Is The NEW RideLondon-Essex 100 Still Worth It?

Despite the name of this website, I haven’t written about any specific sportives for a long time. Peak District cycling event reviews form a pretty narrow niche.

But RideLondon has wider appeal, at least in the UK. My training for the first RideLondon was ‘important topic’ that kicked off the creation of this website (as a blog).

So here’s a post about the NEW RideLondon 100 format that rebooted in 2022.

What Is RideLondon 100?

RideLondon, or specifically the RideLondon 100, is a 100-mile closed roads sportive in and around London.

Starting in 2013 in the warm-wee-in-a-wetsuit afterglow of the London Olympics slash Wiggins Tour de France triumph, the event gives 20,000 riders the opportunity to smash it around the roads of London and adjoining counties, for shots and goggles, and the chance to set PBs on Strava.

I rode the original London Surrey version in 2013 and 2018, and returned, like a magnificent velo-god, to conquer the RideLondon Essex reboot in 2022.

In this post, I will cover:

  • My experience of the event: what I liked and what was a bit meh
  • My thoughts on the route, including if there are any climbs you need to worry about. Spoiler alert: no.
  • And finally my ‘performance’, if we can call it that.

Let’s. Crack. On.

Here’s My YouTube Video On The Subject

My RideLondon 2022 Experience

My RideLondon experience kicked off 18 hours before, and 137 miles away, from the start.

For me, and pretty much every other non-London-residing participant, RideLondon is a faff.

The day before, Saturday afternoon, I drove down from the Midlands to my mate’s house in south west London, dropped off the car, and then took the train into central London with my bike and a backpack of kit.

After years of Team Ineos-style marginal gains analysis, the ideal pre-event prep is, I’ve found, three hours in a car, 30 minutes on a train, 20 minutes spent sharting yourself riding through London traffic, 12 hours in a windowless hotel room and a Chipotle.

After attaching my rider numbers and timing chip, I settled down to sleep, wondering if two danish pastries and a tepid double espresso in a can was ideal RideLondon breakfast fuel.

Too late now. Sunday arrived and my 5am alarm kicked me into motion. Thankfully the consumption of said canned caffeine did the same for my bowels.

A short ride through quiet London streets and I joined the RideLondon massive, heading for the start.

The Start

The entrance to the start area was on the corner of Parliament Square, turning up Whitehall. From this point, until the start, we’d be pushing our bikes.

There were large banks of toilets in front of the foreign office, giving my second morning constitutional a frisson of political excitement. More importantly there were no queues and the general area felt safe to leave your bike for a couple of minutes.

Whilst there were toilets, and mechanics tents for pre-ride tune-ups, this year there was no bag drop-off, which was a bit of a pain.

After the event was over I’d have to return to my hotel, in one direction, before turning around and riding back to the station. Ho hum.

The general vibe was very chilled. After walking up Whitehall for a bit, we turned down one of the side roads that took us to the Embankment and the queue for the start.

Unlike previous events where there were more obviously-defined start waves, this version had a rolling start. We gradually shuffled along until we suddenly found ourselves on the start line, mounted up and were off.

There didn’t seem to be much checking of whether riders were in the correct wave but to be honest I didn’t care. The weather was nice, I felt reasonably fit and, most importantly, I’d done my deux daily dumps.

Anyway, we were off and rolling… and now would be a good time to explain the route.

The RideLondon-Essex 100 Route

As you’ve probably picked up, the new RideLondon-Essex route starts in Central London.

The course follows the Embankment as it becomes Upper and Lower Thames Street, skirting the southern edge of the City of London. Nice wide and largely flat roads for you to settle into the ride.

Then its past the Tower of London and out east via Docklands.

And that’s 99% of the ‘tourist’ London part of RideLondon completed, unless you consider the dual carriageways of East London a tourist attraction, in which case do I have a treat for you.

After a wiggle through West Ham and Stratford, and a dual carriageway loop around the Olympic Park, where previous RideLondons have started from, it’s out into Essex.

Essex occupies a bit of a black hole in my geographical cycling knowledge, possibly for good reason. Of course I jest, stout velomen of Essex!

Anyway, the route follows a sort of squished diagonal figure of eight, out through Epping Forest to Chipping Ongar, where we had the first feed stop. This was where the 60-milers split from the imperial centurions, with the latter doing an additional 40-mile loop up to Great Dunmow and back via the outskirts of Chelmsford.

The second welfare stop, as the organisers called it, was at a school in Felstead. The third and final one was back at Chipping Ongar, albeit in a different place to stop one.

After a long drag back to Woodford, where we rejoined the outbound route, we then more or less followed the same roads back through East London, plunging once again into the Limehouse Link tunnel before a sharp left handed took us onto Tower Bridge and the finish.

So that’s an overview of the route, how about…

The Climbs Of RideLondon-Essex

Of which there are precisely zero.

One of my earliest blog successes was a post analysing the climbs of the old Surrey-based RideLondon route.

No similar analysis is required for the Essex RideLondon route. The elevation profile only appears a bit bumpy cos they’ve stretched the y axis and compressed the x.

Even I, more spinner than grinder, except on the dance floor, spent most of the ride in the big ring.

There was the odd low gradient drag. The road through Epping Forest may have nudged 2 or 3%… maybe. The final schlep up to the turn at Woodford was a chore on tired legs.

But there were definitely no proper climbs to worry about or to consider walking up.

You can decide whether you want climbs or not on an event like this, but for me, Leith Hill and Box Hill in the Surrey version were a highlight of the ride.

So no climbs to speak of then, but what about the rest of the…

Scenery

Well, the Peak District it ain’t…

Instead it was central London, then urban, then suburban then flattish agricultural scenery, with the odd affluent town or village here and there, all whilst traversing wide A-roads and dual carriageways

As I say, I don’t know Essex. I’ve seen comments from local riders that there are more attractive roads to ride in the county and I don’t doubt them.

But you don’t come to RideLondon for the scenery – certainly not the rural scenery. Climbs aside, the Surrey version wasn’t radically different in the aesthetics department.

It’s fine, we were all head down, trying to post our fastestest ever time on closed roads, weren’t we?

So what about those…

Closed Roads

I’ve done three closed road events now, all of them RideLondons, and the thrill of riding roads without any cars and lorries is as strong as ever.

There’s no stopping for traffic lights and junctions. Like Iggy Pop, we ride and we ride. Herds of roaming cyclo-beests migrate across the Essex grasslands. Squint – briefly – and you can almost imagine yourself in the pro peloton.

To be clear, it’s not pure cycling nirvana. The absence of motor vehicles doesn’t remove risk. Large groups of cyclists, at different speeds, with weaving, overtaking and overcooked cornering, is inevitably going to lead to riders being cut up and the odd crash.

Descending a hill at top speed and hearing some wild-eyed loon going even faster behind your right shoulder can be disconcerting, even to an experienced rider.

And removing cars doesn’t remove arseholes. In 20,000 people you’ll always get a few. Giving someone a bike does not the arsehole remove.

In fact, give a man an aero bike and a set of deep section wheels and an arsehole he does become.

Once again I jest…

But notwithstanding the odd bit of lairy cycling, closed roads riding is great.

It’s the main reason I enter the ballot each year. And the USP of RideLondon is, of course, that the closed roads are in the London.

But the thing to be aware of about RideLondon, certainly the new version, is that…

It’s Not Actually Very Londony

The central London content of the ride, with landmarks recognisable to non-residents of Poplar, is low. As I’ve already said, it’s heavily skewed to the eastern part of the city, mainly the outskirts.

The previous route was nice because it started out east at the Olympic Park then headed west past a variety of London highlights.

For an hour and a half you had the City, the West End, the posh bits riding past Harrods and the Victoria and Albert Museum, then on to Richmond Park and Hampton Court.

At the end of the ride, you had 30 minutes of Wimbledon, Fulham and along the River Thames before Trafalgar Square and the finish on the Mall.

At the risk of sounding like a south west London apologist, the previous route felt a bit more London-y and, as a result, better.

If you’re gonna ride roads closed to motor traffic, better that they be famous central London ones rather than a random overpass in Leytonstone.

Bringing us onto…

The Finish

Which, even though it’s on Tower Bridge, is a bit underwhelming.

The final approach to the line is a bit too short and a bit too narrow.

Having given it a spuds-out effort through the Limehouse Link Tunnel, and a full hammer drop on The Highway, I was as excited to finish with a flourish as your grandparents on annual intercourse day.

(I said annual).

At the Tower we rounded the tight left-hand corner, and then… that’s it.

The finish line was only a couple of hundred metres away. Marshalls were shouting for everyone to slow down. Damp squids dropped from the sky. Not this year grandpa.

Tower Bridge isn’t wide enough for large volumes of riders to finish at any sort of speed.

You could barely cross the finish line on the bike because the road was so crammed. Some riders were even dismounting before the line itself.

The previous finish on the Mall was a lot better.

The more London-flavoured run in featured the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, all on nice wide roads.

Turning onto the Mall, the road broadened even more, making it safe for riders of all speeds to give some gas to the finish.

The long run off afterwards kept everyone spread out and moved finished riders quickly out of the way.

Look, it’s not a major thing. I was delighted to complete 100 miles. The finish on Tower Bridge, even at walking pace, looked pretty cool.

And I got a finisher’s medal, which in 2022 was a funky, and presumably eco-friendly, wooden one.

But like grandad, one final romp to tell the kids about would have been nice.

So that’s the route, what about the amenities, and the humans, on said route?

Let’s start with the…

Feed stops

The feed stops had a faint sense of humanitarian disaster response. Understandable I guess, given the number of riders.

Food was plentiful, albeit the selection was limited. High 5 supplied the nutrition, with loads of gels available in any flavour you wanted as long as it was orange. Volunteers were also on hand to fill up your water bottles and plink plonk in one of those salty hydration tablets.

The second stop, the biggest, also had bananas and crisps. The lunch of champions.

There were long queues for the toilets at the main feed stops. As usual I picked the slowest. I didn’t mind the break off the bike but you might want to crack on more quickly.

Twop twip then if you RideLondon in the future: use the smaller portaloo stations in between the three large pitstops.

There were loads of them, spread around the route, and were quieter and quicker for the gent wishing to drain the lizard and go.

Marshalling

I’m sure it’s a pretty tedious job, but some of the marshalling was a bit lacklustre.

There were some good examples of marshalls loudly alerting riders about upcoming tight bends. But there were also many of them stationed on or near traffic islands in the middle of the road just stood there quietly.

Whilst the marshalls did wear high vis, a whistle and a flag and a bit more training would have been more effective.

That said, all of the volunteers and the marshalls, at the start, the finish and during the ride, seemed helpful, friendly and in a good mood.

And I was happy to take all the positive vibes I could get.

Finally then, talking about people and stating the bleeding obvious, RideLondon has…

Lots of Riders

About 20,000 of them. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

On the positive side, it feels like a big event.

Let’s face it, you need a ride of this scale to warrant closing down all these roads.

Seeing other riders, and the pace they’re going at, no doubt spurred me on to maintaining a decent speed even as my legs flagged.

On the downside, accommodating large volumes of riders means the route had to use wider, less picturesque roads.

Even with the wide roads, there will be crashes. Some can impact riders not directly involved.

We had a 10-minute halt due to a rider up the road needing treatment. By the time we start-stop-restarted, thousands of rides had bunched up. It took another 10 miles or so for the field to thin out and we return to full speed.

To be clear, this is not to complain. These things happen. But if you’re going to RideLondon, be mentally prepared for your ride, and the time you record, if that’s important to you, to be impacted by other people.

And talking about times brings us neatly on to…

My Performance

As I’m sure you’re not desperate to hear about.

I completed the 100 miles in 5 hours 45. This was 40 minutes quicker than my previous two RideLondon times

For the record, I rode on my own like a friendless saddo. There was probably some draft benefit from other riders generally being around, but the time largely reflected my own efforts.

Part of the time improvement was due to the flatter course. The new Essex route had 200 fewer metres of ascent and there were no steep hills to burn matches on.

Partly it was due to better riding conditions. The temperature was moderate and there was no rain.

My fitness level was a bit of an unknown quantity.

On the one hand, I did a structured indoor training plan at the start of the year and followed this with regular workouts on the new KICKR. Strava told me my fitness level was good, at least for me.

On the other, I hadn’t done many longer outdoors rides – only three rides longer than 3 hours, with the last one a disheartening 4 hour mix of neck pain and bonking.

So I was pleased to sustain a decent effort over the full 100 miles. My speed was pretty consistent, averaging 28.5 km/h (or 17.7mph).

Most importantly, I felt good throughout, both physically and mentally.

Based on my average heart rate and the time in each zone, I rode within my fitness level.

I ate regularly, at feed stations and on the bike, plus I consumed a lot of bottles with hydration tablets in them. Unlike prior long distance events, I suffered no leg cramps.

Weirdly, despite it feeling easier than a lo t of previous rides, I recorded my second highest suffer score on Strava. Which maybe proves the point that I went in fitter.

So all in all I was pleased. It seems that riding sensibly and focusing on the simple things: eating, drinking, and not blowing yourself out on every little incline, is a recipe for a solid ride.

Who knew…?

What would I do next time?

I’ll keep it brief.

To get a better time, I’d do two things, other than the obvious ‘train harder’.

Firstly, in my training, get a better sense of my fitness level over longer distances so I knew how much I could push myself. I could probably have given it a bit more beans at times.

Secondly, I’d ride the event with others at a similar fitness level and work together to pull each other along. More speed, quicker time, same amount of effort.

Conclusion

I was planning to give some more red hot RideLondon tips but I’m running out of wordjuice.

Hopefully you’ll have inferred some helpful hints in the guff what I’ve been talking about.

If you have questions about RideLondon or want more detail on any particular bit, let me know in the comments below.

Monty out.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

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