How to survive this Sunday's SkyRide

This Sunday sees 15km or so of central London's prime tarmac closed off to vehicles and given over to 65,000 or so of London's two-wheeled finest. Yes, it's time for central London's annual SkyRide!

Misgivings about rampant commercialisation, over-zealous marshals wielding stop/go signs and of course how much money this must all be costing that nasty Mr Murdoch aside, there's no denying that the SkyRide is a great day out for families and especially fun for kids who would never usually get to pedal past St Paul's or ring their bell as they whizz down Whitehall. And this year's route has been extended to include a loop of Parliament Square so now you can scream at our elected representatives about the terrible injustice of their recent tinkerings with the Bike To Work scheme. All jolly wholesome fun, but 65,000 cyclists in the one place is quite a big deal, so just how do you survive Jeremy Clarkson's worst nightmare?


1. Check your bike before you go!

It doesn't matter what you ride, just so long as you do... but seriously, there's going to be a lot of stopping and starting along the route; check your tyres are in good shape and that your brakes work. Don't worry about it if you're riding a BSO (bike shaped object) which cost less in Asda than a decent night out on the town; this is a family ride and besides, there's a reason why bike snobs ride the open road alone. If you should run into trouble look out for the green Dr Bikes who'll be pedalling around and will be happy to fix any problems you have so long as you ask nicely and remember to say thank you.

2. Pack a picnic!

It's what that funny rack shaped thing on the back of your bike is for - stick a picnic on your panniers and trust me you'll have a much more fun time once you get to the half way point at St James's park than those who are left fighting their way to the front of the queue at the luke warm Cornish pasty stall. Packing a bottle of water or two is probably a good idea too; if you haven't cycled since last year's event you might be surprised how quickly you get thirsty.

3. Don't eat the free granola bars that are handed out with the goodie bags!  (Even if you are desperate)

It took me weeks to get that strange and terrible taste out of my mouth (see Tip number 2)


4. Shout at celebrities!

Cycling celebrities are great; they help to normalise cycling and make it seem everyday and ordinary; something this blog strives for. But in a crowd of 65,000 other cyclists it's just too tempting to hide your tourettes-like tendencies behind the ting of a thousand bike bells. Top points for asking the fragrant Kelly Brook how 'naked month' is going and bonus balls for shouting "Oi! Hoy! Race yer!" at the Bran Flakes flogging magnificent Sir Chris.

5. Don't wear the Sky bibs!

There will be minimum wage lackeys on every corner trying to coerce you into taking an official fleuro-yellow Sky-branded bib. Great for collecting autographs on (which reminds me, I must put my Chris Hoy signed Sky bib on eBay sometime soon) but are they really necessary on a traffic-free route in broad daylight? Remember you don't have to wear a builder's jacket to ride a bike, but I won't think any less of you if you choose to turn your child into a walking advert for the spurious Mr Murdoch, I promise. Try and think Copenhagen Cycle Chic as oppose to Construction Worker's Weekly. And another thing on fashion whilst we're at it; though I've already said it doesn't matter what you ride so long as you do, just remember that if you turn up in full Tour de France gimpery having not ridden a bike since you were twelve, people who are better cyclists (and possibly better dressed) will know. Trust me, they just will. And they may feel inclined to point.


6. Consider leaving the helmet at home!

Think about it; there are no cars on the entire route, and you'll not be travelling much faster than about 8mph for the best part of the day due to sheer volume of riders. If you've always wanted to know what it feels like to have the wind in your hair as you push your way around town, Sunday would be the day to fulfil that long-held dream. Hey, if it helps to normalise cycling in a sea of badly-fitting sports gear then so be it.

7. Prepare for all meteorological eventualities!

Check the weather forecast before you set off - if it's going to be hot you'll need your sun screen (especially those of you with little ones in tow) but more importantly if it's looking like there's a risk of showers do make sure you bring a jacket. Riding in the rain is fine, but not if you're wet already. And you are going to ride to the ride, aren't you? No one wants to be the family man seen looking for a parking spot on Regent's Street with a couple of bikes on the roof rack, right?  Be prepared and see the link to the left for a full 5 day forecast for London.


8. Tell the cheerleaders where to get off!

At various stages along the route some hideous PR types armed with microphones and teams of cheerleaders will beseech you to boo at cars and shout silly slogans like "Go SkyRide!". If, like me, mass-induced corporate hysteria leaves a slightly sick taste in your mouth, practise shouting "They do this EVERY Sunday in Bogota you know! Bogota for Christ’s sake!" instead. (Extra points if you're within ear-shot of Boris J.) Go on, make it a Critical Mass for the chattering classes, you know you want to.

My 8 handy SkyRide tips aside, the most important thing is to have fun. Once you get to St James' park do stop and have a good look around; the LCC are usually there handing out free cycling maps of London, and the BMX demonstration and free kid's cycling proficiency classes are great, too. Here's a video I made at last year's event which will give you a good idea of what to expect. So pump up your tyres, bring your best smile and, ahem, Go SkyRide!


For a full map of the SkyRide route see here, and for details of the LCC's excellent led-rides from across London into the ride zone see here.

9 comments:

Tim Lennon said...

Would love to come, but it seems a bit unfair to make the giirls (2 years and 4 months) endure a 50 minute trailer journey into London before even being able to participate, and then another 50 minute journey home, even if they are likely to sleep both ways!

Mark said...

Hi Tim. I'm not sure where you live but I'd agree the round trip with two little ones in tow might be a bit of a schlepp - have you considered taking the bike and the trailer on the overground / undergound to get to London? Here's the link to what you can and cannot do:
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11701.aspx

Amber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amber said...

So happy to find your blog and to hear about this Sunday. Happily, I will be in London this week, so will have to join in. I absolutely adore riding around London.

Mark said...

Hi Amber, I'm glad you found us too! It's fantastic you'll be here for this, it will be a great chance for you to see the best bits of the city traffic free, enjoy it whilst you can!

io said...

hey, those bibs are great for cutting them and making cool high-viz patches!! :-)

townmouse said...

Too late for this year, but the best fun I had at the first of these (when it was the Hovis Freewheel) was as a bike marshal, leading riders from Clapham into the ride proper. They made me wear a helmet (boo) and a hi-vis vest, but on the ride down I got a feel of what a real cycling city might be like - not just a cordoned off pretend one for a day.

And if the Sky ride is too commercial for you, why not roll your own - the Mall and Constitution Hill (and Hyde park) are closed to traffic every Sunday...

Jessica anderson said...

I'll be coming in with my four children aged 7, 5, 2 and 6 months. We'll get the train to waterloo with our bikes and I'll be riding my wonderful Eco-friendly people carrier - the cargobike with 2 children plus baby aboard. I use it all the time for the school run, for shopping and just getting about. Check out the family section of www.dutchbike.co.uk. Cycling with young children gives you such a sense of freedom that you just don't get with a double buggy.

adam said...

For the second year running, booked to attend and then find First Capital Connect have cancelled all our trains until sufficiently late in the day it's too late to get to the ride.

Fingers crossed for next year.

Real shame to miss this.

Adam