In the UK, the "governing body" for cycling is British Cycling. They are responsible for a vast array of organised cycling, up to and including the GB Team. Furthermore, in the last couple of years, the broadcaster Sky has become involved in sponsorship in a big way, not just the Sky pro team, but also at a more grass-roots level. One of the results of this collaboration is....the Skyride. There happened to be one in my nearest big city, Southampton, last weekend, so I popped along with my camera (and my bike) to see what it was all about.
The basic principle is that you have a shortish, closed circuit - this one was around 7.5km or 5miles and was available for four hours. The route comprised a mixture of roads and paths through municipal parks. So as not to bar traffic from the city centre completely, at certain intersections manned traffic lights were set up to alternate priority between motor traffic and cyclists.
The circuit is made more interesting by having various attractions along it (not least a stall giving away yellow bibs!). In one square, this included various demonstrations of "bike power":
So straight away, there is a lot going on which will keep kids interested. And the "family" aspect is quite central to the event.
There was also a variety of "bikes", some of which it was possible to try out. These included recumbents and unicycles. We also saw a couple of penny farthings:
Of course, all this cycling was thirsty work, and in one of the parks was a refreshment stand, accompanied by a Sky tent and a "check up" stand run by Halfords, who are probably the UK's largest auto and bike chainstore.
At the Sky tent, the highlight attraction was one of Chris Froome's Tour de France bikes:
and they also had some electronic shifters/derailleurs on display - I've only ever used manual chainsets before, but the smoothness of this mech really has to be seen to be believed.
- A great event for families. Closed roads make it safe, and there is plenty for kids to do to hopefully get them more interested in cycling
- Great also for nervous riders, of which my wife is one. She has seen the health benefits I've got out of cycling and would love to join in - but she gets easily spooked in traffic and never feels she has total control over the bike.
- The lap distance is ideal. If you're a fitter rider, you just ride more laps. We rode 2 laps, or 10 miles - by my wife's standards that's not a bad bit of exercise. Unfortunately you do see people racing to an extent, although the organisers do emphasize that this isn't allowed.
- But be prepared for lots of people to be around. At the event I attended they estimated there were 10,000 people (but this was over a 4-hour period. There weren't 10,000 people on the course all at once, although it did feel like it sometimes). This means that bottlenecks can and do happen, especially on narrow roads, lights or the slightest gradient, and there's nothing you can do except stop and wait. So if you're wanting to do a "proper" ride, forget it and go someplace else. This event is for fun only.
- In a similar vein, you have to be prepared to be riding amongst people who have no road sense whatsoever. They will pull out or block you without warning. Largely this is kids, and to be expected, but a significant proportion of grown-ups too. I can only really describe it as the closest I've felt to riding in the centre of London, without riding in the centre of London.