be standing in the Olympic Park waiting for someone to make the first move.
By the time of next year’s ride they’d have to use diggers to clear away a huge pile of skeletons with helmets and cycling shoes, every one of them still making a generous “No, no, after you” gesture.
Givers-only would be almost as bad. They’d at least have got as far as the first tunnel, but there they’d have attempted to ride through it 28,000 abreast, and got stuck.
I’m still too much of a bike racer, that’s my problem. I can’t look at someone charging along, shoulders rolling with effort and 500 freeloaders sitting on their wheel, without wanting to mutter ‘idiot’.
The same with the man whom I saw climb Box Hill as if he was being chased by a bear with a carbon-fibre fetish, only to climb off at the top to admire the view.
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But they’ve got it right and I’ve got it wrong — it’s a day out in a huge cycling playground. I still can’t quite get over the luxury of 100 miles without the thought of motor traffic crossing my mind.
The biggest risk all day was someone cutting across in front of me because they’d finally seen the only bit of verge in 100 miles that was verdant enough for them to take that special selfie on.
The worst bit of the day by miles is emerging from the finish area back into London traffic and realising that this is what the rest of your life looks like, at least for another year.
And the idiots, you ask? Well. There were some special people out there. Man riding the wrong way down Leith Hill — chapeau to you. Woman with jersey on back to front so the pockets were at the front, chapeau to you also.
But the prize goes to the man watching a video on his handlebar-mounted phone. I hope it was his GoPro footage from last year. But I don’t suppose it was.