Cycling is something I love, I really do. Having said that, cycling in central London is something I very rarely love. Luckily there are some imaginative people about. Once a year, for the past few years, central London has been taken over by a rather eccentric breed of cyclist... Yes, I was lucky enough to register for the third annual TWEED RUN, where people dress in tweeds or other elegant vintage threads and cycle round the capital all in the name of having a jolly good time.
What was so wonderful about this event was the way that the everyday was forgotten for a while and replaced with something extraordinary and special. In terms of mere cycling, it was very stop-start at times. When I cycle I love to get away, to explore, or simply to let off some steam, tire myself out, feel the rush of descending a hill at breakneck speed, or the sense of achievement when you have conquered a long or steep climb. The cycling itself, was arguably as slow as in rush hour traffic - slower, even! The route went from London's showiest parts, to its most familiar parts, so there was no exploring alleyways you'd never been down before. No, as I say, the virtues of the Tweed Run lie separate to the virtues of commuter cycling, or general leisure cycling.
Yes, there are things that will happen to you on the Tweed Run that don't tend to happen every day. Girls will unashamedly and soberly tell you that you look amazing, or ask to take your picture. You get settled into a whimsical world where everybody dresses so splendidly. A world where people appreciate fine craftsmanship in whatever form it takes - from a handbuilt steel frame, to a homemade dress, a well-polished set of brogues, or even an endearing Blue Peter-style attempt to make a relatively garish modern frame fit in with the Pashleys, Mercians, Holdsworths and the like. There is also no snobbery. Nobody ever tells you they dislike your outfit or bike. Ewan MacGregor even entered as a participant, and although there came a point where everybody realized there was a famous man in the ranks, he must have enjoyed the same social-leveling effect of being one delightfully over-dressed cyclist amongst many for much of the day. It really is strange to think how this day-long social order superficially, with its plus-fours and Oxford bags, resembled the elitist world of upper-class idiots crashing racing cars and getting sent down from Oxford in Evelyn Waugh novels. Come to think of it, I didn't hear the usual conversations about 'what do you do?' or 'where did you study?'. More remarkable was the way that people of different ages were mixing so seamlessly. A virtue was made out of nerdy obsessions with knowing how to smoke a pipe properly, wax a moustache or simply wanting to take photos of bicycle head-tube badges.
Then there were moments when you found yourself thrust back into 21st century London, and they were just as unusual, with looks and questions from amused passers-by. There was no escaping it, it followed you wherever you went; the Tweed Run was the world turned delightfully on its side for a whole day. I'd say it was a shame it had to end, but the wonderfully-weird wackiness of it all depended on it being a break from the norm. I now have an inner-tube to repair, possibly even a rim, but it was, without any doubt, absolutely worth it!