“I say, old chap, is that a 1934 Raleigh I see before me?”
“Actually, it’s a ’35. The hub-sprockets were three-eighths of an inch larger on the touring model that year. But tell me, which tailor supplied that extraordinary pocket-square?”
Not an actual conversation I heard on this year’s Tweed Run, but not far off. Billed as ‘a metropolitan bicycle ride with a bit of style,’ it is what it sounds like – an eleven-mile jaunt around London where everyone wears traditional British cycling attire.
It attracts bicycle enthusiasts, London enthusiasts, vintage enthusiasts and tweed enthusiasts, mainly – but the combinations within all those enthusiasms are many – and very, very varied. Plus-fours, waistcoats, flat caps, pith helmets, silk cravats, sweet-smelling pipe tobacco; all jostle merrily with vintage racing-bike wear, floral tea dresses and some true eccentricity that defies specification.
You don’t have to scramble a vintage bike but it helps. I’d say around 80% of the cycles are original or repro ‘classic’ – look out for penny farthings, strange early experiments and some supremely uncomfortable-looking boneshakers – the rest are modern cycles, including dolled-up ‘bog-standards’ and even the odd Boris Bike.
I just about passed, on my 2010 Marin with added wicker basket and jolly panniers, but experienced serious bike-envy as I got going. I WANT one of those vintage Pashleys…
The one thing you can’t accuse the Tweed Run of being is arduous. London isn’t totally flat, but few people would break a sweat riding up any of its inclines, even swathed in heavy woollen worsted in 23 ̊ sunshine. The most taxing thing is having to ride really, really slowly.
The capital’s roads weren’t designed for 500 moustachioed retro-bikers (including women – the ‘best moustache’ competition is open to both sexes; I particularly enjoyed the chap with enormous fake handlebar ‘tache affixed over his real one…) and the peleton often ground to a good-natured halt.
We had ridden almost – gosh – two miles when the dapperest marshals on the planet announced the tea break. Taken at the Guildhall, supplied by Good & Proper Tea and served, naturally, in vintage china cups and saucers. None of that plastic beaker nonsense here.
Had I known how long it was to the next stop, I might have snaffled an extra hand-baked biscuit from the vintage tea van. The bulk of the ride took in St Paul’s Cathedral, Leadenhall, London Bridge, Borough Market and the South Bank and, although I never seemed to get out of 6th gear, my stomach was rumbling by the end of it.
Crossing Westminster Bridge, we met another mass-cycle ride coming in the opposite direction. The Tweed-Runners hailed the London Cycling Campaigners and every other vehicle on the road ground to a halt, to the delight of several hundred camera-wielding tourists.
On, past Buckingham Palace, through Regent Street and Savile Row, past the British Museum to Russell Square for lunch. Picnics in splendid wicker hampers, complete with gingham tablecloths, hard-boiled eggs and Champagne.
Music courtesy of a DJ whose decks consisted of wind-up gramophones. Games including pin-the-cap-on-the-pigeon and guess-the-number-of-cartridges-in-the-welly. I could have taken a few more of those silly pastimes, but the only issue was a pressing lack of loos – which I overcame by developing a sudden interest in the British Museum’s Living and Dying galleries.
It was 3.30pm. The event didn’t finish until 6.30. Gosh – were we only half way through? Perhaps the hard work was still to come. A quick check of the schedule, however, maintained the Tweed Run’s ‘no sweat’ policy – the last part of this most civilised of bike rides would last…wait for it… half an hour.
Another non-exacting mile or so saw us skirting the City to end with a party in ultra-hip Clerkenwell. Bikes were fixed to railings, fresh air enjoyed and, most important of all, Champagne served by sponsors Pol Roger in the fabulous crypt of St James Clerkenwell. Same time next year, chaps?
Tips for Tweed Runners
- The ride is extraordinarily popular. This year’s tickets sold in 90 seconds. Sign up for the newsletter, mark the day tickets go on sale and wait, finger poised, for the exact time.
- Make sure you have plenty of water on a hot day, an extra woolly for a cold one.
- Ladies – if you don’t want the skirt of your original vintage tea dress to catch in the spokes, attach an old-fashioned wheel guard. There were some lovely crocheted ones on the Tweed Run. To avoid it blowing around in an immodest fashion, try wearing a couple of elastic headbands round your thighs, loosely safety-pinning your skirt to them.