Top tips for RideLondon, the capital’s cycling marathon – The Guardian (blog)

Shortly before 6am on Sunday, the first of about 25,000 intrepid cyclists will set off from the Olympic Park in east London on a 100-mile trip through the capital and into the hills of Surrey, finishing on the Mall.

It is the fifth year of an event which has so far lived up to its billing of a London marathon for two wheels, part of a wider and much-enjoyed weekend of cycling activities in the capital, which has now spawned similar events elsewhere in Britain.

I’m taking part for a fifth time this weekend, and below is a potted selection of tips and observations for those who might be riding it for a first time. If you’re a RideLondon veteran, feel free to disagree or add your own.

1. You’ll probably ride the route faster than you think

Many RideLondon debutants have never ridden 100 miles in one go before, and are understandably wary. And it’s worth noting straightaway, this is is a real challenge. It just might be slightly less of one than you think.

To begin with, the course is relatively flat. Yes, there is the grind up Leith Hill shortly before the 60-mile mark, which isn’t easy. But apart from the relatively gentle (and billiard table-smooth) hairpins of Box Hill and the final struggle up Wimbledon Hill on the way home, that’s more or less it for the long, steep stuff.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that so packed is the course – more on that below – you’ll probably spend much of your time amid a big if ever-changing group of riders, with all the wind-blocking speed benefits that brings.

It’s also easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the event. I began my 2013 debut thinking I’d enjoy the various feed stations, maybe aim for beating six-and-a-half hours. Slightly over five hours later, and without stopping once, I wheezed to a halt on the Mall.

2. Be careful

The event has got bigger each year, and even over 100 miles of roads, 25,000 cyclists is a lot. It can feel pretty congested, especially where the route narrows.

So do enjoy being part of the biggest peloton you can imagine, but keep a close eye out for sudden braking, or inadvertently crossing wheels with another rider. You’ll inevitably see at least one crash or its aftermath. Do all you can to make sure you’re not involved.

A lot of participants will not have ridden in a big group before, so if you are more experienced be helpful, for example pointing to potholes or other hazards on the road (dropped water bottles are especially common).

But if you are a quicker rider facing a later start time, do also be sensible overtaking others. The bane of the event is whippet-thin riders on expensive bikes yelling, “On your right!” before barging into a space that isn’t really there. If you’re that obsessed with speed sign up to a time trial.

3. Eat and drink enough

If you’ve never taken part in a long-distance bike event before, remember to top up your food levels before you feel weary and light-headed, not when it’s already happening.

What you eat is personal preference, and the feed stations are regular and well-stocked. I generally rely on energy gels, those odd-tasting but very efficient little packs you can stuff into jersey pockets and eat on the move, though be careful to not drop the empty packs.

You can also buy gels with added caffeine, giving a combined sugar/coffee kick which could probably be used by teenagers as a party drug. Unleash one of these 20 miles from the end and you’re back in central London before you know it.

RideLondon



About 25,000 cyclists will take part in this year’s RideLondon. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

4. Don’t over-dress, but do stay warm at the start

Don’t be tempted to wear enough clothes to feel warm before you even set off. Over such a long distance you’ll soon be clammy, with little pocket space for discarded layers.

If Sunday’s weather stays as forecast – rising from about 15C at dawn to 22C or so – then anything more than a top and shorts will get over-toasty after a few miles.

But also remember: you’ll be hanging around at the start for a long time, so bring something to insulate you as you wait, whether a rain jacket or – as some do – a bin bag you can dispose of before setting off.

5. Wave to those watching

One of the joys of the event is the crowds of people who line the pavements to cheer you on, everyone from pyjama-wearing children on deckchairs outside their homes at the early sections to extended families with personalised banners in the Surrey villages.

I have particular vestigial feelings of warmth towards the spectators who turned out for the biblically wet 2014 edition, when the downpours were so severe they obliged the organisers to shorten the course for safety reasons.

It can be tempting to speed along, head down, intent on a target time. But do wave to some people. As much as those on the bikes, they make the event what it is.

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