Sunday 18 November 2012

Epic On the Thames and Over the Thames Ride!

Today was the Brompton Greenwich Loop ride organised by Mark W. It would be true to say that many of us intrepid Bromptonians had been looking forward to this trip for a long time - certainly since Mark posted the original idea.

The premiss was simple. We would meet at Greenwich and cycle on a loop, viewing the Thames Flood Barrier, going over the River Thames on the free car ferry at Woolwich and going over the River Thames on an Emirates Airline cable car. You can see perhaps why I have labeled this blog, 'epic.'

The day started early and I found myself at Piccadilly Circus taking shelter in the entrance of Lillywhites as the heavens opened for a short but heavy shower. While I waited for my riding partner, iCrazyBee a gentleman started to clean the marble step I was taking sanctuary on. He asked me about my bike and soon got on to the meaty question, 'how much costs it?' I told him the rough figure of £800 which we eyed with suspicion. He then told me that in Colombia they didn't have bikes this this but he did like the colour.

Talking of colour, I took two cameras with me today. My much loved Ricoh GRD IV and my Sony RX100. The former is viewed by many as one of the best little cameras pound for pound at taking black and white photographs. I love this little powerhouse and all of the pictures in this blog are ones that I have taken with my trusty Ricoh. I will post another blog entry with the colour pictures taken from the Sony.

Piccadilly Circus - with my Orange Brompton

Soon I was greeted by iCrazyBee and we made our way to Embankment where we aimed to get the Thames Clipper all the way to Greenwich. I could have gone by tube etc.., but I thought that this would be a more fitting way to travel and the idea must have touched a chord with others as quite a few of us travelled to Greenwich in this way.

At Embankment we met up with a few other riders and after chewing the fat for a while we made our way to the gangway and waited for our launch.

Waiting for the Thames Clipper

The Thames Clipper is an excellent service. You are able to travel from Central London all the way to the O2 and there are lots of stops on the way. If you have an Oystercard, as I did the return journey from Greenwich cost £10.45. The service is regular, quick and much more interesting that a crowded and dull tube train.

The London Skyline is something I never tire of.

We left Embankment and at our first stop, The London Eye we met up other members of the group. It was great to see them and as always many tourists were curious at what these little folding bikes were all about? As we travelled along there were copious famous landmarks to see. The Houses of Parliament, St Stephens Tower, The London Eye, The Shard, St Paul's, Tower Brigde...the list went on an on.

Many of us spent more than half of the journey near the outside seating area so that we could take photographs of the many landmarks and view them that bit better. I really enjoyed the journey and will return again with my family as it was something we did when my children were quite small. I suspect they'd appreciate the view more now that they are older.

The Shard. I will be going up to the top of this in February 2013.

A close up view of the London Eye.

A hazy London from the River.

We left Embankment at 09:33 and got to Greenwich at a very prompt 10:15. Once there were saw our leader for this trip, Mark and the the other Bromptonians going waiting by the famous Cutty Sark a beautiful tall ship that was once the fastest of its kind.

Also at the meet up point there was a circular, brick build entrance to the foot tunnel that goes under the Thames. There is another at North Woolwich and I have walked along this tunnel at about 3:00 am many years ago, which was an eery experience believe me - but that is another story. The tunnel is a public highway and as such must be kept open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The foot tunnel entrance at Greenwich

Opened in 1902 its spiral staircase leads down something that has always reminded me of the television programme, 'The Prisoner' where Patrick McGoohan walked along a similar tunnel. Time constraints meant that going under the Thames was not possible but again it might be something for another time?

There were 21 riders today (I think, but I lost count). Believe me the sight of seeing so many Brompton bikes out in force was a quite a sight! As we travelled along we stopped to talk to the curious about our bikes and who we were. I even gave one couple my Orange Brompton business card. (If you are reading this by chance, do consider getting one as you'll have loads of fun).

What is the collective noun for a group of Brompton bicyles? Please post your ideas!

We made a short detour to the Royal Observatory where many of us took quite shameless photographs of our bikes with the London skyline in the distance.

Yes the first bike is my beloved Orange Brompton!

It was quite strange travelling in East London. Reminders of London's past littered our path. Trendy new riverside apartments lined the once thriving industrial wharfs. Former factories, if they managed to survive, have now been converted to riverside living - for those who can afford them. New buildings make their journey to completion. There are some of the original houses, perhaps inhabited by a select few who are old enough to remember cranes busily loading and unloading goods from all number of river craft.

The many empty pockets of land are being filled by new developments. The movement of lorries (some of which we saw) carried and taking supplies, rubble etc.., caused certain sections of the road to be very muddy. One section in particular was pretty bad and caked in mud. With my new Schwalbe Marathon Plus London Edition tyres on (which I must say were already getting too dirty for my liking) there was no way I was going to cycle through it. So, I did the only thing I could. I picked up my bike and minced (for want of a better word) through it. I did apologise for doing such a girly thing but I mean they are new tyres and I have already blogged about them!

One of the more interesting riverside abodes was a section of a boat that looking as if it were on a permanent mooring. It looked quite big and a bookshelf provided the only clue of what it might become.

Some of the scenery reminded me of that described by Charles Dickens in  'Our Mutual Friend' where the river Thames features heavily.

We past the O2 and the striking Antony Gormley, 'Quantum Cloud' sculpture. When looking at this from the correct angle you should be able to make out the figure of a person. Very clever and you can just about see it in my picture - or at least I can.

Passing the Emirates Airline created a bit of a buzz. The only time I have seen this was when I was on the top of Tower 42 and could just make it out in the distance. As I rode past I looked forward to going on it even more!

Another thing to do in London!

The O2 in the distance.

At Royal Arsenal, Woolwich we were all quite taken with the steel statues by the artist Peter Burke. A suggestion that we all park our bikes next to one of the statues was greeted with enthusiasm and we all obliged and then took lots of photos.

The Thames Flood Barrier, a marvel of engineering that has saved London from possible devastating floods was an obvious draw.

We made another crossing to the other side of the river using the free car ferry at North Woolwich. The short crossing on bikes was again a sight to behold!

On the Woolwich Ferry.

A pit stop at a cafe with the Flood Barrier in view was welcome opportunity to refuel and chew the fat. Many were keen to get going as the Emirates Skyline beckoned. When we arrived the whole process was quick and easy. Those with an Oystercard simply swiped and went through the barriers. They even said that our bikes didn't have to be folded! (We did of course fold them as it meant more people could get into one of the cable cars).

The cable car was a good size and I went on with Jon and Louise. We happily took photos (to try and keep our minds off the height) and took in a quite incredible view. The O2 looked quite small from up there and at the very top the car ground to a halt. The momentary panic that ensued this occurrence was eased when an announcement could be heard informing us that from time to time they have to stop the cars to let passengers on and off. While not moving the photo taking was pursued with vigour. Soon we were off again.

The decent down was at quite an acute angle and getting off reminded me of something from Alton Towers. Again something I will take the family on at some point as they would love it!

With this done we said goodbye to a few of our number who had to make their way home and the rest continued back to Greenwich. Once there we said our goodbyes and many of us boarded the Thames Clipper back to London.

As we rode along the Thames adjacent to the historic Royal Naval College the narrow walkway was at several points covered with water as the Thames almost told us that it didn't want us to leave. The tide looked high and water flooded on to the path. Mark and Tobias bravely cycled through. Tourists attempted to walk an almost tightrope along the edge - many unsuccessfully. I, not wanting my beloved Orange Brompton to get any dirtier, decided to stoically carry it through the oncoming torrent! As I tip toed along, a particularly violent surge of water engulfed my feet. I had little fear as my 'North Face' trainers were 'Gore-tex' and therefore waterproof. I can report that my 'North Face' trainers were not that waterproof at all! When I got home I discovered that the trainers seemed dry enough but I had absorbed all the river water in to my socks!

The return journey was busier as people were returning from the museums in Greenwich and visits to the O2, Despite this it was still a very pleasant way to travel and a great deal more enjoyable than the tube at this time on a Saturday!

London at night is stunning and Tower Bridge and The Shard were illuminated as if for me to take a picture of it. (This concept will be a preoccupation for a few weeks as I am planning a London night ride where we will cycle around taking photos of various London landmarks).

At Embankment we got off and iCrazyBee and Michael B paid a visit to a bike shop on the Embankment. There iCrazybee bought a few items and made sure that he would never be forgotten and we made our way towards Piccadilly Circus. Once I reached this location I said goodbye to iCrazyBee and Michael and we went our separate ways.

Today was great. A very big thank you to Mark for thinking of this route and for organising it. I wager that we may do this route again at some point - it was that good.

As always thoughts turn to what next? I have said before that riding a Brompton in a group like this is mildly addictive and many of us look for our next fix. I don't know what this will be, however I am sure that some of us will have an unofficial sojourn sometime soon.

So, if you have a Brompton what did you do this weekend. As always if you like the sound of what I got up to, no matter where you live you could be doing something similar. Start up a local group and you never know before long you could be riding somewhere with a group of like minded individuals! 


  1. Love the way you and iCrazyBee tell the same story in two completely different, absolutely great ways!

    Over here in North America, I rode my Brompton in two states over the past three days -- good rides, but nothing as fantastic as your bit. What I wouldn't give to ride in a herd of Brommies!

    Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Which do you prefer? Now there's a loaded question.


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