Thursday, 2 August 2018

A change of pace - Brompton World Championships

This story begins a few months ago, when I was idly reading my email on the train to work.

Junk, junk, junk... then one email stood out - registration was open for the Brompton World Championships.

I checked the date: no issue there - we are free.

I checked the eligibility. Interesting. No qualifying time required - entry is by ballot.

Tom had been saying for some time that he would like to enter a bike race. I was pretty certain he meant a time trial, or a road race. Still, riding a Brompton around central London in office attire is sort of like that, right? And as we do now have two Bromptons...what could go wrong?

Impulsively, I made two entries. One for me, and one for Tom. And then promptly forgot about it, thinking “it’s probably like Wimbledon or the London Marathon, where you wait years to get in”.

A few weeks later, an email arrived in my inbox telling me I had a place. I texted Tom - “do you have any emails today?” 

Tom checked his email. I waited nervously (knowing that this could seriously backfire if I was the only one with a place). Tom also had a place! We paid our entry monies, and that was it. We were going to the Brompton World Championships.

Tom immediately started sending me links to various internet offerings for titanium parts upgrades, and compiled a list of essential adjustments which must be made before the race. (Uh- oh - here we go, Tom’s competitive streak is out already...). New pedals. An upgraded suspension block. And now he’s talking about how much of a penalty the hub dynamo will be.

Anyway, true to form, life with Family ByCycle continued apace (We went to Kielder and the Scottish Borders, Rhoda went viral, we went to East Lothian, work, school etc etc) and suddenly the weekend was upon us.

As longer term readers of our blog will remember, two years ago we celebrated our anniversary with a weekend of canoeing. This year, the plan was to go racing.

The first weekend without the children in 2 years begins by spending several hours depositing the children with the various family members who are looking after them this weekend.
Saturday morning dawns. Bliss - no early wake up call. At around 10.32 am, a kind of important question also dawns. “What are you going to wear?”


We go shopping. A frantic rummage of the M&S sale rail (“it’s non returnable” “Not sure that’s a problem!”) and a guilty trip into Primark, and we have compliant costumes. We each have a jacket with sleeves that we aren’t going to cry over if we get them sweaty and covered in bike grease.

Reading the very strict sounding rules on eyewear, I am not sure whether my glasses will pass the strict admonition to be shatterproof (not that I was intending to test that one out), so I stick my contact lenses in and leave my sunglasses at home. I don’t want to lose them for non-compliance, and we have literally no idea how strictly these things are going to be scrutinised.

12:18: Better check the bikes. Mine has been ridden daily for the commute, so I am certain of what adjustments I need. Tyre pressures topped up to 100psi, a half turn on the seat clamp to stop the seat swivelling and I’m good to go. After all, I am not expecting a place on the podium.

12.26: I am stood by the door, ready to go. Tom is changing pedals, having decided that he doesn’t fancy the journey to and across London in his road shoes. He pauses to ask me how quickly I said he could do it in. “Oh, 25 minutes...”, I say, airily. He does a double take. “Only kidding. I said 35 minutes for you and 40 for me”.

12.42: as we don’t have any guests coming with us who we can leave our stuff with, we decide that we’d better downscale what we pack to only what we can fit into our pockets. Tom is bemoaning the fact that the other upgrades he’d have liked haven’t been done. He is concerned about how much time he will lose by virtue of the extra weight of the rear rack, pump, mudguards and the extra drag caused by the hub dynamo. Those bomb proof Schwalbe Marathons are also apparently not racing gear of choice. I observe that it might be a little late to be making changes now, since our train leaves in about an hour, and we haven’t left the house yet. Tom concedes that he might have to use this year as a “recce” for a future attempt.

13.25: we unload the Bromptons at the station, and decide to have a practice unfolding race. I win by a mile, partly because I do this several times a day, and partly because Tom's cables throw his chain off. Snorting only slightly, I promise him that (as I expect to be starting behind him), if he’s still not unfolded it when I get to him, I will stop and help. Tom is not impressed by this offer; my willingness to sacrifice my own race. I think that it’s the only bit of the race that I stand to 'win', so I am determined to get some mileage out of it.

13.55: we are on a London bound train with no luggage racks, the two Bromptons stowed in an empty row of seats. Winning.

London was busy with bikes. We arrived on the Mall as the London Free Ride was finishing, and headed to the Brompton registration desk, where there were two race packs with our names on them. We spent the next 15 minutes attaching various stickers, pins, cable ties and paraphernalia to the Bromptons and to ourselves, and then knowing we had everything we needed, we could relax and enjoy the afternoon.

We watched the Women’s pro teams contest the ‘Classique’, thundering past unperturbed by the odd huge gust of wind that swirls leaves, dust and debris across their path. I began to regret the decision to leave my sunglasses at home. We used our food vouchers and sampled sausage rolls with salad and sweet potato fries from the food vendors.

We exchanged drinks vouchers for cans of San Pellegrino, which were decanted into single use plastic cups. I try to stop the vendor: “No thank you - the can is fine”. She looks puzzled. I try again - “I’d prefer not to have my drink served in a single use plastic cup.” Apparently, it’s the rules. No one at the bar can articulate what this rule is about, but I can’t have the drink at all unless it is first poured for me into a plastic cup. If I have my own plastic cup, I can re-use that. I am told it is to do with litter, and it is non-negotiable. No single use plastic, no drink. Since the panic over not being able to race with a bag on the front, or to leave our stuff since we are both racing, and the rules about bidons having to be deformable if ridden over, we haven’t brought our own bottles or drinks, so I am stuck and forced to accept that if I want a drink at all any time in the next four hours, I have to live with the rule.

The vibe at the BWC is really relaxed. There’s also plenty of bike porn, if lusting after larger chain rings and titanium bike parts is your thing. I was frankly astonished (as a utility Brompton-er) at how much time, effort and money goes into the custom Brompton market. We met a chap with a custom sprayed Bianchi and Campagnolo themed Brompton, which had had all sorts of bells and whistles fitted to it. It had clearly been a labour of love, and made me ashamed of the not-all-that-regular wash and oil and quick top up of the tyres that my own steed receives.

The demographic is also properly mixed - this is genuinely an event for all ages and genders and all countries. We enjoyed spotting the national flags on the shoulder stickers of the various national champions who were in London to contest the World Championships. We spotted riders from as far afield as Japan - a crazy distance to come for 8 laps up and down the Mall and Bird Cage walk!

As well as the bikes having had more attention than ours, it’s also fair to say that the range of costumes also properly put our last minute bargain rail scavenge to shame. There were bespoke tweed suits, a bespoke rainbow suit, a chap in a suit (with bespoke shorts) with fish print all over it (he turned out to be pretty nippy!). The ladies didn’t let the side down either, with a fair number of decorated helmets and dresses and jackets made in cycling themed fabrics. Maybe something to aspire to another year.

Before we knew it, it was time to line up for the start. Tom and I had been allocated to different starting 'waves' - Tom in Wave C and me later in Wave D. I lined up in a group of 10 women riders at the start of Wave D, one of whom was surprised to learn that she had to run across the track and unfold the bike as part of the race. The waves set off at 10 second intervals, so we got the spectacle of looking up the mall towards the other waves as they were set off, charging over and doing some pretty speedy unfurling of their bikes.

Wave C, where Tom was, got a bit over excited, and half of them set off during Wave B. The stewards had to try to get them back in the 5 remaining seconds before their wave was set off anyway! Last in the line, Wave D were away, and I was soon pedalling past a still-stationary Tom. That win in the car park wasn’t a one off! I didn’t have to stop though, as he was about to climb aboard as I sailed past him, gaining pace. That right there was enough of a moral victory, but I meant to make it as difficult as possible for him to make the inevitable overtake.

Sure enough, during that first lap, he had caught me up, telling me that his chain had come off not once, but twice, as he came roaring past, irritated.

I have never really done any bike racing, and the notable thing from the race for me was the HUGE speed and skill differential between the lead riders and the rest of the field. There were plenty of people for me to overtake, but it wasn’t really a race with them. They were there for the experience, and not really racing at all, which made them mobile obstacles for everyone else to deal with, wandering and wobbling across the course, waving at the crowds and paying no attention to what was happening around them. Inevitably therefore, with lots of jostling for position and pretty big speed differences, I witnessed several crashes!

At the end of lap 2, the lead riders, headed by a motorbike, came past. I looked across and saw former pro-rider turned GCN presented Emma Pooley leading out the group of mainly much larger men, and I have never seen such a tiny person working it so hard. No doubt about it - the lady is fierce! This is probably the first and only ride I will ever compete in alongside the likes of Emma Pooley, so I was determined to make the most of it, even if forced almost to a stand as the group passed me where the course narrowed for a bend.

I got passed again in Lap 4, as the lead group were heading into their penultimate lap. If I upped the pace, could I make it over the line to complete 6 laps before the leaders made it to the finish? The next person to lap me, unfortunately, was Tom. So engrossed was he in the group he was chasing that he didn’t even notice that he was passing me.

I am told (but sadly I didn’t get to see it) Tom attempted a “bike throw” to gain a place at the finish, to the bemusement of the chap he was fighting for position. In the queue at the end, it appeared that Tom had finished having only just caught a very dashing gentleman attired in a tweed suit and smoking a pipe. Yes, that’s right folks, I felt fit to collapse and some dude had just crossed the line with Tom (who had himself overtaken me) clad in tweed whilst smoking a pipe. And you know what, it’s just that sort of race.

We chatted to Emma Pooley in the crowd (now Brompton World Ladies Champion), and she was kind enough to record a short message of encouragement to Rhoda to carry on riding after her recent crash. The children love the GCN show, so Rhoda was really pleased to see the video.

Tom and I had a happy and chatty ride back across London to catch the train home. The verdict - Tom is already making notes on how he will improve his performance for next year’s race (starting with  unfolding the bike without dropping the chain!).

On Sunday morning, I was woken early. I was a bit disgruntled to be honest, because this was the bit of the weekend where I was supposed to get a lie in, because the children aren’t at home. I should have known though that in this respect, Tom is still quite the child. He just had to know! Where did we come?

Drumroll please...

Mrs ByCycle placed 53rd out of 91 in the ladies race, having completed 6 laps, and Mr ByCycle placed 175th in the men’s race with a respectable 7 laps to his name. So plenty of room for improvement for next year - if we get through that ballot again...