London To Southend Bike Ride 2017
On Sunday the 16th of July 2017 I took part in the annual London To Southend Bike Ride organised by Bike Events. This is a 55-mile bike ride which starts in Victoria Park, east London, and finishes in Priory Park, Southend, Essex. It is organised by Bike Events who also organise outdoor sportives such as London To Cambridge and also organise cycling holidays abroad. This is a race report of how I got on!
The half Iron distance cycle starts near Stratford in east London. Most of the participants are from Essex and there are special charter trains from Southend Victoria train station to Stratford which is a direct route. It's an early start with the first wave leaving London from 6:30am and the last wave leaving at 9am which means being on the train well before 7am. The atmosphere is already buzzing as you get on the train as everyone is in the same boat and you check out what everyone else is wearing and what kind of bikes they're using.
It's a 3-mile warm-up ride from Stratford station to Victoria Park for the start of the event. There are various stands selling energy gels and mechanics offering last-minute bike support. There are toilets for your last-minute convenience stop and then it's off to the start line! The man at the start line is full of energy and is enjoying revving up the cyclists. Waves of cyclists leave roughly every 10 minutes so you can just get going whenever you're ready. We started in the last wave at 9am so it was less busy, however I'm sure it was buzzing and very busy in the earlier waves.
There's about half an hour's worth of riding through busy London streets before you're out into the Essex countryside, but this is definitely all part of the fun. Riding in a big pack means it feels a lot safer, and the motorists were very polite and understanding of having to give way to hundreds of cyclists! Apart from having to stop at quite a few sets of traffic lights, the route is fantastic. The marshals are great and make sure you don't get lost!
Once out into the Essex countryside it's just miles and miles of beautiful scenery and fresh air. There is a steady stream of cyclists meaning it's not too crowded, and the roads are dead quiet with only a handful of cars passing me throughout the entirety of the ride. There are marshals at all the major junctions, but the route is seamless and there are barely any times when you need to stop.
There are official rest stops at various mile markers, with the main one halfway. At the rest stop, there are toilets, water stations, hot food and drinks, and also various things for sale and mechanics on hand to help with any bike issues!
The route is largely downhill which is to be expected when cycling from inland to sea level, but there are some killer climbs too! According to my Garmin watch, my max elevation was around 400m. People on older bikes were getting off and walking them up the hills but I managed to cycle all the way to the top every time. There are some fantastic downhill sprints too, and my max speed hit 26mph. Below is a summary of the ride as recorded by my Garmin watch.
Once you get to Rochford you realise that you are very close to being home. There are plenty of marshals as the roads get a lot busier in central Southend and the route goes round one of the busiest roundabouts in town (Sutton Road). You are guided into the park and there is a roaring crowd cheering you in! I'm not sure what I expected, but I wasn't expecting it to be that buzzing! There are lots of friends and family waiting at the end with dogs, food, drinks, and entertainment all available. Although by the end of this ride I just wanted to lie down as my back was killing me! My biggest piece of advice here would be to work out how you're getting home from Priory Park because there's a good chance once you're off your bike you won't want to get back on!
Oh, and if you're wondering why the quality of the below photo is a little blurred, it's because the flapjacks I had brought along for energy leaked buttery grease all over my phone!
Support and Organisation
I was so impressed by the support and organisation of this event! The marshals were not only helpful but they were friendly and supportive too. There was no chance of going the wrong way as there was ample signage and help along the route. If you suffered a problem, the mechanic or medic was only a call away in a car which could come and pick you up. Everyone is given a route map at the start too for extra security. The facilities were great and the atmosphere was really fun. The route has clearly been very well thought out and this annual event is now a big part of the local calendar. I am now really looking forward to my next sportive!