Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 23 September 2007

Freewheeling fun and games

I expressed some doubt about how London Freewheel would cope with all the people that might be tempted to turn up without registering.

Well, I don't know what the figures were, but what I saw suggests that everything went very smoothly. The weather was perfect, and there was every sign that a good day out was had by all. There were families with children of all ages, some pedalling furiously on their own bikes, and some in trailers (some people had brought their dogs in trailers and baskets as well), there were braves and goths and a not-quite Kendo Nagasaki, there were roller-bladers and skateboarders and even some people on Segways.

I went to the Victoria Park "hub", where the attempts to rev up the mood with cheerleaders and a unicyclist seemed to be dampened by the kind of embarrassed British reserve you'd expect at 11am on a Sunday. By the time I'd taken the tube to rejoin the route at Bishopsgate, there were still only a few discreet tinklings of bells.

But by the time people got into the Blackfriars underpass there was woo-hooing and screaming to beat the band; and in St James's Park, there was one elaborately decorated recumbent (see the video-clip below) with a trumpet as well.

Apart from one stand-up row with a bus-driver in Bishopsgate, one or two few tearful children getting separated from their parents en route, one show-off riding on the pavement (and doing a wheely) along the Embankment and a little boy tumbling over outside Buckingham Palace, there really didn't seem to be any problems. But did the St John's Ambulance people have to ride on the pavement along Embankment? And please can someone stop cyclists jumping the red lights at Elephant and Castle in the morning rush hour? It happens every day.

The "festival" in the Park amounted to some commercial stands and displays of artistic cycling and BMX daring. A big hit was the opportunity to try out various unusual kinds of cycle.

If I'd thought about it in advance, I might even have picked up on the opportunity to hire a bike and join in - except that the Freewheel website didn't list any in Tower Hamlets. However, I was quite taken with this possible afternoon out; and even if we don't (yet) have anything like the Parisian Vélib, we have the makings of a start. I even began to reminisce about the bike I loved dearly as a teenager, and the terrible old wreck I kept for years after it ought to have gone to the tip. Maybe I should invest in a bike again; or maybe I should future-proof myself for old age....

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