What I learned on Nightrider

NightriderNightrider is exactly what it sounds like: a night-time round trip cycle ride of 100km, either starting at Alexandra Palace or Crystal Palace late on Saturday night and finishing on Sunday morning. I rode it this weekend to raise sponsorship money for the outstanding development charity Practical Action.

Without going into too much detail (which will be meaningless if you don’t know London), from Ally Pally it went to Hampstead Heath, down to central London, wiggled around a bit, headed south through Brixton and Herne Hill to Crystal Palace, then through Sydenham Hill to Lewisham, Blackheath, Greenwich and back to Tower Bridge, a bit more wiggling, then Wapping, Canary Wharf, Mile End and Stratford on the way back to Ally Pally. Or there’s a map here.

And this is what I learnt:

The anticipation is worse than the ride. This is me, milling around at the start at Alexandra Palace, circa 10.40 p.m.   08062013466 at the start md

Reflectolite and flash photography don’t mix. Given that most cyclists’ clothing these days is reflective, it’s not surprising. It’s just a surprise when you forget to turn the flash off then look at the picture. The person in the dazzle on the right is my cycling companion Luke Crawley, of whom more later.

08062013464 reflectolite

There’s a lot of cars in the middle of London on Saturday night.
And I mean, lots. I didn’t take any pictures because I was navigating the traffic, but Baker Street was full of traffic, Piccadilly was teeming (we were there just before midnight). There also seemed to be a disproportionate number of people crawling through the jams in over-powered sports cars, but maybe I just noticed them because they were driving around saying “Look at me”. Even at 3 a.m. the number of cars heading east was surprising.

It’s hard to take a picture of Big Ben with smartphone. 00:26 a.m. File under: atmospheric.

09062013471 big ben md

Tower Bridge looks stunning at night. 03:00 a.m.

09062013478 tower bridge cropped

Management consultants work late. 03:00 a.m. I’m pretty sure this is the offices of PWC in More London, but it could be one of the expensive City lawyers who’re based there. But anyway, the only reason for all the lights being on must be that they’re still hard at work. On a deal. Or something.

09062013479 pwc

It’s not all glamour. 04:25 a.m. The last refreshment stop outside a leisure centre in Mile End, just after dawn.

09062013482 mile end md

There are a lot of cobbles in Wapping High Street. A lot. The super-domestique Sean Yates was once interviewed about the best way to ride on cobbles. I think the interviewer was expecting one of those secrets of the peleton. His advice: “You ride as quickly as possible to get it over with as fast as you can”.

Memory works in mysterious ways. Here’s the thing. You’re following the Nightrider route, looking for the next directional arrow, so you don’t have much of the route in your own head. And then you’ll come across a road or a location which throws up a fragment of something from the past – a wine bar where (you remember a bit later) a boss organised a celebration in Blackheath, the start of a sponsored ride 25 years ago you’d forgottn you’d ever done. And maybe this slightly dreamlike quality is enhanced because it’s the middle of the night.

Eat and drink properly. I cramped briefly at around 70km, and cursed myself. On the training rides I’d been really diligent about eating and hydrating properly (do it on a schedule, because if you wait until you’re thirsty or hungry it’s too late). But on the actual ride I lost track of the schedule and had to drink half my bidon to get the cramp to go away. There’s a bigger point here, about treating the distance with a little bit of respect. As I was coming home (at 6.30 in the morning) I overtook a couple of young women on heavy mountain bikes at Crouch End, with another 35km to go back to their start point at Crystal Palace, and touch and go as to whether they’d make the cut-off. 

Go with a friend. Better still, make sure that the friend is Luke Crawley, seen in the picture at the Crystal Palace stop. Luke used to do Audax rides – 200km in a day, more on a full weekend – and has also (massive respect) completed Paris-Brest-Paris. There were times towards the three-quarter mark, when I was flagging, when I was grateful for Luke’s ability to set a steady pace. And (maybe this is also from his Audax days) he invariably saw the not-so-easy-to-spot direction arrows before I did.

09062013475 Luke at CP

Next time, wear merino. The combination of the sweat from the steep climb to Crystal Palace and the north-easterly wind meant that as we headed back to south-east London I was a bit chilly. It’s all about the wicking, and the base layer cycling shirt I had on wasn’t wicking very well. I’d planned to wear a merino base layer and changed my mind. Won’t make that mistake again.

A bit of ritual goes a long way. 05:23 a.m. When we finished we were steered towards a tent where we were given a medal and had our photographs taken. Trivial, but it made you feel like you’d achieved something. I tried to get the woman who was handing out medals into the picture but she kept stepping out of the way. I don’t know the cyclist in the photo, who’s just collected his medal: he was just in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.

09062013483 Ally Pally again

And here’s the proof. 07:00 a.m. I ended up cycling 103km on the ride (we missed a sign and ended up going on a bit of detour to get back on the route), and after I’d finished and had breakfast I realised the easiest way to get home was to ride there. 121km? I was quite impressed. But then, you can do anything with photoshop these days.

09062013486 cyclometer md

Thanks to all of my generous sponsors, who have nudged up my total to almost £600 £650. If you haven’t sponsored me, and would like to, I’d love to get my total past that £600 £650 mark. And my Justgiving page will stay open (I think) until the end of July.

And if you’re thinking of doing Nightrider, do it. It’s a very different cycling experience, and a memorable one.

The photographs in this post (but not the Nightrider logo) are by Andrew Curry and are published here under a Creative Commons Licence: some rights reserved.


1 Comment

  1. you’re right about the memories the ride brings back. I was cycling down Grosvenor Rd, (chelsea) and suddenly remembered a restaurant that i used to visit there. i spent the next few miles thinking of the girls i’d taken there and what might have been….

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