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.