This was the emailed report that I sent out shortly after the ride :
Gnashing of Teeth in Stationary Traffic
What follows reads almost like a comedy of errors. Personally, I see the whole thing as yet another character-building experience. It describes a record attempt on the Birmingham to London route, made by Mr David Johnson and my esteemed self, riding our favourite steed, the tandem-tricycle.
We were attempting to beat a ride done very late in 1990, and in circumstances that I seem to remember were hardly ideal - I'm talking about traffic, not weather. With our recent 'form', it seemed likely that we would do a good job - probably take 10 minutes off ?
It was unfortunate that we'd arrived in Birmingham with only about 15 minutes to spare, and so were in a bit of a flap when we got to the start point with 3 minutes to go. The road layout in Birmingham seems to change on an annual basis, and to get onto our chosen exit route, we had to run with the tandem for the first 50 yards before mounting and riding off. Quite a bizarre spectacle!
Conditions were reasonable for leaving Birmingham, although there were one or two hold-ups. After 20 miles, we had absorbed any time losses resulting from the City Centre start, and were reasonably comfortable.
The night before the ride, I'd realised that my published schedule wasn't really very sensible, in that it expected us to barely slow up in the London run-in. So I redrafted the time-checks in order that we would have to arrive at the London fringes several minutes earlier to be "on schedule". I also noticed that our route in the last half-mile was probably not the best one - but it was too late to change anything then !
At Weedon (42 miles, where we joined the A5), we were 5 minutes up on my revised schedule. When we actually got across the junction, we were only four minutes up, owing to a stream of traffic blocking our path. Shortly after this, we had a bottle change, with the expectation of another bottle to be taken on about an hour later.
At Towcester, we had covered 50 miles in 1h 56m, but were delayed again - both before and within the town. The next target was Milton Keynes. By the time we left the bypass, we had reached an advantage of 9 minutes, which seemed pretty good going.
One of the reasons for our late arrival at the start had been my decision to drive along the course to get to Birmingham. One of the things that we discovered on the way was that Dunstable was affected by major roadworks, with long queues. During the attempt therefore, I was quite surprised when we weren't offered drinks prior to going into the slow zone.
As we rode past queues of traffic, we realised that we weren't going to see the car until the finish, and that whatever drink we had on board was going to have to last us. Luckily the sun wasn't beating down, but we would still have preferred to have had more refreshment. Our advantage had, unsurprisingly, slipped to 7 minutes at Dunstable (78 miles).
By the time we reached the St Albans check, we were still 7 minutes up, but the city was solid. Despite employing some desperate tactics, we were down to 6 minutes advantage at the check near London Colney. By South Mimms, we were reduced to a mere 5 minutes up.
Suddenly, it was looking tight. At that point, I believed that we had 14.5 miles left, and 48 minutes to do it in. No problem, eh?
Barnet (100 miles) was slow, and overtaking was almost impossible (please remember, we were on a tandem tricycle, which is the cycling equivalent of an articulated lorry). We sped up for a while, and only had to stop dead at three or four junctions before reaching the North Circular Road.
There is then an intermittent cycle-path. It's great for a while, and then you've either got a parked car, a bus, a narrow bit, or it just stops without warning. At Highgate, we still had to average 20 mph, and it looked tight.
Even a wild run down Archway Road was tempered by a snarl-up at the end. We then just kept pushing all along to Highbury corner, which was solid. I'm not sure how we got through that particular car-park, but somehow we ended up in Upper Street, Islington.
As we approached the Angel junction, things became impossible again, and we took ages to get across. Once into St Johns Street, we got moving again, but there were still several more junctions which we had to have respect for.
And so we reached the final section, which involved a number of sweeping bends as we went around Smithfield Market and through some traffic-calming barriers.
I didn't realise it at the time, but we were within sight of the finish when the time expired. And so we clocked 4h 46m 10s, against a record of 4h 46m. Drat, and double drat.
Our journey home was not without incident, but you'll have to ask me about it when you see me next!
Ralph Dadswell : Sept 2002