As a spectator watching the Brompton World Championships, I am sure there is nothing more that screams British middle-class. It’s a sight not to be missed. The biggest Brompton race of the year in the middle of the brilliant weekend of Prudential Ride London.
But it’s Brompton fans and racers from all over the world that make this event, not just the British. More than 500 folding-bike racers have either qualified – which gives you a place in the first wave – or entered a ballot to get an entry.
One racer, I forget where from, got his place, sold his Brompton to fund his trip to London, then rented a Brompton for race day. That is dedication and passion all rolled into one.
And there does seem to be a real passion, togetherness, a community almost, with these Brompton riders. A knowledge that, if you ride a Brompton, you simply understand the love for it.
The race rules are simple. You are a commuter on a Brompton, so wear commuter clothing, this means jacket and tie or neck scarf too. In fact, you cannot go to the start line without a jacket. This year, Her Majesty the Queen took part and Mary Poppins was commuting alongside her. Wonderful. Ms Poppins raced in stiletto ankle boots, impressive.
There is a prize for best dressed, and it’s worth making an effort as it’s part of the madness.
The riders line up on allocated spots in a long line from one to 500 plus. Your Brompton is folded on the other side of the race track. The whistle goes, Le Mans start, you run to your bike, unfold and away you go. They don’t let all 500 go at once, you are grouped, but there is only a 10-second delay between the groups. It is frantic. A 2.5km circuit that goes down The Mall and round St James’s Park, eight times.
Totally bonkers, there is no other word for it. The pace is so fast, I managed to average 35km an hour, on a Brompton, not clipped into the pedals and in normal clothes. The winner averaged over 40km per hour.
It’s competitive and it’s dangerous. Rush the unfolding part (there is a knack to this, the record is four seconds) and don’t tighten your bike up properly and it won’t be a pretty sight once you jump on. I have witnessed it in qualifying.
I was fortunate enough to get a qualifying place so was in the first wave and I am so grateful for that high placing. Once you start catching up with the people who were further down the start line it turns into dodgems. This year sadly there where a number of crashes. The competitiveness coupled with the riders who are there for the pure fun maybe isn’t the most intelligent mix… but the location, the crowds, the pure eccentricity of it all, if there is one bike race you need to witness and fully support, this is it.