Cycle ride report: Velonotte Albertina

“Quand on partait de bon matin
Quand on partait sur les chemins
À bicyclette
Nous étions quelques bons copains…”

[from À bicyclette by Yves Montand, 1968]

For me and other southeast London cycling commissars NotBikeWeek 2013™ ended with the Velonotte Albertina architectural ride on Saturday night through Sunday morning. Velonotte is an international project founded by Moscow-based urban historian Sergey Nikitin.

Members of the London Cycling Campaign contribute to Velonotte with their local knowledge and community cycle ride management skills.

The Velonotte rides, which over the past few years have taken place in various European cities, are guided tours of architectural highlights following particular themes, with community radio accompaniments in the form of interviews with various experts.

Last year in London we had Velonotte l’Olympica, which saw 600 rain-soaked cyclists sample the delights of east London and Docklands. In May of this year 4,000 pedalled around Istanbul, and similar numbers have been recorded in Moscow and St Petersburg.

This year’s London Velonotte, dubbed “Velonotte Albertina”, focussed on the early Victorian period, and included a tour of Bloomsbury, Kensington, Chelsea and Kensal Green. The ride was led by Adam Thompson, who recently moved from Hackney to Southwark, and I was one of the marshals.

Shepherding several hundred cyclists around central London with only a handful of marshals and over a six hour period is a bit of a challenge, but somehow we managed it with relatively few losses, and only minor skirmishes with angry motorists. No-one ended up in the canal. Which is good.

The route took us from Buckingham Palace along the Strand to Bloomsbury, and west to Marylebone and Paddington, before turning north through Kensington to the northernmost point of the ride at Kensal Green Cemetery, following a short spin along the Grand Union Canal. After that we turned southeast along Ladbrooke Grove, and toured the palatial homes of Kensington and Chelsea, which Sergey reportedly described as typical London terraces. He was referring to the balconies.

Continuing south, we crossed the river at Battersea Bridge, and stopped for a break at the Doodle Bar, which was kept open especially for us. The original plan was to then tour the Kennington area, but owing to time constraints this part of the route was scrapped, and we instead crossed the Thames for a second time via the Albert Bridge. From there we cycled along the Chelsea Embankment and Sloane Street to Knighstbridge, and then on to Hyde Park following a quick stop at the Albert Hall.

For the ride leaders and marshals the Velonotte ended with a champaign and caviar breakfast on the northern bank of the Serpentine.

Velonotte is such great fun that I’m disappointed we only manage to get a few hundred participants in London, compared with the thousands who turn up in other European capitals. Still, for Velonotte Albertina we had a very good turnout from LCC members, and not just in a ride leading capacity. There was a considerable overlap with the Midsummer Madness ride on Friday morning, and as a result I’ve made the acquaintance of active members of Hammersmith and Fulham Cyclists.

Many thanks to Sergey Nikitin and the Velonotte team for bringing this exciting cultural project to London, and to Adam Thompson for leading the London rides.