It's not just about the Olympic Road Races

Words by Aaron Scott

on 29/08/2013 18:42:00

Frank's trusty Raleigh Apex, crossing Kingston Bridge en route to the Mall

Some people ride bikes for the sheer pleasure of the activity itself. Others use their bikes as a means of transport. When you combine both these objectives, the two wheel mode of conveyance is, hands down, the nearest to perfection in forms of transport.

I ride thousands of miles each year just for pleasure, usually in meandering circles starting from my home, but some journeys take me from A to B, to places worth visiting and events worth attending, where the destination suddenly takes priority. This is what happened over the weekend of the Olympic road races. My 227 mile (366kms) return journey had as its destination the Box Hill circuit for the men's road race, and The Mall in London for the finish of the women's race.

A rival to the Champs Elysee

We all now know what happened in those races, and I was as riveted as anyone with the happenings by the roadside. But one thing is for certain: you don't go roadside to races in order to get the best views nor the best updates of what is happening. Much of the time you are in the dark. You listen for shouted comments across the crowds, from people consulting their smart phones or listening to race radio with headsets.

Team GB leading the peloton over Box Hill

My attention was as much riveted by the anticipation of the crowds; the motley colours and expressions of patriotism; the inevitable mixture of lycra-clad roadies who had cycled to the event, and the non-cycling masses who knew little about cycling, but just wanted to experience the atmosphere. Not quite on the scale of the Tour de France, where whole communities have massive street parties to celebrate the passage of the peloton, but the cavalcades of police outriders, team cars, press vehicles and overhead helicopters all added to the heightening of tension and the sharpened sense of anticipation.

My ride down, to stay with one of my brothers in Epsom, inevitably took me through endless suburban towns, but my decision to ride into The Mall for the finish of the women's race on the Sunday gave me the opportunity to pick up the Thames Cycleway at Hampton Court, and enjoy the delights of a 25 mile ride through the quiet and ever-changing vistas of this mighty river. If speed is of the essence, you don't follow rivers. They never go in straight lines, least of all the Thames! Otherwise you couldn't have a more perfect route into the heart of London. Just change down a gear, slacken the pace and enjoy the journey.

My weekend concluded with a night spent with another brother on his houseboat on the River Lea, and a return journey that took me along the Lea Valley towpath out of London, then through the 'hinterland' of Hertfordshire, my attention being grabbed by the beautiful village of Ayot St Lawrence and its connections with the writer George Bernard Shaw; its surreal history of the village church being dismantled by the Lord of the Manor in the 18th century, and being replaced by an astonishing Palladian style church more appropriate to ancient Athens than to a rural English setting.

Instead of taking my road bike (when I could have blended in seamlessly with all the other roadies on Box Hill) I took my sturdy Raleigh Apex (a purchase I made from Grafham Cycling nearly 20 years ago!), better able to carry some luggage and cope with the riverside tracks along the Rivers Thames and Lea. Whether you are a weekend warrior or occasional commuter, why not pack a bit of luggage and head off for a few days? There is a myriad of options out there just waiting for you.