Taking part in the RideLondon Freecycle

Taking part in the RideLondon Freecycle

9th August 2019 2 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Last Updated on 24th July 2020

The RideLondon Freecycle takes place on the Saturday, the day before the main ‘RideLondon 100’ event, in central London, but what’s it like? Should you take part? Who tends to go along to it?

If you’ve been unfortunate enough not to get accepted for the ‘RideLondon 100’, and simply want a family fun day out in London instead, then seriously consider taking part in the ‘FreeCycle’.

The official Prudential RideLondon Freecycle website has ALL the information you will ever need – the route, the led rides, the festival zones and even how to hire a bike for the event. My post will hopefully tell you what it’s like as a member of the public to take part.

So what is RideLondon Freecycle?

The Prudential RideLondon Freecycle is a clockwise 7 mile closed loop in Central London on traffic-free roads stretching from Bank in the east to Constitution Hill in the west. It’s open from 9am until 4pm with six ‘festival zones’ enroute hosting various entertainment from smoothie-making bicycles to BMX trick riding.

Cyclists riding under the Blackfriar's Underpass
You don’t usually get the chance to ride along the Blackfriar’s Underpass like this

Where does FreeCycle start from?

The joy of Freecycle is that you can join it anywhere along the 7 mile route. Simply cycle up to it and join in. Even join in spontaneously there and then on the day. Even hire a ‘Boris Bike’ if you want to.

If you register in advance you get a safety bib and race number (the latter allowing you to check photos of you taken on the course for a memory of your big day).

The RideLondon FreeCycle 7 mile circuit
The FreeCycle 7 mile circuit. Source: PDF link

And there are ‘festival zones’ too?

Each Festival Zone has cycle parking (do bring a lock with you though) where participants can leave their bikes while they enjoy the free entertainment. The zones also have information stands, water bottle filling stations, medical posts, toilets and even bike doctors if you have an unfortunate “mechanical”.

Each zone is slightly different so if like me you have FOMO then you’ll want to visit all six of them! The St Paul’s festival zone has an accompanying food zone at Paternoster Square with over half a dozen stalls so make sure you stop there for a wholesome lunch.

Three cyclists pedalling stationary bikes at Ride London
Keeping the tunes pumping by pedalling stationary bicycles at one of the festival zones!

I decided to dust down my Strida bike. During the day it was called “cool” far more times that it was called “special” so I will take the former. Jacqui from Goodordering posed with it at the Bloomberg Festival zone in front of her wonderful display of bags. A Strida appears in her latest brochure so she was more than happy to strike a pose.

Jacqui from Goodordering selling cool bike bags at the Bloomberg festival zone
Goodordering were selling cool bike “stuff” – seen here posing with my Strida

What will I see enroute?

The loop passes iconic landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and the Bank of England, with unique views from the middle of usually busy main roads that you wouldn’t be able to see throughout the rest of the year.

Cyclists riding along The Mall as part of FreeCycle
Private bikes and Boris Bikes. All types and models were taking part 🙂

The sheer joy for most riders was the simple fact of being able to do some car-free, chilled out cycling. Most people managed 2 laps ( 14 miles) but I went for 3.5 laps instead (about 24 miles) … just because I could 🙂

Check out this 1 minute long YouTube video of some of the things I saw on the way round!

Do I have to keep going?

No – you can stop where you like whenever you like. As long as that isn’t slap bang in the middle of the road of course. The six festival zones offer plenty to keep you entertained, and of course there are loads of “normal” eateries and coffee shops which line the course to stop off at.

My first port of call was Rosslyn Coffee along Queen Victoria Street. They had some sun-drenched wooden benches outside which attracted a great deal of passers-by. This was my first coffee stop of the day.

What might I see “moving’ enroute?

As well as the fixed festival zones and the iconic landmarks there will be music and entertainment along the route too. From stilt bicycles and Penny Farthings through to rickshaws and bikes transporting huge speakers (top image).

As participants can bring whatever bike they like you’ll see anything from recumbents, to hand cycles to BMXs, fold-up bikes and old wartime “boneshakers”. The highlight for me was seeing this guy cycling around “as happy as Larry” on this diddy little thing below.

Man riding a little bike at RideLondon FreeCycle
And bike of the day goes to THIS guy!

What’s the actual cycling bit like?

Even though the route is closed off to traffic there are dozens of crossing points manned by marshalls which will bring you riders to a halt. This is to allow pedestrians to cross safely but also helps in regulating the cyclists. It’s not supposed to be a criterium and riders aren’t supposed to be racing around it. If you do you’ll endanger younger riders and ultimately look a bit of a t*t!

Cyclists riding along Birdcage Walk - RideLondon
FreeCycle is perfect for confident younger rides to be part of a safe, mass participation event

Lots of little kids are brought out by their families and it’s probably their first time cycling so far with so many other people so definitely take care. As long as people keep their line and don’t weave all over the road then everybody should stay safe and have a fund ay out.

Does RideLondon Freecycle get busy?

I made sure I started early at 09:30. Joining on the northern section just before St Paul’s and this seemed to be the quietest section of the loop too. The roads are wider and as it’s in the City of London it’s generally pretty quiet on a Saturday anyway.

As I neared Parliament Square by Big Ben just an hour later things were already getting a bit busier, what with all the extra tourists milling about in the same area. Once your back out of the other side of Trafalgar Square (the centre point of London?) things died down again.

Cyclists stopping to let pedestrians cross the road at Parliament Square
Parliament Square was probably the busiest part of the whole course

This easterly section was certainly my favourite part of the course. Most people are cycling along at a casual 10 mph so it really is a pleasant way to see central London with fresh eyes.

What happens when it gets to 4pm?

Riders are asked to slowly leave the route and safely head to wherever they’re going next. Time it right and the Green Park festival zone is a good place to end up as it’s the biggest of the six and has a whole multitude of food stalls and events to keep you entertained. It also has a big screen so grab an ice cream, sit yourself in a deck chair and enjoy watching the views of the various cameras out on the course.

The Green Park festival zone at RideLondon
Part of the Green Park festival zone – the biggest of the six en route

Added bonus! Watch the ‘Classique’ & ‘Brompton World Championships’

If you happen to still be in Green Park at 17:00 then head over to watch the female pros take on the 20 lap, 3.4km loop ‘Classique‘ around St James’s Park in the biggest prize fund race of their season. Later still is the wonderfully British spectacle of the Brompton World Championships consisting of 8 laps around an even tighter 2km course of St James’s Park.

I try to take part in the RideLondon FreeCycle every year as it’s a lovely, free and chilled out way of exploring Central London.

Who’s up for taking part next year?

Meanwhile check out this 2020 post for 10 other UK cycle route ideas courtesy of some local travel blogger friends.

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