“We’re going all the way to London, for less than an hour.”
It was true; the whole reason for our holiday to London – halfway around the world – was for a bicycle race that would be done and dusted in under an hour. Well under an hour, as it turned out. But as I’ve previously blogged, having won the chance to race in the 2016 Brompton World Championship Final – right outside the front of Buckingham Palace! – I wasn’t going to miss out!
Given the effort required to get there we decided to make it into a proper holiday. Arriving about a week before the race, we had time to get over jet lag, acclimatise (that didn’t take long!), and familiarise ourselves with our location.
Taking our transport with us made everything so much easier! Bromptons are perfectly designed for travel and city living. We didn’t have the hassle or expense of hiring (and parking!) a car. We chose to wear helmets while riding around (except on one or two occasions) unlike many of the locals. Compared those at home, London drivers are much more aware of bicycle riders, and are so much more considerate and tolerant of other road users in general, that exploring London by bicycle was a real pleasure.
All too soon the big day arrived. Saturday, 30 July 2016 – day of the 11th Brompton World Championship Final!
Was I ready?
There are two ways to approach a Brompton World Championship (“BWC”). The first is to train hard, spec up your bike (as much as your budget will allow) and ride to win! The second is simply ride to have fun!
Which ever approach you choose (I’d chosen the second option), there is one more consideration all riders face before race day: what to wear. With a strict “No (visible) Lycra” policy, the dress code for the BWC read as follows:
“…all participants, both male and female, must be completely clothed from neck to no shorter than mid-thigh in a costume that consists of a sleeved suit jacket, collared shirt and neck tie (men only). Shorts, three-quarter length trousers and skirts may be worn if preferred.”
I’d managed to find a woollen jacket to go with the rest of my green and gold-themed costume; just perfect for a mid-summer’s race!
Fortunately the race was in the evening and the day hadn’t been overly warm. We’d spent a few hours participating in the Ride London FreeCycle event – with approximately 70,000 other riders, though only once early in the day did it feel particularly crowded. We ended up completing two laps of the 8 mile circuit, but people were free to do as many laps or as little of it as they pleased. It was a lovely way to pass the time, riding around the streets without worrying about cars.
As the afternoon progressed it was time to collect my registration kit for the BWC. The contents included race numbers for me (shoulders and back) and my Brompton (frame and handlebars) as well as a timing chip that was fixed to the front fork. And then it was just a matter of admiring other Bromptons, checking out modifications and rider’s outfits as they came in to the Brompton area, and meeting other people (including national champions from around the world) who are as passionate about these small-wheeled bikes as I am.
I was hoping to see Will Butler-Adams (OBE) here, but didn’t expect to nearly bump into him – quite literally! But there he was, a great guy to talk to, who doesn’t brush you off as soon as another group indicate that they need his presence. Better yet, he recognised “Melbourne Brompton Club” when I handed him one of our special business cards! How’s that?!
We also had the opportunity to talk further with Stephen Loftus (Brompton’s CMO), who’d lead our group on the Brompton Factory tour the previous day. Like Will, he seemed more than happy to discuss a wide range of topics – all Brompton related, naturally!
Seeing the lengths some people have gone to modify their bikes (and not to mention the associated cost), I felt very glad I didn’t come with my heart set on winning. The only modification seemingly not allowed in the BWC is any type of battery or electric/power assist. My lovely 2016 Lagoon Blue Black Edition was almost an off-the-shelf H6L (i.e. tall front stem, 6 speed, guards/fenders) except I’d switched the stock Brompton saddle at the last-minute to my ultra-comfortable B67 Brooks saddle from my red H3R Brompton (my usual commuter; tall, 3 speed, rear rack). A decision I was very happy with in the end as we spent many hours riding exploring London on our Brommies. I’m not sure that anyone else was riding around with a seat weighing 1kg (well, apart from the Belgian rider on the recumbent Brompton, but his whole bike is so completely different I’m not certain it counts), and if I was that concerned about how much my bike weighed I might have remembered to take out the toolkit… I’m sure those 200g counted for something! 😉
Our race was the last event of the day. The warm-up act was the RideLondon Classique – the richest women’s one-day cycle race, and with a £25,000 prize for first place (out of a total prize pool of £100,00) you can understand why!
Just before 7pm the call came for BWC riders to assemble according to our assigned categories – A (faster) at the front down to D (slower) at the back. Moving onto the race track, we lined up our folded Bromptons in front of our race number on the banners, then formed a line on the opposite side. The Le Mans start and the unfolding of your Brompton is a key feature of a BWC, and can give a well-practiced (un)folder a good edge over a competitor who may be their equal once riding, but who messes up the unfolding sequence. Thankfully we only had a dash of about 5m to reach our Bromptons (3-4m if you’d been a bit crafty about it!).
To avoid a jam of roughly 500 riders all trying to race off together, the start is staggered by category. Riders in Category A started with the hooter. With the crowd assisting with the count-down, 10 sec later another hooter was the signal for the Category B riders to dash to their Bromptons. Surprisingly, I still felt calm when the hooter sounded for Category C riders. Then finally it was our turn! The most important thing is to have enough room to unfold your handlebars, I think. Some people grab their bike and unfold in the middle of the track. Being right down the back of the field I seemed to have enough space to unfold where I left it. The moment I took to make sure I had my saddle straight and at a good height paid off; I had a comfortable ride!
Once I was riding the excitement really kicked in. I had a whole field of people I needed to pass to do a time I was going to be pleased with. Sure – I was riding for fun, but I was also going to do my best. Weaving past people still unfolding and just mounting their bikes, riding over the start/finish line, past the cheering crowd, past the media vans – The Mall had never felt as short as it did now!
I rode wide I wasn’t needlessly weaving – but not so I was blocking faster riders passing on the right – getting a good feel of my first Brompton race and the course for a couple of laps. I’d been cautioned about the corner turning into Horse Guards Road, but the fencing was so well placed to guide us around that it wasn’t too fearsome.
Slowly overtaking people I kept my pace steady; I did not want to tire too quickly and burn out. Approaching The Mall there is a slight rise up to the last corner of the circuit. Slight, but enough to warrant (for me at least) a change down to 5th gear; no point wearing out the legs, and better to keep the same cadence.
It took me a lap or two to find a “rabbit” to chase, but I mostly rode my own race. I lost count of the laps after number three, but by about number 4 (and definitely by lap 5) I was keeping an eye on the time, willing the lead riders to hurry up! The ride ends when the winner crosses the line; 8 laps of the park, and this year in just under 26 minutes. Everyone else gets to compete the lap they are on, but then the race is over.
Although I thought I was doing reasonably well, although I knew a Brompton could go pretty fast, I was still stunned at the speed at which I was overtaken by the lead pack of riders. I lost track of how many times I was overtaken; I’m guessing twice if they did 8 laps to my 6, but it felt like more. There are some seriously fast Bromptoneers out there. Ok, so they’re mostly professional cyclists, and I’ve seen other BWC’s on YouTube clips previously, but to ride with (or rather, be passed by) these people in the same race… Sheesh!! It was amazing!
My final time was 27:35 for 6 laps. The winning men’s and women’s times were 25:54 (8 laps) to Mark Emsley (4th consecutive BWC Final title) and 28:09 (8 laps) to Isabel Hastie – though that was a photo finish with Sarah Phelps who officially received the same time. The times were very quickly up on the internet and (thanks to Cory back home) I was pretty stoked to be told I finished 48th out of 102 women, especially considering my training (i.e. riding to and from work) had notably reduced since the end of daylight savings time.
The best clip I’ve seen so far from this year’s race has to be by Michael Fouracre (you must listen with sound!):
Here is Brompton Bicycle’s clip (my goodness there are some fast unfolds there!). You can see me for a few seconds from 1:30 mark, if you don’t care to watch the whole 2:29 of it!
But the best part of the race was not over taking people, was not being amazed by the speed of the elite riders, was not finally crossing the finish line. It was having fun! It was waving to people I knew in the cheering crowd; Francis from Brompton Society, and a lovely lady from the Brompton Factory whom I’d only met the previous day but who cheered me on each lap, and my partner Stephen, without whom I’d never have even heard of Bromptons in the first place, let alone made it to London! It was a celebration of our love of Brompton folding bicycles; each so similar, yet all uniquely different.
Enjoying the opportunity to participate in this event is not one I’ll quickly forget. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to race around out the front of Her Majesty’s Palace (one of them, anyway), with the whole length of The Mall bedecked with Union Jack flags, on a bike made right there in London, with hundreds of other riders from all over the world.
Pretty special, really.
Thank you to everyone at Brompton – from the renown brazers, to the mechanics, the admin staff, the designers, the big wigs like Will and Stephen, and everyone who worked long hours on and in the lead up to this day, to make the BWC2016 Final run as smoothly as a Brompton fresh out of the factory. Although we didn’t see him there, thanks always go to Andrew Ritchie, without whom we would not have come together united in our passion for these brilliant, small-wheeled folding bicycles. A final thank you goes to Prudential Ride London for their FreeCycle and overall organisation of this most enjoyable cycling festival.