Or why do we attempt the frankly pointless?
This is a website supposedly dedicated to stationery and all things around that, so why an article all about cycling around the M25? Well we also like to stretch at the limits of what we write about, throw a few extra bits in there to keep you on your toes. I have always avoided bringing cycling in before as it felt…well, at odds. But this week I decided to share a little bit of what happens outside of the stationery bubble. Oh, and it includes reference to a bacon and scallop sandwich. Tempted now?
So the background is that I have cycled on and off for most of my life, but took it up seriously a few years ago. And the worrying thing is how I find myself wanting to do more and more. So what started out as a simple desire to be able to cycle the 2012 Olympic course then became an urge to break that 100 mile mark. Did that and I found myself wanting to do Tour de France climbs, and then HC climbs (Hors Categorie, or basically very, very big climbs). It just goes on. 200km? Tick. 3-day back-to-back cycle touring? Tick. And so an idea I had a year ago kept creeping back in. Cycling around the M25, around London. Obviously not on it, that’s both illegal and stupid. And actually quite boring I’d guess. But on roads and lanes as close as possible.
So some time ago I drew the route, refined it, refined it some more. Tweaked it, researched the café stops, essentially had it down to a military precise art. Just the minor issue of cycling it. Now the M25 is said to be 117 miles long. A funny fact about it is that it is not truly an orbital motorway, since at Dartford it becomes the A282 whilst it crosses over (or under) the Thames. Still, that 117 mile loop became a 144 mile loop on my route. A full 27 miles of meandering back and forth.
So last weekend the weather seemed right, I had a domestic window to go out and ride all day. All day. And it was an experience. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the towns and fields, but my outtake from this would be summarised as follows:
1 – I clearly have a strange visual desire since I knew this had to look right when recorded on a GPS device. So no wrong turns, no deviations. I know this is not normal.
2 – London really does change as you move around it. Surrey and Kent had cyclists. Lots of them. Essex didn’t. At all. In fact there were very few on the northern side of London generally, and the one group I did see were wearing the Penge cycling club tops. Definitely not locals then, and worryingly they may also have had the same M25 idea, just in reverse.
3 – I chose to do this anti-clockwise. There were practical reasons why, but it felt odd. Why would it feel odd? Do we live our lives by the clock so much?
4 – My full route was 164 miles, including getting to and from the M25. After 120 miles I became weary, but it was never really a physical weariness. More I found a mental weariness at the seemingly slow progression and my increasing lack of geographical awareness of where I was on this great circle. That said, the following day it was a physical pain that outweighed the mental pleasure of having achieved it.
5 – Seafood. Who would have thought it would play a part? But it did. Getting hungry at one stage in Kent I was wondering where I would find something savoury, when up popped a seafood van in a layby on the A225. A pot of prawns and crab was an amazing tonic, so much better than an energy gel. Dave Brailsford should take note. There was also a very nice seafood café in Epping Forest selling bacon and scallop sandwiches. Sadly I had already partaken in the pleasure of a halloumi and fried egg sandwich from the café next door. Very nice too.
6 – For some odd reason the Dartford Crossing has no means of cycling across. So we pay for someone to drive us over. That said, it was a very nice break and a very nice man who drove me from Kent to Essex. I even got taken on a detour down some secret Highways Agency roads to avoid the traffic.
7 – London is a big city. But seeing it in all it’s Sunday best glory was quite heartening.
8 – That evening I swore I would likely never ride a bike again. 24 hours later I was planning a new variation, this time involving cycling round the M25 but always outside of it. That’s an extra 20 miles or so. Clockwise this time of course. Sheer madness. But visually quite pleasing.
I can’t believe anyone reading the Nanosphere would actually want to attempt something so stupid as cycling around the M25, but if you were then here was my route.
An essential part of the route would be finding somewhere to stop. There’s only so much recovery can be done standing in the forecourt of an Esso petrol station. There are a couple of useful sites for locating a café en-route, and I was not going to spoil my day with some giant radial spur out to a café and back. See https://www.cafenetwork.info/ and https://www.bikefriendlycafes.com/cafe-map/ – both served me well. Maison du Velo in Reigate and the Epping Forest Tea Hut (or the seafood one next door) did the trick for me. Oh, and an Esso station somewhere near Rickmansworth did a mean bottle of mineral water and an Almond Magnum.
Other than that, good luck. Not least with explaining to others why you did it.