Summer cycling festivals

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 39.

Having helped organise the Cambridge Festival of Cycling over the past few years, I was interested in seeing what happens at other cycling festivals around the UK.

Spokefest, Leicester

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Racing in Leicester.

This event was a bit like a three-day-long try-a-bike show. I guess that there were about 25 delegates (who were either staying in a university hall, or were camping). Three had cycled from Germany, via Cambridge. This had taken them over five days on recumbent bicycles heavily laden with tents and other luggage, including the latest satellite navigation equipment. I thought that was impressive, until the Bikefix team turned up, well after midnight, having cycled up from London. One of them had towed a trailer laden with four other recumbent bikes all the way.

There were several organised rides, one that took us along the Sustrans route out of Leicester past the Space Centre . This amazing looking building, which houses a Blue Streak rocket, looks like one of the Michelin man’s legs, but is made out of transparent material. It was very disappointing not to find cycle parking immediately outside the main entrance, where there was an ideal space for it.

The try-out show itself was held in one of the main central shopping streets of Leicester. For most of the afternoon, recumbent bikes of all sorts hurtled around a fenced-off area of this busy street to the amusement of onlookers. Kids stood in the queues waiting for a go. Xntrick Cycles of Littleport (near Ely) provided a number of unusual hard-to-balance-on machines that were very popular. There’s no street in Cambridge big enough to hold such an eye-catching event.

I took the opportunity to visit Leicester’s Bike Park, where cyclists pay up to £1 per day to leave their bike in the basement of this central unit which doubles as a bike repair and accessory shop. The cycle parking in the rest of the city generally appears to consist of poor quality, grim looking galvanised Sheffield stands, some stacked awfully close together. The city seems to be in the process of ‘Sustransformation’, and so we were often cycling along isolated closed off roads that suddenly divert onto a bit of green painted pavement and then on to pelican crossings that require us to dismount. One awful straight-on junction only activates the traffic lights for you if you are on the pavement.

Spokefest closed with a long procession of cyclists leaving for Brighton.

World Human Power Vehicle Championships, Brighton

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Racing in Brighton.

Each morning for four days I picked my way through tents, tricycles, velomobiles, and past the cantilevered push-me-pull-you recumbent tandem on my way to breakfast in the hospitality suite of Brighton’s racecourse, with the day’s challenge in mind: 1 km time trials at the circular track at Preston Park, criterium racing at the hilly Hove Park, sprints on Hove promenade and, finally, a dreaded two hour road race on Goodwood motor racing circuit. I should say that I didn’t do any training whatsoever for these events other than the normal cycling I do everyday, and I don’t belong to any ‘gym’. A fairing attached to my bikeE put me in the faired class and this proved to be a further hurdle to world championship success.

The serious racers had their own team colours, very low bikes with contoured rear fairings and covered rear wheels. The fastest bikes are fully faired, and made so narrow that lubrication between the shell and legs is essential, at least until enough sweat has been built up.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign was represented by Dave Hembrow and myself. At the meet, I learned that it’s not air that stops you, it’s the vacuum created that pulls you back! This meant that Dave’s home-made cardboard rear fairing was going to prove a lot more useful than the £200 I had paid for a transparent front fairing for my BikeE.

The world human power speed record is timed over a 200 metre stretch. It was recently broken at Battle Mountain, Nevada, by Sam Whittingham in the Varna Diablo travelling at 80.55 mph. We were almost blown away by the strong sea breeze on Hove promenade and, despite a strong tail wind, I only managed a speed of 24 mph, whilst David just missed 30 mph. The winner at over 45 mph did the 200 metres in only 9.8 seconds.

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Incredibly complicated pedestrian zone sign.

We took over Goodwood, for one of their statutory ‘quiet Sundays’. Eighty five of us started. I finished in 71st place averaging 15 mph, and Dave came in 54th place at 20 mph. I was lapped (during every lap) by the winner, fellow Briton Ian Chattington, who covered over 69 miles in the 2 hours.

Racing tests machinery and people and, although I came away in 73rd place overall, this was because I took points from every event, the only person below me like this was a 10 year old girl. At least we weren’t one of those hospitalised with a broken nose, or out of the race with a buckled wheel.

This friendly event closed with a tearful organiser handing out the prizes and looking forward to next year’s championships in Brantford, Canada.

Just a final footnote for those of us used to cycling only in and around Cambridge. Brighton is a shocking reminder of what cycling is like for everyone else. The long steep hills are one thing, but hostile city centre dual carriageways are another and traffic dominates the sea front. The city’s new bus information system didn’t work, and the buses bully their way along their own lanes in which cyclists are banned. But at least the buses in Brighton do turn up!

Simon Nuttall


Bikefix –
Xntrick Cycles –
Spokesfest –
National Space Centre –
British Human Power Club –
Blue Yonder –