'It makes you think twice': 80 per cent drop in cyclist numbers following Richmond Park machete attack

Those still riding in the park remain undeterred despite the threat of moped gangs robbing bikes

Richmond Park
(Image credit: Getty)

The leg warmers begin to appear on the paths around Richmond Park, a sure sign that summer is definitely over, the temperature beginning to drop over the past couple of weeks before the clocks go back and plunge us into the darkness of winter at the end of the month.

But the end of the warm weather is only one reason why there may be fewer cyclists in Richmond Park than normal, a machete-clad moped gang robbing bikes has made national news, especially after British pro Alex Richardson was left bloodied, driven into at 60km/h and relieved of his custom S-Works bike.

Richmond Park, while still blighted by cars using it to cut through the traffic of the surrounding suburbs, is one of the safer places in London to cycle. That trust has clearly been pierced. On the 'Tour de Richmond Park' Strava segment, which has been ridden over four million times, data shows a drop of 80 per cent in the wake of the machete robberies, down from the usual 1,000 attempts a day to below 200.

Riding into the park, the first cyclist through the Roehampton Gate who stops to talk says he hasn't heard anything about the moped gang, but at the Colicci Cafe multiple conversations concerning recent events can easily be overheard.

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"It's funny, we were talking about it on the way here actually, we're safe but we're not so sure about Thomas [pronounced the French way] because he's got a nice bike," one cyclist called Simon jokes to Cycling Weekly, his friend with the nice bike sitting across from him at a picnic table. "So that was the reason we invited Thomas along, basically we thought we needed protection because he's got a good bike, we had this warped theory that they're gonna go after somebody with the best bike. They're not going to go after me with my cheapo."

A cyclist on a nice bike is now the equivalent of an antelope with a limp in the savannah that is the 10km loop of Richmond Park. 

"We are talking about it in all seriousness," Simon adds.

"Police say that they will put people [in the park], I've seen no police, they said there will be police checking," Thomas adds. "So I think that could reassure me but I didn't see any police actually."

In fairness to the Metropolitan Police, either through sheer dumb luck or an actual tangible dedication to duty, this reporter did pass one police 4x4 on his loop around the park.

Despite the data showing the drop-off in cycling activity, this small group of cyclists obviously didn't feel undeterred. Otherwise, they wouldn't be here.

"Generally, yeah," Simon says of feeling safe in the park. "Until I heard this story, obviously it now makes you think twice, for me at least, but no I've never felt unsafe here."

"I come here during the week, I didn't change my routine," Thomas adds, usually preferring an early morning ride compared to the afternoon when the majority of robberies have been occurring. "Obviously you're a bit more careful when you know what's happening but it hasn't detracted me from changing my routine."

Did he consider riding a cheaper machine just in case? "No, I don't have cheap bikes," he laughs in explanation.

"Obviously I thought twice before coming, but why would I change? It can happen anywhere in London, not just the park."

Despite Thomas not seeing any police in the park this past week, a greater policing presence isn't necessarily the answer, "they're never going to be able to police the whole park and surrounding areas" he argues. 

While all cyclists dream of a day when the park is closed to motorised vehicles for good, not just during pandemics, Simon suggests they could ban mopeds and motorbikes from the park while the robbery problem persists. Two-wheeled vehicles can weave in and out of the traffic on the roads surrounding the park, leaving them without the only slightly cogent argument car users have for cutting through the idyllic natural surroundings.

Of course, the issue of bike safety and theft isn't one that can be solved overnight, especially in London. Local club Kingston Wheelers told Cycling Weekly, in a piece appearing in this coming week's print edition, that they're encouraging members to 'buddy up' if wary of riding around the park alone.

"We basically asked people to be vigilant, we felt that was all we can do," Kingston Wheelers' committee member Neil Grunshaw said.

While the moped gang hasn't been spotted in the week since they made national news, the cyclists of Greater London still have cause for vigilance while they remain at large. Especially if, like Thomas, you have a bike worth a four-figure sum.