For those that don’t know there is a group of people that have been riding out of London to a coastal resort most months of the year, aside from the deepest darkest winter ones, for maybe ten years now. I forget when they first started, as I wasn’t on the first couple. A very good friend of mine told me about them and their leader, Simon, who is a character and a half I can tell you. I think it was sometime in 2008, or maybe 2009. Simon has done a lot more in his life than the Friday Night Rides, but they remain the bit in which I was most involved over the next few years.
So, back to the FNRttC. Well, yes, my good mate took me along, introduced me to Simon, the leader and a few other people and so it started. Although Simon ran them every month, from March to November, I was never able to make them all. Pressures of work, family, all that stuff. But I did a fair few over the following years.
There is something special about riding at night. Main roads through dull, urban areas, normally choked with motors are transformed into ribbons of light snaking through empty streets, with just the occasional raucous group tumbling out of pubs and night clubs, calling after you as you stream past. You can own roads on which you would usually struggle to claim your little scrap of space.
And the transition from city to countryside, as the glittering lights gently recede and the moon and stars take over, can be magical. I have turned my lights off (not to be recommended I hasten to add) and ridden along a road in the Mole Valley under a huge full moon so bright the leaves on the trees seemed outlined in silver. I remember riding down the canal near Gravesend, on our way to Whitstable,accompanied by what sounded like thousands of bull frogs, and, by the same canal, being called back for a few minutes by my friend Peter to catch the sound of nightingales singing. That same ride, another rider pointed out to me, the International Space Station clear in the sky above us.
Then there is the variety of the countryside itself, rural scenes you know are transformed at night, be it marsh, orchard, woods or the views from hills and moors. (One of the rides goes from Manchester to Morecambe).
Anyway, I could go on and on, because I have a whole store of memories like this. But this was going to be a post about my return to the Fridays. Because I have been away for a bit. Well, I’m glad I went back, and extremely grateful that, now Simon is taking a rest from the organisation of them, that others have taken on the task of sorting and checking routes, halfway stops and final breakfast cafes. And they do it well.
This first Friday Night Ride ride of 2016 and my first for many months was definitely a ride of two halves. It was also not on Friday night! When the Friday coincides with Good Friday, the ride is held on the Thursday. It’s still an FNRttC, though.
The first half provided me with lots to moan about, one of my favourite pastimes, so I was happy. So good to chew the fat, banter and blarney with old friends and familiar faces, some of whom I haven’t seen for a while, even if the opportunity for that was provided by a couple of unscheduled stops in the freezing rain! Let’s be honest, these are always the conditions that provide the best banter anyway. Plenty of good chat and giggles at the halfway stop. For this ride, halfway stops prepared to open up about 3am are hard to find so its down to the services at Junction 31, Thurrock, where I was seriously tempted to lie down under the hand warmers in the toilets. My friend Andy came up with a few creative ways of keeping them running for that purpose, but each strategy seemed to involve the abuse of small rodents, so I reluctantly gave up on the idea. This may make no sense to you, but then, you had to be there! A lot of the Fridays experience is like that. You just have to be there.
After, sharing cake, jokes and stories, catching up, we were back on the road and very soon, the rain stopped and we left behind the urban roads and were on quieter country lanes. And, much earlier than I expected, the edges of the darkness began to fade, a hint that sunrise was definitely on the way, something the birds had already worked out, as their singing began, drifting out of the hedges and trees, louder and louder.
It wasn’t long before the sun began to rise properly and blue sky peeping through gave us a second half of the ride to remember fondly in the future, which made me so pleased I hadn’t turned round and gone home at Fenchurch St. (This had been the first Brompton induced cold wait point while a rear tyre puncture was fixed.)
After a while, I spotted the snowy locks and familiar riding style of the inimitable Peter Walker, the same Peter, who a few years ago had stood and listened to nightingales with me on a night ride to Whitstable. He had ridden out from Southend to meet us and I rode and chatted with him for a bit. The last few miles in what was rapidly becoming warm sun were a joy and the final leg stretch along the seafront to the cafe just perfect. Brilliant blue skies, warming sun, tailwind. The new cafe is a real find, well done leaders. I picked a table in the sun, right over the beach on a great terrace and waited till Peter rocked up so we could breakfast together.
It was such a lovely day, I wanted to carry on riding, but I’m not too fond of any of the return ride variations from Southend to London..too much anonymous urban riding, which, while it has some attractions when it’s transformed at night, is dull, boring and busy in the daytime. So rode back with Peter along the seafront to Chalkwell, and waved him goodbye as he headed home. Then I took the train to Limehouse from where I rode to Wapping, down to the river and east to the Greenwich tunnel, under the river and west along it to Tower Bridge, then a little trip to St James Park and finally home the long way via Vauxhall Bridge and several SE London parks. The first really warm sun of the year had brought folks out to enjoy the best bits of London and I joined in the fun, watching it all as I rode by.
My legs by now were feeling a bit leaden. And I realised I must have ridden over 90 miles since 11pm last night. I have to admit, the last mile home was a bit of a struggle as I was by now running on empty and of course, living on the edge of Forest Hill, it involved a teeny bit of up. I eventually staggered in my front door, happy and tired.
It was still a beautiful day, so I sat in the garden with a glass of wine, some French bread, cheese and salad and fell asleep in the sun. Perfect Easter. Terrific Friday Night Ride. Thank you, Friday peeps.
If what I have written has tempted you at all to try a FNRttC, then head over to their website here