Saturday, 20 June 2020

Cycle route: South London to Central London (mainly traffic-free)

As more and more people take to two wheels, particularly around London, I wanted to share a route I took last Sunday when going from my local area, Crystal Palace, to central London.

On Blackfriars Bridge

This is a route that a lot of people will take, particularly if are among those who don't work from home, and therefore must travel to their place of work in London. Others may even just want to go to London for a recreational visit, stroll around the royal parks, go shopping, or meet a friend - in a socially distant way of course!

Quite a lot of people talk about how dangerous it is, how there are too many cars, how cycling unfriendly London is.... Well, I took this route and I was quite happy with it. It's a route I would recommend to anyone who wants to cycle into London. It's around 10 miles, goes along quiet roads, segregated cycle paths, and through parks. You can even do the route at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery and landmarks that London has to offer.

For this ride I rode an E-Bike, the Liv Thrive E+, which I have been riding of late, to get around London and beyond. It's been so useful to have it - including for me, as someone who also does training rides. Sometimes it's just nice to have a bike that can give me a little bit of assistance after a training session, especially when getting out of hilly Crystal Palace while I'm a bit pooped!

Leaving Crystal Palace

The first section of the ride takes me across Betts Park in Anerley, and onto Maple Road to reach Penge. Going up through Penge is where the climbing starts. It is possible to ride up through Crystal Palace Park to reach the top of the hill, though I stayed on the main road as there is a wide enough strip marked out for cyclists, and the road is wide enough to accommodate motorists and cyclists.

The top of the road near the junction and mini roundabouts has a bus lane, and cycle paths to get you across the junction to turn right for the descent along College Road. 

In Edward Alleyn's backyard

College Road is very popular with cyclists of all ages and levels. And on this sunny Sunday there were many riders out and about. Given that part of it is a toll road, there are fewer motorists than on other roads. Just beware of the speed bumps!

Dulwich Village
College Road and Dulwich College, on that road, are two well-known features that form part of The Dulwich Estate, founded by the actor and friend of William Shakespeare, Edward Alleyn in 1619. 

This guy was big in Dulwich, having set up the Estate as a charity to provide education for underpriviledged children through its various schools - including Dulwich College and Alleyn School. 

A number of roads and a pub are named after Edward Alleyn. The Estate owns a large amount of land and property, including Herne Hill Velodrome. Between interests like the tolled College Road, income from rented properties and leased land, the Dulwich Estate has the means to keep the listed buildings of Dulwich Village and the surrounding areas looking immaculate. 

Once at the bottom of College Road I reach Dulwich Park, another stretch of land originally owned by Edward Alleyn. These days the Grade II listed park is run by Southwark Council, and I must say it's always a pleasure to stop by there. 


Onwards from Dulwich Village, my route goes to East Dulwich, where there is a traffic-free cycle path called Green Dale. It is a steady climb up to Denmark Hill, where you cross the road, go through some back streets to reach Ruskin Park - named after the artist and painter John Ruskin who later settled in the Lake District.

South London massive

Very soon I am at the large medical teaching and research centre, King's College Hospital. From here there is a distinct ambiance of being in "urban London", as some of the tall buildings of the city come into view. The route goes through the back streets of Camberwell, Myatts Fields, and Kennington, to reach Elephant & Castle roundabout.

This junction used to instil fear into most cyclists, and was sadly the scene of a number of cyclist fatalities. Thankfully, following a £25m overhaul of the roundabout, including improving the cycle lanes and quiet ways around there by the Mayor of London, you can cross the junction safely.

Elephant & Castle is the first place where you find a segregated cycle superhighway, and in fact from here on in, the route is largely traffic-free as there are various segregated cycle paths to use. This path leads to Lambeth, near Westminster Bridge, though I turn right before that onto a spur road to St George's Circus, where I reach the extensive Cycle Superhighway (known as CS6) that goes to Clerkenwell, via Blackfriars Bridge. 

This is a nice and wide that allows two-way traffic for cyclists, complete with cycle-specific traffic lights too. On a working day huge numbers of riders snake up and down this path and, dare I say it, even a bit of commuting racing going on!

Welcome to Westminster

At the end of Blackfriars Bridge a left-hand turn gets me onto another Cycle Superhighway along the River Thames to Westminster. It's an iconic stretch giving views synonymous with the famous London skyline - South Bank, the London Eye, Big Ben (once they remove the scaffolding)!

On The Mall - traffic-free on a Sunday
From Westminster a system of traffic lights takes me across to the different lanes on Parliament Square, and into Great George Street to reach St James's Park and Buckingham Palace. 

With segregated cycle paths either side of this Royal Park - along Birdcage Walk and parallel to The Mall you are spoilt for choice. 

On a Sunday, the day I was there, the choice was even better as The Mall is traffic-free on this day and on bank holidays. 

So you can happily ride up the main carriageway and dodge around walking tourists rather than London taxis!

My route then goes up the path next to Constitution Hill, to reach Hyde Park Corner. Some cyclists who like a challenge will ride along the main carriageway of this busy junction, mixing it with London traffic as it whizzes around Wellington Arch. However, most people will use the crossings that take cyclists, pedestrians, and horse-riders safely across the thoroughfare to enter Hyde Park.

Park Life

On entering Hyde Park you can either turn left to ride along the segregated lane on South Carriage Drive, turn left into another parallel cycle path that goes towards Rotten Row, go straight on along the shared use path known as the Broad Walk, or do what I did and take the new segregated cycle path that goes along Park Lane. This is one of many pop-up cycle lanes that were quickly built as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, designed to entice more people to travel by bicycle rather than crowding out public transport.

This path is slightly narrower than the permanent cycle superhighways in London but it is still functions well, and I must say it is better than putting up with the sharp bumps on the parallel Broad Walk. The path ends at Marble Arch, from where you can end your journey there and head into the shops and cafes nearby Oxford Street.  

Hyde Park, near the Serpentine Gallery and Lake
I'm not big on shopping so I just continued through the park along North Carriage Drive and got onto the segregated path that took me past the Serpentine Gallery and the lake, and down towards Knightsbridge.

Made in Chelsea

I exited Hyde Park via South Carriage Drive, near the opulent Mandarin Oriental Hotel, to pedal through the back streets of Belgravia to reach Sloane Square. Like Dulwich, which has a lot of places named after Edward Alleyn, this area is named after the main landowners, the Cadogan family and the Grosvenor family (surname of the Duke of Westminster). 

Quiet roads and little mews with luxury cars parked outside are the characteristic feature around here. Yes, there is a car culture, but the cars seem more for show than to actually drive around - which suits me fine when I'm trying to get from A to B on my bike! Eventually, I emerge at the bustling Sloane Square, and stop to enjoy a light snack on the benches before heading home via Pimlico, Vauxhall Bridge, and Oval.

My total distance door-to-door was just over 40 km (25 miles), though the ride from South London into Central London is around 16km (10 miles). If you don't want to ride home it is possible to jump on a train (while remembering to take a face covering or mask) at Charing Cross or Victoria Stations to get back to South London. 

This was a very pleasant bike ride for me. I feel blessed to have so many cycle lanes to take me into and around Central London, and be able to ride around some of the most famous places in the world.

Related posts


Tuesday, 16 June 2020

52 Cycling Voices (in the time of coronavirus) - 30: Elle Linton

I first got to know Elle Linton through the women's facebook chat group, Velovixen, when the women were discussing taking part in the Velobants CX in the City Cyclocross race last year. Cyclocross was relatively new to her, but she was really keen to take part. She has enjoyed it so much that she wants to get more involved, and is even hoping to become a cyclocross commissaire. Elle talked to me about how she got into cycling, and her views on having a more diverse population involved in cycle sport.

credit: Josie Copeland

Elle Linton, aged 35

From: Barbados

Lives: Loughton, Essex

Fitness professional

I always cycled as a kid. In those days it was very much a sense of freedom and was a way to get to people’s houses to hang out and just enjoy being outdoors. Then as I got older it wasn’t fashionable to be cycling so it kind of went by the wayside.

As an adult, when I was about 28 I found myself in a new role in retail and one of my colleagues cycled. Realising I was living quite close to work I figured it would be more reliable to ride than to get public transport, so eventually I got back into cycling, as a commuter.

My colleague then told me about a track day at Lea Valley Velodrome. At that point I’d never even seen a track, so when I went there I was scared because I didn’t know that it went on an incline. Although I enjoyed the experience, I can’t say that I loved it. Then my friend suggested we ride to Richmond Park. I was like, "Why would I want to do that? What’s at Richmond Park?" We we,nt anyway, but the ride didn’t go to plan as we got punctures and pedals broke, though we made it there in time to do one lap and come back. However, that sense of sharing a common interest, and having someone to guide you to explore cycling was what got me back into cycling as a sport, three or four years ago.

Our next cycling challenge was a ride to Paris by ourselves over three days, and so I needed to find other people to train with. I joined Breeze and did some of their rides.  

At a cyclocross race in Milton Keynes

I am not in a traditional club. That’s probably an area where I’ve struggled with in cycling – finding a club that I felt confident enough to rock up to and join. The closest I've got to riding with a club was when I joined Dirty Wknd, which is more like an on-line cycling club. As their rides took place in East London close to where I live, I did some rides with them, and led a few too. 

Dirty Wknd is an exception to the rule, as on my first ride with them there were more women than men. That was not something I was expecting, and everyone I met on those rides was welcoming and friendly, so it was a really great first experience. That’s probably what makes it harder for me to attempt to look for another club. 

Dirty Wknd attracts a diverse, non-white crowd of people, though not really any black people. I don't really know why. I guess to start with, I live in a very white area in Essex. My friends are of mixed cultures and races but the majority of the people I spend time with are not black, and my black friends do very little exercise - so cycling is not something that we would talk about.

I felt comfortable riding with the Dirty Wknd group because there were many women. I never really focussed on whether they were black or not. 
It was only when I went to organised events, where I would be the only black person there, and sometimes the only woman that I would wonder if I had turned up at the wrong place! 

Then when I was going to other similar events I became self conscious because everybody knew me – not because I was a great rider, but because I stood out so much.  It wasn't such a problem for me. In a way, I feel lucky that I have come from a background where this is completely normal for me. Being from very much a white area I think I’ve just become used to that feeling of being the only black person in the room, so I am desensitized.
credit: Josie Copeland

However, I imagine, though I can't speak for everyone, that a person of colour who is used to hanging around a lot with other black people or in an area where there are a lot of black people around them would feel a bit strange.

I enjoy the cycling world, but there have been times when I felt certain feelings after particular situations and I don’t know whether what I was feeling was because of the colour of my skin or if  I was being paranoid

For example, last September I did a cyclocross race and the whole event was amazing. The only downside was something that happened while we were doing warm-up laps and we were going over the hurdles. Not being very experienced, I got off my bike, lifted it over the hurdles and got back on. I was on the very left of the lane, this guy came careering around the corner, tried to bunny hop over the hurdles and came off his bike. His reaction was to verbally abuse me. I was obviously a little bit perturbed. I realised later that if I had reported him, he could have been disqualified.

There was an incident in another cyclocross race where they started the women one minute ahead of the men, and inevitably I got overtaken by them. This guy was coming up behind me and shouted, "on your left" so I moved to the right but he came up on the right and knocked me off my bike. 

This was my first crash in cyclocross. He jumped up off the ground, pulled me up and asked if I was okay. At the end of the event, while I was standing with my friend, the guy came up to me and asked if that was me that he knocked off the bike. And I was thinking, "well yes that was me – you mean you couldn’t tell, given I was the only black woman in this race and there were only 10 women in the whole thing?" I just don’t know what’s behind why he came up to me like that; I’m certainly not one to say he was racist, but I found it strange.

Overall, I enjoy cycling and I like doing cyclocross, especially in the winter when the roads are cold and wet. Cyclocross seems like a fun way to stay active during the winter months without having to spend hours on the bike. Last year I did a race in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes which had a record number of women - 160+ - on the start line. It was something magical. I had never seen that many people on a start line for a 'cross race, never mind a women's race. The course was challenging, but had just the right balance of technical stuff. I was exhausted when I crossed the finish line, but happy to have been involved in the day, and to have surpassed my goals.

I think with cycling, people just take it very very seriously no matter what level they’re at, and that doesn't always make it an inclusive space for others to learn or improve.

Elle is determined to be what she didn't see

What keeps me in cycling is that I’m determined to be what I didn’t see. I never had many women around to show me that cycling is for me, and that’s women on the whole – not specifically women of colour. Cycling has now become more popular with women, but I wonder why BAME women have not taken up the sport.

At school I was heavily encouraged to do athletics. I was just pidgeon-holed into athletics. Even when I tried to get into rowing there were situations that told me that rowing was not for me. It was the same with cycling, though I did pass my cycling proficiency test. 

I think one of the issues is that with cycling, and especially in areas of deprivation, schools may not want to encourage this sport because it would just highlight the inequalities of families who don’t have the money to buy their kids a bike, while those families with money can buy a brand new bike every year for their children. 

Also I feel that part of that comes down to the stereotypes that we have of what sports black kids should do, or what sports black kids are good at. I grew up thinking that me not being able to swim well was because I as black. I’ve seen all the jokes about black people being too heavy to swim. So that was not a sport that I considered doing until I was 30.

Mind you, I relaxed my hair for over 20 years and I didn’t want to get it wet when swimming. So the minute that I had natural hair, and could wash and let it dry by itself, swimming became completely feasible. So really, it’s not always down to the fact that there might be bias or racism that stops people doing cycling. There are also cultural things that are impeding black women from doing certain sports.

I became a Liv Cycling UK Ambassador after doing a collaboration with them, testing out some of their kit. Then I borrowed a mountain bike from them when I first got into cyclocross in 2018, which I really enjoyed. This was after I had approached them and said "I like your kit and I really feel that if you’re going to stand for women you also need to stand for diversity. I am willing to work with you guys to do that." 

I am one of those people who doesn’t mind putting myself forward like that. I recognise that not everyone is able to do that and I also don't expect everyone to even care about representation. But for those who want to see it, I am willing to put my face out there and start the conversation. 

I also started training to become a cyclocross commissaire last September. I might be the first black cyclocross commissaire in the country, which is slightly funny. Volunteering and giving back to sport had been one of my goals for last year as I realised how many volunteers give up their time to make these things happen. So becoming a commissaire seemed like a way to do that. It also just allows me to be there for any women who want to have conversations about race. The official side of cycling does lack representation from women, especially BAME women.

They say you can’t be it if you can’t see it, so I just kind of feel like there’s no reason why, especially in London there aren't people doing organisational roles in sport. I saw a statistic that showed that of the top 12 sports in the country there’s only one black person on the leadership board of all of these sports in the whole of the UK. I really want to know what is stopping a non-white person from getting there.

One of the comments raised in response to that is that people should be awarded these roles on merit and experience. I agree with that. I am not saying to just give roles to non-white people for the sake of it, but I think the deeper question is why are people not able to get into a position of having the experience or expertise? 

credit: Josie Copeland

I think that it has to start with grass roots stuff. I think if you have more kids who are transitioning to teenagers, and to adults who are cycling and encouraged to cycle, eventually you will have greater diversity in adult cycling and hopefully more people willing or able to have opportunities above just participation. I don’t think this is a quick fix. It'll take a long time to change things. 

These days I work as a fitness coach, something I am really passionate about. It all started after I graduated from university with an Exercise Science Degree in 2006. A friend and colleague encouraged me to get the practical qualifications needed to take part in a project to get university aged women active. Through that project, I found I had a passion for delivering fitness classes and it became a staple in my weekly life alongside my full-time role at the time.

My classes are varied and include kettlebells, core stability, foam rolling, HIIT, etc. I also have a blog about healthy living.

While doing my job as a fitness coach I also studied for an MSc in Management & Business Innovation at Birkbeck College. It was really difficult to juggle everything, so I had to be ruthless with my schedule and prioritise. My own fitness just about made it onto the list, and cyclocross kept me ticking over. 

Coronavirus meant that I lost my face-to-face work, but I took the initiative early on, and created my own on-line offering of fitness classes. It's meant I've been able to bring in income whilst enjoying what I love. Also, I have finally made peace with Zwift, and love connecting with riders from further afield than where I would normally meet people. 

I did get sick for a while at the end of last year, with something that felt like coronavirus. It wasn't, and I feel more normal now than I did during those months. Lockdown has given me the space and time I needed to think and allow me to go back to basics with my cycle, running, and general fitness training.   

I've had some tough moments these last few months, but overall, I'd say I've thrived in what has now become a digital world. 

Elle's blogKeep it simpElle 

Twitter: X_eLle_S

Instagram: ellelinton

Other Cycling Voices

Claire Floret

Adeline O'Moreau

Monica and Paola Santini

Yewande Adesida

Alex Davis

Helen Wyman

Annia Modlinsky

Ayesha McGowan

Geraldine Glowinski

Emily Chappell

Monday, 8 June 2020

Keeping fit in the time of coronavirus - fighting off the lockdown lovehandles!

Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, which does seem like many moons ago, I would go to my local sports centre at Crystal Palace and do body toning classes and swimming. 
I also regularly went to Breeze Yoga, in Beckenham where I did a lot of different yoga and pilates classes. Doing these classes was very useful for keeping my body in shape and reducing the chance of injury from the cycling and running I do.

So, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of sports centres one Friday afternoon about three months ago, the first thing I did was to dash out for one final yoga class before the centre closed.

Although there has since been an easing of the coronavirus measures, sport centres still remain closed. 

However, I have not let that stop me from continuing with my fitness regime. I refuse to let this coronavirus pandemic be a reason for a loss of fitness, or a sudden weight gain. Apparently, people have been eating and notably drinking more than usual these days, and I am determined to not fall into doing that.  

I have kept in mind the fact that this time, more than any other time is the moment to stay healthy. If all hands are to the pump dealing with coronavirus casualties in the hospitals then that would restrict the availability of doctors. (I have already had a few hospital appointments cancelled because of the pandemic.)

Furthermore, studies have shown that overweight or obese people are more likely to die from coronavirus than slimmer people. My body mass index is some way off being overweight, but in a two-three month period during these extraordinary times, extraordinary things can happen! 

In any case, a hospital setting is the last location I'd want to be in at this moment in time. I definitely want to follow the government's advice to stay home - or is it stay alert - whatever! 

So during this period I have kept a routine as much as possible and have kept fit in following ways:

Cycling - luckily, unlike other countries the government did allow us to go out and take exercise - one form of exercise per day. So I would usually do a local 15-mile loop in the Surrey lanes, or I would do a 20-mile loop in Kent. I even managed to get over to London's mecca for cycling, Richmond Park, before they closed it to cyclists.

Because I was busy writing at home and doing my freelance writing work, I treated each day like a working day, so as a rule I could not spend all day riding my bike, apart from on bank holidays. For the Easter bank holiday I cycled to Harrow via a scenic route through South-West and North-West London - a handy trip as I actually managed to find eggs, which were in short supply at the time. 

For the May Day Bank holiday I cycled to St Albans and back - the government were saying the public transport should only be used for essential journeys, so I resisted the temptation to get on the Thameslink back to South London! In any case that was a nice day as I passed through various villages and suburbs where people were having VE Day anniversary celebrations in their gardens. 

For the Spring Bank Holiday I cycled to Hampstead Heath, and did a trail run around the heath. (By then there was no limit to how many outdoor activities we could do.) Hampstead Heath is lovely, by the way. Even though there were countless people outside, it was still possible to do social distancing there as there are so many hidden areas in the woods and in the bushes! 

Every few weekends I liked do an extended ride to add a bit of variety, and have something to look forward to.

Running - at this time, the running I do would normally have been training in preparation for a big event like a marathon or half-marathon. So running without having any event in mind was a little strange. So again, I tried to vary things by giving a theme to my runs - maybe including as many parks as possible in my itinerary, or hills or combining my runs with skipping. Quite a few of my runs were done as part of my errands. So I would run to my allotment to water the crops. I would combine my run with a trip to a supermarket that had no queue, or had flour in stock. Those runs ended up being quite long! Whatever, it was a way to keep me motivated - and it worked.

Skipping - As mentioned, I would sometimes combine this with my runs. But I also do stand-alone skipping sessions. Skipping is something I have done on-and-off since I was a teenager. There's nothing like a good few minutes of jumping with the rope to get the heart-rate up, and to keep my legs, bottom and arms in shape. Many years ago, when I first lived in Paris I couldn't afford to join a gym so as a way to keep fit I bought a skipping rope for 5 Francs (It was a long long time ago!). 

I would start each day by doing a 15-minute session in the courtyard of the flats where I lived, before going to work. I did get some odd looks from the neighbours and there was a grumpy old woman who stood there cursing me because I was being "too noisy"! But it was lots of fun, and it's still something I enjoy doing today. A rope is the ideal exercise accessory as you don't need to do it for long in order to stay in shape, you need very little space, and you can take it with you when travelling. 

If we had had the same strict lockdown measures in place as what were in France, Spain and Italy, skipping would have been my go-to exercise.   

Yoga - This one was a bit trickier for me because this is a comparatively new activit for me, so I am not such a yoga connoisseur that I can remember all the moves. Also, as it was mainly hot yoga I had been doing, it wasn't something I really had access to in my home - although I do have a fire in my living room!

But anyway, using a yoga mat that was bought for me as a Christmas present from a family friend, I set about doing a few asanas that I found on-line and have managed to practice a few of those regularly - mountain pose, warrior, triangle, dancer, tree, eagle, boat, vinyasa flow. In fact doing them on my own I found that I would do them slower to make sure that I was going through the moves correctly, and I have been holding the poses for longer than I would in the group classes. It actually made me more out-of-breath than I would usually be - or am I just less fit!

Hula hooping - Like with skipping, I like to add something "fun" into the mix. I have had a hula hoop for a few years now but I still feel like I have a lot to learn about it - mainly because I was rubbish at it as a child, and had embarrassed myself doing it badly in front of others in the PE classes when the teacher got us to do it. That sort of thing stays with you. 

But now I am free to make a fool of myself with it in the comfort of my own home! I am not so bad with it now and can even manage 5, even sometimes 10 minutes of continuous hooping in an anti-clockwise direction (I've yet to learn clockwise). Just doing those few minutes though is enough to get a workout and keep my waist in shape. So I make sure to do that a few times a week. Though don't expect to see me at any group hula hooping classes once things are back to normal!
So, in a nutshell, these have been my main activities. There are some conventional things mixed with some fun, novelty things to stop it from being monotonous. I also have rollerskates and pogo stick jumping on stand-by in case we go into lockdown number two and I get bored!  
I note that many folks have gotten into doing exercises on-line - whether it's a fitness regime with Joe Wicks or yoga class over Zoom. These sorts of classes have been great for many, and proven to be really popular. But I must admit I am old skool, and just prefer to do stuff at a time of my choosing to my own music and my own rhythm. It has been a way to work on my own sense of discipline and, dare I say it, routine. In any case, I haven't got my head around exercising in front of my computer camera! And in any case I don't especially want the whole world to see my untidy living room! 

All said and done,  I am pleased to have been able to maintain a fitness regime, and I am even pleased to be among that group of folks who have actually lost weight during lockdown. So whatever I am doing seems to be working. It aint broke, so I won't try to fix it! I hope people find one or two useful tips from here.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Cycle route: South London to Surrey and Kent lanes

As social distancing measures is getting more people to take up cycling, new cyclists are keen to find cycle routes they can ride for their leisure. With the glorious weather we have been enjoying in the UK for the last couple of months it's not surprising that people want to ride.

Here is a local cycle route from my home in South London, around the Kent and Surrey local lanes. It's a short route that can be done in under two hours - maybe one hour if you're a finely tuned athlete. I call it the "scout camp loop" because it goes past a scout camp along the way. It's a nice little route to do if you don't have a lot of time but want to feel like you've trained. I generally do it early in the morning before work, or in the late afternoon, after work.

The ride starts from near Elmers End, a common hang-out for bike riders in South London. There is a Tesco superstore nearby for any last-minute provisions or a cashpoint. Mind you, unless you are going there before 8am you may be in for a bit of a queue in these times of coronavirus.

Part 1

Apart from a fast descent at Spout Hill, the first half of this ride is mainly uphill, though nothing too steep apart from two sharp ramps. One comes early in the ride on The Glade, and the other one is on Featherbed Lane near the half-way point, just after the Scout Camp at Frylands Wood. After this ramp you are rewarded with a stopping point at The White Bear Pub. Well, actually it's not a real reward as government restrictions mean the pub is closed. However, there's a patch of grass you can sit on, or a wall you can lean against. When I went past yesterday, I saw a couple of motorbikers who had stopped and were having a mini picnic on the grass. There are benches and tables, but the owners have closed them off. Hey ho!

Part 2

On reaching the pub, which is at a crossroads it's good to know the climbing is more or less done, and there is a nice steady 4-mile descent along Layhams Lane to look forward to. Then in West Wickham there is one 8% gradient on Corkscrew Hill. It's very brief though, and over before you know it.

The last part of the ride, through Elmers End suburb would normally be a road where you see many groups of riders steaming through in a chain gang. I have been known to cheekily latch on to those groups to test myself and remind myself that I've still got it (or not as the case may be)! But nowadays groups are banned, so instead I do a mini time trial over the last couple of miles back to Elmers End Green. It's nice to open the burners - if only just to feel satisfied that I have used up more than a few calories and will deserve my dinner!

Part 3

I recommend this ride for anyone new to cycling for fitness and wanting to test themselves by riding it fast. It is also fine for those who are looking for a leisurely ride with a stopover in a country pub (once it has clearance to be reopen). The roads aren't flat, but they are not too steep and they give you a decent work-out over a short distance. It also feels good to be in rural lanes, even though you are less than 20 miles from Trafalgar Square. You won't be alone on these lanes, as many cyclists will be in this area too. Just give them a wave when you see them.

Find the route and stats here on Strava

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Cycle route: South London to Westminster and Chelsea

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Shout out to Geoffrey Butler Cycles

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Thursday, 21 May 2020

London gears up for more bike riders

It's official. Bike riding is very much on - even if other activities are off. And many people have been gearing up for it in this glorious weather (excuse the pun). Folks are buying bicycles or digging out their old bikes and taking to the streets up and down the country.

Many businesses have suffered during this coronavirus crisis, but bike shops have remained buoyant with some having their busiest period ever, especially as they were on the list of essential shops that could remain open.

With such quiet roads, people have taken the opportunity to cycle around unhindered with their families. Even my brother was able to go out riding with his seven-year old daughter on the roads near his home without any problem.

Now that people are steadily resuming work, the government is strongly encouraging us to cycle, in order to ease the strain on public transport and maintain social distancing. Extra pop-up lanes have been constructed too.

I think this is great, and it has been one of the few glimmers of light in what has otherwise been a rather grim period.

I must say, though that despite the efforts being made by local councils to erect pop-up lanes there are still people who want to complain about the government not doing enough for cyclists in the UK.

Central Paris, near Chatelet and Rivoli
People have a tendency to post photos of cycle lanes in other countries and then automatically claim that their system is better than what exists in our country - then proceed to slam the government.

Personally, I find that kind of talk quite tiresome. Firstly, from my experience of cycling around cities around Europe and beyond, most major cities don't have a cycling infrastructure that is so much better than what you find in London.

I have been doing conversation exchanges with folks in France, Spain and Italy recently and one thing I have found interesting is that every one of these folks - based in Paris, Toulouse, Valencia, Madrid, Milan, Verona, Bari, Florence, Brussels have all said that they do not enjoy cycling around their cities because it is too dangerous. Only one woman, based in Lyon said that she would be happy to ride around her city.

Bridge going to Saint-Michel
Interestingly, I have recently seen photos people have post on Twitter, showing these great cycling plans and lanes in Brussels and in Milan - and yes, you've guessed it - they dismissed London's efforts as comparatively poor!

I wrote an article earlier this year in which I compared the achievements of London mayor Sadiq Khan, with those of his counterpart in Paris, Anne Hidalgo. Both mayors were up for re-election this year (until COVID-19 halted the process).

Where Khan had realised around 90% of his plans for London, Hidalgo had only achieved 60%. Yet people began to rave about her plans to make Paris a 100% cycling city by 2024 with every street in Paris being cycle friendly. I am always sceptical about politicians announcing ambitious plans for the future - especially when they have fallen short with their pledges in the current manifesto. (Where have I heard that before?!)

As someone who uses a bicycle as my mode of transport whenever I visit Paris, I have found my experience of cycling around the French capital to be quite pleasant. Who wouldn't enjoy pedaling down the traffic-free path along the River Seine in the shadows of Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre? But that's just the equivalent of someone going along the cycle superhighway on the Embankment in London, with the Eye, the South Bank, and the Palace of Westminster opposite.

Cycle path along the River Seine near Chatelet
Meanwhile in Paris I get dumped off this lovely path along the River Seine and find myself on Place de la Concorde ready to start the fun and games of getting across that big square, when there's no specific cycle lane.

It's even more fun riding up the world's most famous avenue, Champs Elysees, and mixing it with all the traffic. Fortunately there are so many sets of traffic lights to stop at that vehicles can't really pick up any speed, so it's not so intimidating.

The merry-go-round continues at the Arc de Triomphe roundabout with its 12 - yes 12 exits. You are on the right (as is the case in Europe) and you need to turn left to get to the Eiffel Tower. Try negotiating that when there is no system. It's just every man, woman, and their dog for themselves and you just have to wing it and grow a few extra pairs of eyes - and balls!

Birdcage Walk, near Buckingham Palace
Back in London, the nearest we have to that is Hyde Park Corner, which is a comparatively dull, uneventful affair as you are guided safely across the round through Wellington Arch via a set of pedestrian/cycle/horse crossings.

Of course, you can always jazz things up if you choose to ride your bike around that roundabout. No doubt there are people who do so, and then complain that London roads aren't set up to accommodate cyclists! But the vast majority of people use the available cycling facility.

Then with cycle lanes through Hyde Park, and now Park Lane, and cycle paths going back towards Buckingham Palace, with dedicated cycle traffic lights cyclists have a perfectly safe and trouble-free passage across the most famous parts of Central London.

I just randomly chose Paris as the comparator, but if I substituted Paris for other cities (apart from Copenhagen and Amsterdam) similar issues would be noted. But I think you get my point, dear reader. My point is that riding through the centre of other major cities is pleasant enough, but the issues there are not so different from what is London. In fact, in few ways, London fares better.

Cycling through Central Paris at rush hour
So, I am reluctant to knock the cycling facilities in London, as I feel that they are quite good, and furthermore the Mayor of London has a lot more to juggle compared with other cities.

Sadiq Khan has a surface area to manage that is in some cases five times the size of other major European cities. Furthermore, with permission needing to be granted from each of the 33 boroughs that make up London, it makes the planning and decision-making process much more complicated than other City Councils that just deal with local government in that city alone, and maybe central government.

These factors definitely have a bearing on the way things are done, and I think that all things considered we haven't done so badly. So in these times of coronavirus I would prefer to celebrate what is being done for cycling rather than criticize it.
Cycle superhighway on Blackfriars Bridge

Related posts
Lockdown brings out large number of cyclists

Cycle route: South London to Westminster and Chelsea

Cyclists of Paris

Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: East and Central London

Sunday, 17 May 2020

52 Cycling Voices (in the time of coronavirus) - 29: Claire Floret

(Photo: Mickael Gagne)

Since 2015 during the month of July, Claire has done her annual pilgrimage around France in honour of women's cycle racing. With the women's cycling group, Donnons des Elles au Vélo she has ridden the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the men's professional race to highlight the fact that there is no women's Tour de France stage race.

Like many women, the group is campaigning for a women's Tour de France to take place at the same time as the men's professional event, much like it did in the 1980s. The initiative started out as a couple of women from France in 2015, but has since grown to a larger group, including women from across the world, with support and sponsorship from big brands involved cycling.

This popular ride along the Tour de France route ahead of the professionals, known as Donnons des Elles au Vélo J-1 [J-1 meaning one day before] selects around a dozen women from a pool of over 100 applicants. Last year, Claire noted the large number of applicants from Anglophone countries who didn't speak French. She then suggested a need for a group where they could be part of the project and still bond, thus was born the InternationElles, women from various Anglophone countries, who rode the group in parallel with the Francophone group.

(Photo: Marie Istil)
I first met Claire last year in Paris, at the end of her three-week challenge around France with the team. I travelled to the Town Hall of the 8th arrondissement (near Champs Elysées) where Donnons des Elles au Vélo and the Internationelles were given a civic reception by the Mayor of the 8th arrondissement, and we all toasted their amazing achievement.

It was a good spread, and before I indulged in the canapés and Chardonnay I introduced myself to Claire and got chatting to her. Over the months I have followed what she and the group have been up to, including through these challenging times.

Claire Floret, aged 34

From: Bayonne, SW France

Lives: Courcouronnes, near Paris

PE Teacher, and Founder/Co-ordinator of Donnons des Elles au Vélo J-1

I don’t actually come from a cycling background, as I was originally a competitive rock-climber.

Previously, I lived in the Basque Country, in south-west France, and was working as PE teacher. Then I was transferred to the Parisian region where it wasn't easy to do mountaineering!

At that time I met my partner, Matthew who is a cyclist, and he introduced me to road cycling. Initially, I took part in cyclosportives, then I moved on to take part in French Cycling Federation road races.

Nowadays road racing is much better than the early days of getting dropped (M. Gagne)
I was just 24 at the time, and would get dropped within the first 3km. It was such a massive jump in level for me. 

More than ten years on, I am still doing road races and doing okay, though sometimes I wonder to myself these days what made me stick with road racing back then when it was so tough

Donnons des Elles au Vélo is part of my cycling club, Courcouronnes Omnisports Cyclisme Feminin – based in the Parisian region. We created this club five years ago because we weren’t able to fit in well in a club that was predominantly male. 

Although we were made to feel welcome there were so few women that it was difficult to develop a training and racing programme specifically for women. So in order to deal with the things that were specific to our needs we decided to create a women’s cycling club, with it's own committee to make decisions. So the club is exclusively for women, run by women. 

As I got into cycling and saw that there was no women’s stage race at the Tour de France I thought, "I can’t believe it - we really have to do something about it."
I have always done what I can to achieve equality between boys and girls and between men and women. Since I was a child, I have never liked the thought of being prohibited from doing something because I was a girl. So I have always fought for equality. So I decided we have to do something about it. From our women's club we launched Donnons des Elles au Vélo J-1.

Sometimes the days can very be long!! (photo: Mickael Gagne)
The first year we did this J-1 ride, in 2015, everyone thought it was a crazy idea and people didn't believe we could succeed. 

We were an intimate group of just me, my sister-in-law Marie, and Matthew to set off from Utrecht, Netherlands. Then on Stage 3 in Belgium, a cycletourist, Marion, who was also doing the ride, joined us for the rest of the challenge. Along the way a few people would join us to do a stage or two, but most of the time there were just four of us. 

We rode as a chain gang, but with just four of us that made for each person doing some long turns on the front and the days were very long!!

Although we had a support vehicle in case of mechanical problems we still had to sort out our meals, laundry, and self-massaging after every stage. Then the rest days were spent going shopping for food and replenishing provisions.

Our arrival on the Champs Elysées, in Paris was a bit strange. There we were in the middle of all the cars, trying to navigate our way through the traffic. No one knew who we were or what we'd done. We used up most our energy trying to pass the cars safely, and in the end we didn't think so much about celebrating this great thing that we hadn't been sure would succeed.

We had aimed to do this ride in 2015 as a one-off, but then we received interest and engagement from others, and people were interested in our story. 

Then we had a boost when organisations came forward to provide funds for us to do another ride. The French Cycling Federation, the Minister for Women's Rights, and Cycling Fans who sponsor our club, plus other companies all sponsored our ride. This was really good to receive this recognition of the message we were sending.

Logistical support is very important in completing the challenge (photo: Mickael Gagne)
So as a result, we ended up doing a second, a third, a fourth, and a fifth edition of the event with more and more people wanting to join us. 
The second year that we did the ride there were eight of us and I felt more emotional on that occasion than on the first time, as it was great to share the moment as a group, and see the others cry for joy.

In the last three years we have had a great support team of eight or nine people - physiotherapists, osteopaths, mechanics, a photographer, and a safety and support motorbiker, along with others who deal with our logistics. 

Within the riders and the support team we motivate each other during those difficult moments, as we are all working towards the common goal of reaching Paris. The project is as big as it is ambitious, and even though we have managed to get around the route previously, we can't be complacent and assume that we will get there the following year.

In fact, in 2017, the third year of the tour I got food poisoning and came very close to not completing a couple of the stages as I could barely eat or drink anything. But somehow I managed to put myself into autopilot and carry on!

Conquering the col d'Izoard (Photo: Mickael Gagne)
Normally we break the stage up by having a few cafe stops - a 10-minute break in the morning and then in the afternoon, and a 30-minute stop at lunchtime. 

The mountain stages are the hardest, but they are less monotonous as we have different cols to climb. 

The long flat stages are the hardest psychologically, as your mind is less focused, and you notice the aches and pains that bit more, especially in the undercarriage department!

I do have some great memories though. For example last year, I really loved the climb up the col d'Izoard because the previous time I did it was in 2017 and struggled so much. This time I enjoyed every metre of the climb and really took in the scenery. It was lovely to go over the summit with Matthew, and do a victory salute. 

It was a beautiful stage from Embrun to Valloire where the Mayor and hundreds of people welcomed us with a guard of honour like we were professionals from the Tour de France. Then a few days later ASO announced that they were working to organise a women's Tour de France.

Civic reception in Paris (photo: Maria David)
We start the process of recruiting team members for the following year's tour around November. 

We decide how many places there will be on the challenge, depending on the available vehicles and logistics. 

For the last three years we've had around 100 applicants for around 13-15 places. 

We receive the CVs and make an initial selection of around 50 women whom we interview to see how engaged they are in the campaign for the developing women's cycling. 

We also want to see how athletic they are, and how sociable they are, given that we will be spending a lot of time together. Being able to speak French is therefore quite important. Based on that we make a final selection for who will be on the team. 

These riders are part of the official sponsored team that rides the full Tour de France route, but during our ride, people are welcome to sign up to ride with us for part of a stage or for one or two stages along the way as guests. Those people sort out their own logistics and support for the time they are with us.

The riders on the team don't have to be road racers, but they need to be fit enough to ride 3,500km in three weeks at a comparable pace with the rest of the group (25km/h on flat terrain).
The training to prepare for this varies depending on the person in terms of their experience as a cyclist and if this is their first time doing this challenge.

For me, it'll be the sixth time I'm doing it so I guess I have a bit more muscle memory. I can't say it gets any easier though as each year my body is that bit older! I don't tend to do specific training for the J-1, as my training is for my overall racing season which includes various road races in the national and regional series.

(Photo: Mickael Gagne)
My training consists of five sessions per week, and I do around 1,000km per month. I also do two sessions of crossfit per week and training camps at Christmas, February, and April. In addition I simulate the cols, given that I don't have access to mountains in the Parisian region!

This year, because of coronavirus, our ride will be M-1, and not the usual J-1. That means we will be doing the ride one month before the Tour de France, from 29 July to 20 August. We would not have been able to ride the Tour de France route during September as most of the team have professional and family commitments which would make it difficult to take time off in September. 

Of course we will still be promoting our message on equality, and promoting women's cycling. We also hope people can join us along the way for one or two stages (depending on government coronavirus policy at the time). I understand the InternationElles are planning their ride for September.

Like with everything else we are going to have to be flexible in our organisation, given the changing circumstances and announcements the government makes. With this in mind, we will adjust our logistics in line with the government rules and the local rules in the different regions at the time. This could be in terms of accommodation or the number of guests that can ride with us on the different stages.

Team-mates can provide a great support network (Photo: Mickael Gagne)
We are also keen to support good causes during this time, and so profits from the sale of our Donnons des Elles au Vélo jerseys will be donated to a medical research organisation. So we will dedicate our ride to the current medical crisis, as well as to equality in sport.

For me, this has been a difficult period. When the lockdown was first announced it really knocked my schedule off balance and my goals were uncertain. I didn't know what I would be training for, or if my events would be taking place at all. It was difficult to stay motivated. 

I was lucky enough to live in a house with garden, though the hardest days were on those when it rained and the effect of being under lockdown felt even more acute. Initially I had a routine where I would do core stability work first thing in the morning. Then after a one-hour walk to the bakers I would do cross fit, pedalling on the turbotrainer, kettle bell, step-ups and virtual yoga classes.

I was still quite busy as I was giving virtual classes to my students. I also saw it as a time to try new things like making puff pastry, picking dandelions to make a salad, doing gardening, and playing board games.

Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with COVID-19. Initially felt tired, with aches and pains all over my body for about two days. After recovering from those symptoms I lost my sense of taste and smell. Two months on I still haven't regained those senses. Furthermore, I also experienced neuro-psychological symptoms - something that is hardly ever spoken about as one of the effects of COVID-19. I suffered from depression, like I had never had before, and suddenly lost all sense of direction and life no longer had any meaning. 

Claire with Trek-Segafredo's Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Photo: Mickael Gagne)
It was helpful to be in the Donnons des Elles au Velo chat group and we could support each other - especially as a couple of the women are nurses working in the front-line and things were stressful for them.

Things are getting better for me now, and having something like the M-1 to plan has been the best form of therapy!!

There are a few people who inspire me in my cycling. I admire Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo) who is straight-talking, and not afraid to step forward and stand up for the interests of professional cyclists. I also really like Roxane Fournier (Chevalmeire Cycling Team), who I had the pleasure to race against in the Parisian region before she turned professional. Like me, she is a sprinter who I really like to emulate. 

I also love Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who is a super ambassador for women's cycling. I love her fresh, spontaneous, sincere way of speaking. When you listen to Cecilie you really feel like getting on a bike and racing. And let's not forget to mention the men.....I like Mark Cavendish because he small and a sprinter, like me, and he is a bit of a rebel!

Shared cause and celebration: Donnons des Elles au Velo and an InternationElle (M.Gagne)
Being part of Donnons des Elles au Vélo means a lot to me. 

I really like the human aspect of it, and how it brings so many different people together - amateurs and professionals, cyclists and triathletes, or skiers - French with foreigners, young riders with experienced racers, men and one cares where you are from, or where you're going, but we are all together for one common cause - to advance cycling for women.

Other Cycling Voices
Maria Canins

Janet Birkmyre

Monica and Paola Santini

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Jenni Gwiazdowski

Sarah Strong

Rochelle Gilmore

Rebecca Charlton

Giorgia Bronzini

Emily Chappell