A Noisy Ride to Reach


Brown Bike disapproved of my brilliant idea of strapping bananas to his rack. As we whizzed down Madingley Hill into Cambridge, he dropped them into his rear wheel, chewed them up and spat them out.

We were joining the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Cycle Cambridge ride to Reach Fair. It was a decent turnout, perhaps a hundred cyclists, and more joined us on the way out of the city.

We cycled out along NCN51, which is mostly road-side or river-side shared-use path, with a little road. The pace was sedate (average 13.2 kph), but I have recently discovered the joy of slow. I deliberately started at the very back so I could observe the other riders, in my attempt to find how groups ride. As we progressed, I moved up the column partly because the tail-enders were rather slow for my taste, and partly to watch other riders.

The marshals did a good job of stopping us getting lost and taking care of people's punctures. They didn't always check that a cyclist stopped on the verge was okay and, well, I don't think marshals should jump red lights, especially on a ride that encourages novices. 'Nuff said.

As the ride progressed, Brown Bike started squealing from his rear brake. This was quite useful in a tightly-packed ride, as it warned followers that I was stopping. Why don't cyclists bother about the two-second rule? I like a bit of space in front of me, but it was always filled by overtaking cyclists.

I didn't see any problems with oncoming cyclists or pedestrians, who mostly waited patiently for us to pass. Within Cambridge, we took over the road and motorists had to wait. On the paths out of the city, the column spread out to perhaps a kilometre in length, so when we hit roads again cars had a decent chance of getting past some of us. But it was fairly pointless as they would soon encounter the next group.

I've read various guides on group riding, so on the narrow lanes, when a car was behind us trying to get past, I would shout a warning, "Car behind!" Some cars were making aggressive passes with little room, so it seemed reasonable to caution fellow cyclists. But I quickly discovered that no one else made such warnings, and mine were invariably ignored. Ah well, I tried.


BB's brake became louder, a squeal or wail but almost resembling a car horn. Perhaps he didn't like my admiring glances at the variety of Mercians, tandems, tridems, recumbents and cargo bikes. He stuck his nose up at the mountain bikes, which formed the majority. He had no need for jealousy, as he was one of the smartest diamond-frame bikes. Not that there was much competition for that title.

Some of the riders were clearly novices. One woman commented to me that she didn't know Cambridge had so many hills. I already knew that BikeRouteToaster reckons the 18.33km from Cambridge to Reach has a total ascent of just 44 metres, but I didn't like to mention this. Perhaps one in five riders was female, and there was a smattering of kids.

We parked our bikes in a field and walked to the fair.


For a population of just 365, Reach throws a pretty decent fair. The usual funfair generators drowned out Morris men and the children's fancy dress and wellie-throwing competitions. Stalls sold food, plants, clothes, beer, had a variety of games, and displayed raptors, wildlife and archaeology.

The fair has been running since 1201, and is traditionally opened by the mayor of Cambridge. I suppose city folk have cycled there since cycles were invented. So far as is known, the mayor has never cycled there. I've never seen a mayoral chain of office worn with hi-viz cycling togs.


I didn't see her bike, so I don't know if she carried her robes and other regalia in panniers.

The opening ceremony was deliciously olde-worlde: people in gowns and hats told us to behave ourselves, then we sang the National Anthem, then the begowned ones tossed freshly minted coins into the crowd and at each other. I was directly behind them, and a couple came my way. Sadly not Maundy Money, just ordinary pennies. Not enough to pay for the two rounds of sarnies, two cakes and rather lovely Double Swan beer.


The mayor judged the fancy-dress competitions, but I thought she should have won. I bought BB a gaudy, umm, thing, to act as a tail. I hoped this would cheer him up and keep him quiet. No such luck.


The ride back was a revelation. Britain doesn't do idyllic traffic-free surfaced segregated cyclepaths? Really? You should ride on NCN11, "Lodes Way" from Reach via Tubney Fen, Bottisham Fen and Queen's Fen to Lode. This route is a number of joined-up farm tracks, properly built up and surfaced with packed gravel or tarmac. I suppose they could have agricultural traffic, but I didn't see any. It's like having a road dedicated to cycling. Bliss. From Lode to Bottisham, NCN11 reverts to the usual ghastly shared-use roadside path, just to drive the point home.


Like a great work of art, this wonderful cycle route has no utility value except for cycling farm workers or birdwatchers. But it shows what can be done. Why can't Cambridge commuters have paths to this standard, instead of the crap guided busway track?

By this time, BB's rear brake was a banshee wail. It had never been this bad. I apologised to my fellow riders for this breach of the peace. I couldn't figure it out. The day wasn't hot. We had done a fair few miles, but the long break in Reach was ample to cool down. The brakes looked fine, and they worked, but sounded like a pair of cats fighting at night.

The riders split up as we entered Cambridge, and I went home. Our total ride was 80.58 km (50.4 miles), so it was my first semi-century of the year. Later in the year than I had hoped, but better late than never.

That evening, while writing this up, I had an inspiration, and peered at BB's rear wheel. Bits of banana were stuck to spokes. A thin film of hard brown stuff was spread over each rim, cleverly disguising itself against the anodised brown alloy. A fingernail could scrape it off. Later, a plastic kitchen scourer with plain water cleaned off the gunge entirely, and BB could once again stop silently.

15 comments on “A Noisy Ride to Reach”

  1. David Earl wrote:

    "The crap guided busway track" is to be surfaced between Milton Road and Swavesey this month (May 2011). The only reason it hasn't been so far is contractual – indeed it is not officially open at all yet. So all being well next month there will be a 4m wide tarmaced traffic-free cycleway for the majority of the length far exceeding the, as you say, good standard on the Lodes Way. The southern section will be surfaced too from Cambridge Rail Station to Trumpington P&R site and Addenbrooke's. This will be a 4m wide commuter heaven, and I suspect more used than the buses themselves. This may not open straight away as there is also a new junction to be constructed for the Clay Farm development.

  2. Alan wrote:

    It's going to be tarmaced as far as Swavesey? That's good news. In March, when I commented to Cambs Council on both the loose stone surface that I consider dangerous in the vicinity of the Great Ouse bridge, they said "The surface from Longstanton to St Ives will remain as crushed limestone".

    Yes, the council have now said it will be blacktopped to Swavesey: http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport/thebusway/

    Perhaps, with some more pressure, they will do it as far as St Ives.

    I should have said in the blog: many thanks to everyone involved in organising and running the ride. All the riders I spoke to said they enjoyed it, even the woman who complained about the hills!

  3. Hilary wrote:

    Great to see the mayor in her chain of office and cycling gear!
    Sounds like a fun day.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    I agree. A fine mayor. I've never had much time for mayoral pomp but she actually seems to be enjoying herself. She looks a bit like Ruby Wax.

  5. Kern wrote:

    Unexplainable brake issues are highly frustrating. The front brake of my commuter has a mystery "bump" which (one would think) is caused by some deformation of the rim. I was buying a new rim, but the LBS put the old one on a trueing jig declared it sound in all dimensions. So I still "bump" and grind my teeth each time it happens. Maybe I should try your fingernail-and-water approach.

  6. Alan wrote:

    I have read that meths is a good solvent for cleaning rims. If I cycled in a city, I'd be tempted to leave the dried banana on the rims: it was great for alerting dozy pedestrians. I suppose it also reduces rim wear. Someone could bottle it and make a fortune.

    I was also struck by the mayor's resemblance to Ruby Wax. The local paper made a short video of her at the funfair: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Home/Video-Crowds-pour-in-to-celebrate-May-Day-in-traditional-style-03052011.htm

    I loved that fact that she came on the ride. I don't live in Cambridge and know nothing else about her, but she'd get my vote for just this activity.

  7. Chris wrote:

    I believe those scenes were taken from the director's cut of The Wickerman.

  8. Alan wrote:

    I didn't notice any naked ladies dancing over a bonfire. Perhaps all that starts up after the tourists have gone home.

  9. Mary wrote:

    A great day out Alan. And yes, Meths is a great solvent on your bike, I use it on mine for rims, for chains, general de-greasing. Does a grand job, I use industrial alcohol for its proper title, but its the same stuff. I also use it for the brake pads, that is, when I put them on from new. Once Ive broken 6 fingernails getting out the old brake pad, the new one has its brake home cleaned out from road crud, and a few drops of industrial alcohol along the track allows the new pad to slid into its proper place. Ace stuff.

    Glad your day out was such a success, a great add for the South East. (It is hillier than Lincolnshire so Ive been told!) :)

  10. Simon Nuttall wrote:

    Dear Alan,

    Brilliant write-up – I suspected the bananas all the way through!

    As for our marshals going through red lights, I'm very surprised to hear this as one of the reasons we do this ride is to promote legal responsible cycling.

    The mayor was a terrific sport on the day, riding all the way there and all the way back. You can see her bicycle chain of office at...



  11. Alan wrote:

    Yes, the Campaign promotes legal responsible cycling, so the RLJing saddened and irritated me. That's why I mentioned it. But the marshals did a splendid job overall, even clearing the route before the ride, so don't hang them at dawn.

    Sadly, the squeal has returned. A more thorough clean has reduced it. Ho hum.

  12. Klaas wrote:

    Nice report from the ride. The pictures I took on the Reach Fair Ride are in a "Flickr-Set" http://iitm.be/CCyCReachRide and a smaller selection of photos is on Cycle Streets: http://iitm.be/ReachFair2011

  13. Patrick wrote:

    Enjoyed the photos Klaas. I see the cycling Mayor of Cambridge was riding a Van Nicholas Yukon (for fast-paced Audax riders).

  14. Alan wrote:

    Update: the "crap guided busway track", aka cycleway (officially "maintenance track") between Cambridge and St Ives is to be raised to reduce the flooding, and is now to be tarmac all the way to St Ives. Hoorah! I like to think my campaigning helped to bring this about. The buses will start running and the cycleway between Cambridge and Swavesey will be finished in August, and the rest of the cycleway, between Swavesey and St Ives, will be finished, um, sometime.

    The cost of raising the track will be deducted from payments to the former contractor BAM Nuttall. The £150,000 blacktop comes from a government "links to school" fund, via Sustrans. (I have no idea why central government money has to come to local goverment via a charity.)

    16 miles of beautiful cycletrack. I can't wait.

    The project's timescales have been known to slip, so I'm not putting it in my diary yet.

  15. Patrick wrote:

    Alan wrote: I have no idea why central government money has to come to local goverment via a charity.

    Perceptions perhaps, or budgets. Well done anyway Alan. Looking forward to seeing some photos of the cycling mayor of Cambridge again, um... sometime.

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