How To… Race in London
If you live in London and want to race your bicycle, these are some of the options open to you.
Crits or criteriums are perfect for inner-city racing. They are run on a short tarmac circuit, usually only a kilometer or two long. These are pretty flat, but this makes them fast and the addition of sharp turns can make for technical racing. Races usually last an hour or 90 minutes at most, so most people will race from the gun. Make sure you get a good warm up, and get your elbows out because they can be pretty feisty afairs.
Lee Valley VeloPark
Built outside the velodrome in the Olympic park, this new circuit has super smooth tarmac. The fairly sweeping bends make for quick race speeds, especially if there’s a tailwind on the back straight. If you need to brake much, if at all, you’re doing it wrong. In the summer there is racing on Wednesday evenings and weekends. There is also a winter series if you like racing in the rain.
This Tuesday night classic is flat as a pancake. . Like Velopark, wind can be a factor in the racing as it is fairly exposed. Suits pure sprinters, climbers avoid. There is also an LVRC (old boys) series.
Whilst battle rages at Hillingdon, the other option on Tuesdays is at Crystal Palace. But only if it isn’t raining. Which it usually is. A technical upper portion of the circuit makes for some choppy riding. There is also a lower end to the circuit. This means there is a hill in it, which you do every lap. This makes for hard races. Probably the most fun circuit in town though. Sign on for racing is in Cadence bike shop up the hill.
Thursday evening north of the river is all about the Hoggenberg, a 300m wall of pain. Apart from a solitary kick, the rest is pretty flat. Think of it as an interval session. If you’re not going well, Hog Hill will find you out. But if you are fit, this is a puncheur’s paradise. Watch out as the summer series finishes before summer does.
Cyclopark in Gravesend is also an option on Thursdays. The longest of all the circuits, this can flow a bit more like a miniature road race. Flat-ish circuit with a lush tarmac surface. Be warned: it is always windy here.
A third option on Thursdays is the MK bowl. Races are run on laps of a big circuit and inner, finishing circuit. Another pan flat one. For a change.
Road racing is for weekends only. Nearly all races will be affiliated to a league. Preference usually goes to riders who ride for clubs affiliated to that league, so it may be useful to join one of those if you’re riding a lot of events in a certain area.
North and East London: ERRL
North West: Central
South London: SERRL
South West: Surrey
Circuits vary in terrain, but most will be flat or have a steep climb or two. But remember we’re in the South East. Climbs do not last more than three minutes.
A rider against the clock. Pure racing. Unfortunately to clock competitive times you will need to have a TT rig, skinsuit and aero helmet. But if you can’t beat the guy with all the aero gear, at least you can beat your personal best. Usually cheaper than bunch racing, and you can be guaranteed a workout.
Midweek time trials are held on the Velopark & Hillingdon crit circuits, with competitors doing lots of laps with no traffic to contend with. London Dynamo also occasionally run time trials around Richmond Park. These are usually oversubscribed so get an entry in early.
A Tuesday night series is run by North Road RC on the ’10’ (9) mile circuit at Brickendon, just outside Hertford. Although it might be the shortest 10 miles you can race, its certainly not the flattest. A very ridable distance for a good warm-up, workout and cool-down. http://www.northroadcc.org.uk/activities/time-trial-series/
Further east on Tuesdays you can find the Hobbs Cross evening league. Another lumpy 10, you do 3 laps of rolling circuit. A better option to ride to if you live in East London. Run by Redbridge CC: http://www.redbridgecyclingclub.co.uk/
Welwyn 10 series
Welwyn Wheelers also run a Tuesday night series, on the Cole Green circuit. This is about a five minute spin from the Brickendon circuit. A flatter course comes at the price of riding down the A-414. http://welwynwheelers.org.uk/time-trials
On the weekends you can find more competitive and prestigious events. These go from 10 miles up to 12 and even 24 hr races. The sanity of competitors riding anything longer than a 25 or 50 is questionable though.
Look at events run on the various London districts on the CTT website: https://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk/find-events
A niche sub-discipline of time trials, these races are run on the steepest hills organisers can find. The traditional hill climb season is towards the end of the year, around October, when everyone sensible has stopped racing. The most famous of these near London are the Catford and the Bec. Another notable shout-out is the Urban Hill climb up Swains Lane.
Track racing requires a specific track bike. No brakes and just a solitary fixed-wheel gear, track cycling is a perfect way to hone your speed. Track riders are often strong crit racers as races are also short and intense. Track cycling is good because you get to race a few races each time, meaning your get more chances to win.
An absolute relic, now fully refurbished. This outdoor track has a quality league on Tuesday nights. There are also Open meetings on weekends. Their Open season meetings are on the last Sunday of the month.
The VeloPark Track is a superb facility. Built for the 2012 Olympics but now open to the choppers of the capital. Occasional summer meet but most popular is the infamous winter track league. The roof means racing is hot whatever the weather.
The outdoor track at the Gosling Sports arena in Welwyn Garden City is one close to my heart. Track league runs every Friday evening in the summer.
Cyclocross is muddy, mucky and heaps of fun. Either completely or partially off-road, be prepared to jump off your bike and tackle obstacles such as steps, jumps and tree roots. You’re going to need a separate bike for this one too. Either a cyclocross specific bike, or else a mountain bike can hack it. Knobbly tyres are a must though. Be prepared to spend more time cleaning your bike than actually racing it.
South London: London (A short midweek summer league is also run.)
Also look out for the Rapha Supercross at Alexandra Palace.
Not a race, but a mass participation ride run every year on the longest Saturday night of the summer. Start in London Fields, Hackney at 8pm and ride through the night to the coast. Upon arrival treat yourself with a midnight snack at the cafe and enjoy the sunrise. If you think you’re as smart as me, you can try to ride home too!
In a city with thousands of other cyclists, the quickest way to get around town can often get competitive. Enjoy pretending-not-to race fellow rush-hour work goers, early-morning park lappers and boris bikers around the city. But do obey the rules of the road and stop at red lights. Cycling in London can be dangerous and the only way to earn the respect of drivers is to respect the highway code ourselves. Do not give your fellow riders a bad name.
This is my London. I have raced all of these events and disciplines. Each suit different style riders and help train a unique set of riding skills. The more you can do, the more versatile you will be. But if time and money are limiting factors for you, just start out with one or two. Crits and road races are best in the summer when the weather is drier, whilst Cyclocross and the VeloPark track league provide great options to keep racing in the winter.
Its easy to assume London is no place to be a cyclist, but you’d be wrong. There is a vibrant riding culture and some seriously competitive racing. I hope this can help point potential racers in the right direction. Good luck and get stuck in!
Thanks to Paul Burgoine for the photos