20 September 2009
London Skyride: Marshalling arguments
Whatever it's being called - the Hovis TfL Mayor of London Sky TV Freewheel London Skyride or whatever - the annual closed-road cycle ride round the centre of the capital today will be touted, with good reason, as a big success: lovely weather, and over 50,000 participants.
Sky certainly put in lots of resources: cheerleaders encouraging us through loudspeakers to ding our bells and put our hands in the air and shout 'boo' to cars; bags of freebies; branded reflective bibs; many-tented entertainments; wacky bikes making their way along the route; and lots of marshals telling you to go faster or slower and not to stop there and not to do that.
It was a fine spectacle, and enjoyable to see such a staggering number of bikes saturating the route (Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge and back, essentially) and St James's Park (the rest and recreation area). There were lots of happy people, tons of families, and most people seemed delighted to be there. Which is good.
But, as with the Hounslow Skyride last month, I feel uneasy about several things. One is the implied message that cycling round London can only be done once a year with the help of heavy sponsorship, police cooperation and road closures.
Another is that I don't like mass participation events and hate being told what to do by marshals. Look, you're not a copper. I'll decide if I want to join the ride here and leave it there, thank you, whatever you say. Perhaps the main reason I cycle in the first place is the control I have over my movements; don't you go telling me what to do.
I didn't care for the dumbed-down hectoring of the emcees along the route either, telling us to wave our arms in the air and shout, smacked too much of those 'spontaneous demonstrations' in support of the regime in tinpot Soviet-era countries.
But then the Skyride isn't for me; I'm happier cycling round London at my own pace to my own schedule. It's for all those occasional cyclists who might just be persuaded to do more cycling, such as the same time next year.
I hope it has the right effect, and yes, I shrug my shoulders and say yes, it's a good thing. I met a friend (another regular cyclist who makes a point of ignoring what marshals tell her to do) who did it with her toddlers, and we picnicked in St James's Park, and it was very nice, so there you go.
Actually, the best bit for me was swanning around Whitehall on the way home. It had been closed off to traffic but the ride hadn't yet made it here officially, so I could scoot round the tarmac plains by Downing Street and Banqueting House with the road all to myself.
The best effect the Skyride could have would be to persuade London to have a regular traffic-free selection of roads on Sunday, like Paris or Bogota. If that happened I'd happily put on the reflective bib, ding my bell when the emcee says, and follow the marshal's directions to the letter next year.
And one thing still mystifies me. I can understand people wearing helmets for the Skyride. I think it's rather absurd, on a traffic-free route that goes at most 8mph, but I can just about imagine why people might do it.
But wearing helmets for a picnic lunch? There were plenty of such people, evidently worried about serious head injuries sustained from flying Scotch eggs or ground-to-air cheese sandwiches.