A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad


Boat Race part 2: Greenwich to Cambridge

157th Varsity Boat Race
Part 2: Greenwich to Cambridge

Distance: 96 km / 60 mi

Sunday morning. I woke up, and it seemed like only a couple of hours since I went to bed. It was. I was not the best prepared I’ve ever been for a bike ride; I think it was a consequence of the pointless farce by which the clocks go forwards, which meant I lost an hour of sleep. It certainly had nothing to do with the late bedtime, loud music, and the sofa that was comfy but ever so slightly too short, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the wine and coke. Oh no.
However, it was a lovely day, and a 2 minute roll along the edge of Greenwich Park jolted me fully awake, and brought me to the foot tunnel. Again, it’d be nicer without steps, but we can’t have everything in life. Carrying my bike up and down those steps was probably the most strenuous part of the journey! This time, I knew where I was headed, so it was a short ride from leaving the tunnel to the canal.
Travelling to London always shakes my faith in humanity a little, and this time was no exception: the glittering towers of Canary Wharf, the prisons of the wealthy, nestle around and among the run-down tenement blocks of Tower Hamlets like some sort of dystopia, a real-life Huxley novel. I cycled past a young dad, playing with his five kids and teaching them to ride a minimoto on the scrap of sand at the edge of an old slipway; past a Muslim family, looking somewhat incongruous with the man in jeans, a fleece and new trainers, while his wife walked beside him clad head-to-toe in a black burqa, anonymous and invisible in the morning sunshine.

Aquatics Centre Aerial. View of the Aquatics Centre showing the development of the temporary seating areas on either side. Picture taken on 08 Feb 11 by Anthony Charlton.
The Isle of Dogs was surprisingly busy so early on a Sunday, but it’s pretty small so it wasn’t long until I was on the towpath alongside the Limehouse Cut, heading north-east to meet the Lee Valley canal. I made quick progress along this stretch, rumbling over patches of cobbles and wooden boards under bridges, but making good time along the flat, fine gravel inbetween as there were few walkers or other cyclists about. Once I reached the main north-south canal, the towpath was soon blocked for the ‘planned improvements to walkways and cycleways for the Olympic development’. I’m decidedly ambivalent about the Olympics; I think they can be great fun to watch, and seeing such high-level competition is thrilling - and best of luck to anyone going for a place in them! - but it’s an awful lot of investment to build so much infrastructure in a new city every four years. And for what? For all the talk of legacy, does London really need another football stadium? (The athletics track will be converted to one afterwards.) Is £269 million of public money well-spent on 17,500 temporary seats round a swimming pool, when the world championships can’t even fill 2,500? That’s over £10,000 per seat! Maybe they should have tried Ikea? Maybe they could have spent a little money on diversion signs to show people the way back to the towpath on the other side of the works. (Actually, they did spend some money on signs; a little way along a came across a footpath diversion - this way sign, flapping forlornly in the morning breeze. It even had an arrow, it’s just a shame the arrow was pointing at the ground.) Having got lost the previous day actually paid off, as I recognised the direction I was supposed to be heading in and found my way back to the towpath.
In London, that stretch of towpath is reasonably flat, and certainly passable on a road bike, but it’s not a great surface. However, it improves later on. Fortunately it still wasn’t very busy once I got further north, and I was down onto the aerobars for a couple of miles sprint along one of the smoothest sections. Coming into Ware, where the route joins the road, I started to hear a funny clicking. Not very loud, but just enough to be worrying; I stopped, and looked over everything. I usually take a spoke key on long rides, but barring my 10 day trip for the Three Peaks, I’ve never had to use it. Of course, this time I hadn’t brought it, cambridge-to-the-isle-of-dogs.pngand I was mentally kicking myself for it. However, the spokes seemed ok, and I couldn’t find anything else wrong. So, back on the bike; just take it easy, I suppose. Despite riding slowly and gently, the noise started to get worse, and it was just as I was climbing the hill out of Ware that it happened. Now, somethings ought to be expected and prepared for on long cycle trips, a puncture kit is de rigeur around London, but the sprockets coming off? (Non-bikey note: the sprockets are the cogs on the back wheel.) I’ve not heard of that happening before. Especially as it tightens in use! However, mine was now scattered, in pieces, across the road. After I’d collected the ball bearings - or as many as I could - I sat down to investigate the problem, and all I could tell was, the sprockets had come unscrewed. There was no sign of any damage, and as it tightens in use I’m still mystified as to how it could have happened; if anyone reading this can shed some light on it, please do! To fix it, I had a spanner, a screwdriver, and a pair of tyre levers. Not a happy situation! I made the best of it, managing to get it back together after a fashion, and took the rest of the ride back to Cambridge nice and slowly. Fortunately, it was again a lovely sunny day - doing that in the rain would not have been fun! But all-in-all, it made for a food morning’s riding, with an impromptu maintenance lesson thrown in.

Route on Gmap

PS. I had another first on this trip: I had overtaken cars before (usually in traffic, or occasionally down a steep and windy hill); buses and other cyclists on a regular basis; but never before had I overtaken an aeroplane! Well, now I have. It was some sort of old biplane; I can only assume the pilot was trying to see how slowly the plane would fly into the wind, or something like that.