What could be cuter and more British than the iconic folding Brompton bike? How about a whole bunch of Bromptons, whizzing past Buckingham Palace? Local fan Barbara Grace was lucky enough to not only attend but actually take part in the world champs in London this year – here’s her report:
I’ve had my green Brompton folding bicycle for 5 years now, and it is still the favourite of my three bikes. I’ve often thought I would like to take my bike to the home of the Brompton – so when I heard that the 10th Brompton World Championship was to be held in London this year, with an open ballot for the 575 places, I thought I’d go for it.
And I was successful! I was chosen to go! Fantastic! Just a few things to organise – the flights, the accommodation, would my daughter Pippa be persuaded to come too? and so on. Then a surge of excitement. Perhaps I would be the only contestant from New Zealand, and Air NZ might give me an upgrade on account of my status as a national rep.
But wait. I’m 72 and not even an athlete. There could be humiliation involved (coming last, or falling off, for instance). I decide to just represent Grey Lynn – well, 101 Richmond Road actually.
Next question: the race wardrobe. No lycra is allowed, and shirts, jacket and ties are the rules for race wear. Not a problem for me, except what colour goes best with my bike.
Then there’s the training. The race has a Le Mans-type start where contestants first do a dash to unfold their bikes before racing away. I decide my only hope for cutting down my overall race time is to concentrate on unfolding my bike as fast as possible. I get my unfold time down from 20 secs to 15. Not great, when the record is about 6 seconds, but if I try to do it any faster, I‘m likely to fumble.
The Brompton World Championship is part of RideLondon, a whole weekend of cycling events in central London with miles of streets closed to traffic, including the great FreeCycle when everyone gets to have a go.
On race day, Saturday August 1st, we catch the train from Dulwich Village, where we are staying, to Victoria Station. Pippa hires a Boris Bike and we make our way together to the Brompton race area for registration.
The race circuit runs around the perimeter of St James Park, starting in The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, around to Birdcage Walk and Horse Guards Parade, then back to The Mall. We’ll be doing 8 circuits and 17.2 kms in total. The Brompton HQ and hospitality area is at the bottom of the Duke of York steps on The Mall.
Time to eye up the other contenders. There are the pro racers and the people who have qualified from other championships around the world – and others like me who just want to compete. I can’t find any other Kiwis. Surely there’s another one here, as 20 countries are represented – but I seem to be the only one. There are lots of interesting interpretations of the dress code. There’s a Duke of Wellington, and a Ninja warrior who is part of the Japanese contingent, and a chap from the Czech Republic who appears to be dressed as the Queen.
We are sorted into 4 grids, A to D, ranked from fastest (the pro racers and qualifiers) to the slowest. Each group will start at a few seconds interval. No surprise to find I am in group D.
At last…we’re off! It’s not too long before the peloton is lapping us much slower cyclists. The whirring noise as they approach is quite scary and they zoom past at an impressive speed. A woman in front of me crashes. Help! Please don’t let that happen to me! I pedal on, and pass a few of the slowest riders. Around we go. And in what feels like no time at all, the race is over! The winner was Mark Emsley, successfully defending his 2014 title. Though I’m quite a way down the list, I am still a respectable distance from the slowest.
We are given a restorative gin and tonic to rehydrate (very civilised) and then it’s time for the prizegiving. I wish I was getting a latest model Brompton and some champagne like the winners, but am very happy to have a medal, and to have gone all the way round the world to take part in such a special event with my beloved bike.
— story and photos by Barbara Grace