Women’s Festive Ride


Photos by Gem Atkinson

On Saturday, a group rode from Richmond Park to Windsor for a seasonal jaunt out of the city. Hosted by Rapha riders Collyn Ahart and Gem Atkinson, here’s an account from the front and the back.

Gem from the back: As fifteen fast females forgathered in a well known South West London location on a freezing morning, you could be forgiven this was a missing part of a festive rhyme involving such frivolities as a partridge and a pear-tree etc etc. However festive and yuletide the ride intended to be, the cruelly timed rain at the onset of the ride quickly threatened to put a dampener on any mirth-like feelings.

Collyn from the front: Frost still glistening on the sun-drenched path through Richmond out to Hampton Court, we were promised a morning of blue skies and low wind. Winter-ready bikes, multiple layers of merino and fleece, we made our way out of London. 15 women including two Dutch pros, the Irish Track Sprint Champion and three riders on their very first group ride, our motley crew pushed out.

Gem: As the roads were navigated out towards a rather wet royal borough of Windsor, the group rolled along nicely, the pace rather oddly unified in its pace and efforts (a rarity on the group rides I seem to attend). Conversations and introductions were made on the tarmac amongst this group of mademoiselles.

Collyn: Blessed with new mudguards and beefy winter tyres, we found our rhythm and stayed close. The great thing about riding with friends (new and old), is that even in the worst of weather (it was dumping frozen rain by this point), we’re distracted by the conversation, plans for the new year, a new house, new jobs, a new puppy. The grey grey road ahead seems golden in the mist.

Gem: United in our dismay at the weather, those of us foregoing mudguards cursed the weatherman’s lies, for the cold but dry day that was promised had decided to presumably take itself off on a winter break, leaving us at the mercy of the December drizzle.

Collyn: Through Windsor park the clouds opened and blue skies crept back out with caution. It’s those moments when the sun peeks through and once more you can feel the warmth on your back, and a laugher and constant chatter come from the group behind… I think, this is why I do this. This is why I love this. These girls could smash it if they wanted, but for these few hours, we’re all together and enjoying every minute of it.

Gem: Making our way into the royal township of Windsor, we stopped for a much needed caffeine hit and to thaw out somewhat. Assuming the role of the autobus head I stayed outside to watch over a very nice collection of 15 bikes, when two cases of the dreaded punctures hit. With one of the ride’s resident Dutch Pro and Erin, a skilled bike mechanic the unlucky ones on this occasion, it was no time at all before we wear back on the road.

Collyn: Trusting in my navigational skills is a bit like following the North Star. A few missed turns and a back-tracks (yes, I was even using a Garmin, I’m just that good), we managed to find our way back toward Shepperton.

Gem: I drifted to the back of the pack, maybe psychologically it’s a hark back to my days at the back of the bus, hanging with the cool kids, and indulging in a healthy slice of banter. You heard the saying “Business up front, party out back” right? I’m always happy hanging around at the back, I like to blend in, assess whats happening. Ruth and I shared some giggles as this group of ladies eked out the miles, tightly knit and winning the battle against the wind.

Collyn: Riding next to a pro puts a lot of things into perspective. First, that I’m still painfully slow. And second, that apart from having exceptionally powerful legs and mega-lungs, they’re just like us. They also know how to talk. And talk they did. For two girls who have moved to London to learn English, they left me short of breath just listening. The miles ticked by as we listened to adventures in Continental racing, the frustrating lack of media attention for women’s cycling, and what it means to uproot and move to a new city, looking for new passions, seeking out new stories.

Gem: Suddenly looking around it seemed we had lost Erin & Liz, so without hesitation Ruth and I turned back to offer assistance and to regroup. The feeling of camaraderie heightened by the crap weather and a need to demonstrate a feeling of sisterhood made it an easy choice to head back. We stick together on these things, that’s just how we roll!

Collyn: As we rounded the bend into Shepperton, we unexpectedly found ourselves in a pack divided. Emergency phone calls and and texts later, we knew the remaining four stuck in Puncture City would come along… until 15 minutes later they didn’t. The mystery of the road is that one really never knows what’s just happened… were they lost (we certainly were), were they injured? But when you go out with a group, you know that no matter what, you’re never alone. Someone will stop with you, and someone will come to your rescue.

Gem: Sadly Erin was plagued by a series of slow punctures, the culprit believed to be the rim tape, so sadly we parted ways at a bailout point, one of the posse heading home for an early bath (secretly slightly envious at this point as my toes began to loose feeling).

Collyn: As the pub appeared out of the mist up the road, we pulled in with the sweet smell of roasts and fresh baking wafting in the air. We were greeted by fan-heaters and a few friends (including their youngster family members) who couldn’t meet us for the ride.

Gem: The remaining three, now quite a few miles adrift of the peloton of 11 decided to get our heads down and hit it full gas. With the promise of a riverside pub merely a handful of mikes away, I began to fantasise about the heady combination of a dialled-up radiator and a warm plate of hearty British ‘pub fare’.

Collyn: As we tucked into burgers and hot chocolate, the frost melted away from our outer extremities and our cheeks flushed in the sudden warmth.

Gem: Alas for this is where the gods decided to smite our little gang of 3, with Ruth falling victim to the winter puncture. Try as we may, much to the delight of passing carjockey chauvinists, we couldn’t get back on the road. The law of tubes and pinches were against us on this occasion, so a call was made to neutral service (AKA the amazing Laura Bower), who very kindly arrived to scoop up another victim. The two of us braved the headwind and fuelled by the thought of a warm open-fired pub, hot plates of food, and drying out the damp layers encasing our freezing bodies, we preceded to kick it full gas down the winding roads.

Collyn: Reunited over pudding and space-heaters, the day slowly and sadly came to an end. People peeled off to get on with their holiday preparations, the family gatherings and last-minute gift buying. Some great friends made, and plans already taking shape for next month (and a mechanical skill session for sometime in-between), we made out way back toward Kingston just as the sun sputtered out beyond the horizon.

Gem: The ride closed with an amble home to West London through a wonderfully serene deserted park, clothed in darkness. The last three riders, sempre uniti, riding side by side carefully as we shied away from the deer (thankfully avoiding any benton-esque incidents). As the last rider left, the grupetto girl, I made my way home the last few miles in the drizzle, filled with a sense of affinity and kinship after a incredible fun and inspiring ride with such a thoroughly awesome bunch of girls.