I say! What do you get if you take a fist full of sartorial elegance, a flock of fine vintage bicycles, a flair of sunshine and the roads of central London on one glorious spring Saturday? The Tweed Run 2011, that's what!
After the huge success of the ride in 2010, competition for places on this, the third Tweed Run, was tough. As a result everyone there on Saturday seemed extra pleased to be taking part and everyone had gone to extraordinary lengths to show off their incredible outfits and beautiful bicycles. Riders had come from near and far in their finest attire, but this isn't just a unique jaunt about town of course; it's all in aid of Bikes4Africa, too, which ships bicycles to African children so they might get to and from school.
The riders gathered in the shadow of magnificent St Paul's Cathedral at the start point, and there was plenty of time to admire bikes, outfits and talk to some of the participants before we set off.
Chris and Deirdre had cycled up from Peckham. Said Chris: "It is my second year and it’s like no other ride in London! There’s a genteel attitude, a kind of politeness that is so different to regular commuting in London." Deirdre agreed; "It’s almost a surreal atmosphere, but it’s a lot of fun."
Rena had been scouring vintage shops to collect together pieces to make the perfect suit for the day, whilst Stephanie had gone for a white number and what had to be one of the best head pieces on the day. "I’ve not done the Tweed Run before; my son introduced me to it. I ride my bike everyday because it’s easier and quicker to get where I want. And this is all I have left in my dressing up wardrobe, so it all seemed appropriate!"
I spoke to Nick through a cloud of pipe smoke; "I wear side burns all year round, so it wasn’t so hard for me to look the part. I love to see other people dressed up and at their best, I’m not a regular cyclist but I think that bikes and style are a wonderful combination."
Fleur and Jennifer looked like they'd just stepped out of some fabulous time machine and were attracting lots of attention (including that of two local Policemen who were only too eager to have their photographs taken with the girls!) Fleur said "I loved it so much last year, and Jenny and I were the only ones amongst our friends who were able to get places. The weather is so beautiful, almost too beautiful, I’m not sure our pale and interesting skin will last too long in this sunshine!" Riding matching Pashley Princess Sovereigns their bikes at least looked set to last the course.
Rob had brought along 8 year old Grace for the day, and she looked excited and ready for a fun day out on central London's roads on Rob's tandem "I came for the bikes more than the clothes for me, I love vintage bikes, all the retro rides – today we’re riding a tandem from the 30s."
As the riders assembled, it soon became apparent that there was more bike porn than one could waive a clammy palm at. From every type of upright, to some beautiful fixed gear bikes, from vintage trikes and tandems, to Dursley Pedersens (want!), Bakfiets cargo bikes (want!) and my favourite, a Mercian which was ridden by one of the marshals which had the most amazing cream and green paint scheme. (Want! Want! Want!) Sometimes, rather ordinary looking ordinaries belied their astonishing history. Jackie had come from Biggin Hill in Kent, and was particularly looking forward to riding past Buckingham Palace for one very special reason; "My bike originated from Hythe Militaria, an old military base, and apparently – so the story goes – Queen Elizabeth II used to ride this very bike in her youth. One of the Old Boys there had it put away for years and years, and he got chatting to my husband so we rescued it and it’s still going strong today so we thought we’d bring it up for today."
The sun was obscenely hot for April, but Ralph had come prepared - the basket on his old butcher's bike was packed with strawberries, cucumber and a bottle of Pimms. Sadly, Marks & Spencers had sold out of mint so it would seem he wasn't the only one planning on mixing a few Pimms and lemonades...
Others had taken relatively modern bikes and added their own personal touches - Stephen from Ashburton in Devon had taken a British bike that's made in the West Country, a Charge Plug, and added a Brooks saddle, moustache handlebars and a frame mounted thermos flask holder.
Iain and Liz looked excited on the steps of St Paul's as the crowd of 500 or so riders gathered for the group photo. Liz explained that though she only lived up the road in Hackney, she'd actually come a long way for the ride; "I arrived back in London from Hong Kong this morning, so Iain brought this Tweed jacket from a charity shop while I’ve been away and I’ve matched it with a summer dress – I wished he’d checked the weather forecast though, it’s warm!"
Iain obviously had checked the weather forecast though, as he'd taken the tweed theme and re-interpreted it to suit the unseasonably sunny weather we had on Saturday; "Because it is so hot, this year I’ve decided to come as a working class boy from Hackney. Aside from the vest, the trousers and braces are pure Tweed Run, though I’m not sure you can get vintage SPDs..."
All too soon it was time for the ride proper to set off. After the obligatory group photo, a bugle was sounded and cries of 'Mount Up!' were heard. Soon, the air was filled with the ringing of hundreds of bicycle bells as the riders set off down Ludgate Hill, with well wishers cheering from the road side and tourists snapping away furiously from the deck of open top bus tours.
And goodness, wasn't this year's Tweed Run route fast?! Of course, there were the snares and bottlenecks you'd expect when you try to squeeze 500 odd cyclists through London's ancient road network at the same time, but by and large the marshals did an incredible job of keeping the traffic at bay as the ride whizzed through.
Indeed, so fast was the ride at times that getting ahead to try and take photographs proved exhausting. Subsequently I apologise in advance for the somewhat shakey nature of my video of the day, below, but you try racing up Regent Street and keeping a steady hand at the same time... The ride passed all of the London landmarks; the London Eye, Westminster Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Saville Row (where Huntsman had a wonderful Tweed Run-themed window display), and Oxford Circus before stopping for afternoon tea in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Last year we were served gin and tonics from a vintage car as we rode down the Mall and I didn't think it could get more English than that, till I saw the epic cue for tea and cucumber sandwiches this year - possibly the most English thing I've ever seen! It's all in the video, as is a little cautionary tale for anyone who rides a vintage bike with rod brakes like mine who tries to film other cyclists and not look where they are going...
After tea, the ride wound its way from Holborn to London’s East End. Crowds of contemporary cyclists getting coffee at Look Mum No Hands bike cafe cheered us on, and navigating the Old Street roundabout is a pleasure when you're in the company of 500 other two-wheeled well-dressed bods, as opposed to the usual fight for space with buses, cabs and juggernaughts. All too soon we'd reached the end of the ride in Bethnal Green where drinks were served, cake was eaten, and people danced in the dance hall, or just lingered outside in the afternoon sun.
Samuel was pleased to have been able to complete the ride; "I’ve come from Helsinki in Finland, and this is my first time in the Tweed Run. I’ve been really looking forward to this, but the airline lost my bike en route to London – nobody knows where my bike is, but I didn’t miss out completely, I rode a Boris Bike instead."
Sandra and Lydia, still looking entirely composed in their outfits after the 10 mile ride, and without a glint of sweat between them, summed up their day; "I’m an avid cyclist, and I really like the vintage scene and swing dance and all that so for me it’s all my favourite things in one event" explained Lydia. Sandra agreed; "I saw it last year, and had to do it this year."
They both agreed they'd had a wonderful day, with Sandra hitting the nail on the head as to why the Tweed Run is just so special; "I’ve really enjoyed the politeness of the day. If anyone was a bit irate being held up along the way, shouting or blowing their horns, everyone on the ride gave them a waive or doffed their caps and wished them a ‘Good day Sir!’ London ought to be like this every day!"
Ted and Jacqui, the Tweed Run organisers, and their team of volunteer marshals, tea pourers, sandwich makers and behind the scenes helpers should be immensely proud of themselves for organising such a superbly well-oiled day which clearly brought happiness to many hundreds of people. That in doing so they might also bring joy to African school children through the medium of the humble bicycle is immensely inspiring. What's more I think the Tweed Run has proven once and for all that style and cycles can go together.
Thank you, Tweed Run! Pip pip!
Names highlighted in orange indicate a link to a photo of the individual mentioned. These photos and many more of the day can be seen at my Flickr account here.