It’s not every day that, by 7:45am, you’ve seen five velomobiles ride past.
Today, however, is the exception to that rule and I not only saw five velomobiles but also one recumbent bicycle (not sure of the type) and, of course, my own recumbent tricycle.
This little corner of Essex isn’t usually a mecca for weird bikes but today (and presumably one day next week too) it becomes part of a journey from Abroad to Edinburgh, part of the London Edinburgh London Audax.
Audaxes are long distance rides. They’re not a race but do have a time limit (minimum as well as maximum). Every four years the London Edinburgh London audax (LEL) takes place, starting at Loughton in north east London.
People travel from all over the UK as well as from Europe and even farther afield to participate (I think they have about 1000 riders this year). I have several friends who’ve ridden this audax, including the wonderful Andy Allsopp who wrote a book about LEL2009 which I typeset for him called Barring Mechanicals (well worth a read).
Anyway, LEL has been in planning for years and a lot of discussion takes place on YACF, a British cycling forum.
I read YACF regularly but not usually the audax subsection. However, as I know several people riding LEL this year I have taken the occasional look and noticed someone had asked for a good route from Harwich to Loughton (where LEL starts). As I’m familiar with the roads between Harwich and Colchester I offered some suggestions and after a few messages to and fro we (Gabriele, a German velomobile rider, and me) agreed to meet for breakfast in Manningtree. The overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland chucks passengers off at 6:30am so not much is open for food but the Crown in Manningtree agreed to open early for us to provide some hungry cyclists with a Full English.
Gabriele explained that there might be a couple of other velomobile riders as well as lots of people would be getting that ferry.
So anyway, this morning I got up bright and early (6:30am) and headed off by trike to Manningtree. Once I arrived at the Crown I saw they weren’t yet there (unlikely as it’s 12 miles from Harwich ferry port to Manningtree) so I thought I’d ride towards Harwich on the route that they were taking and meet them along the way.
It was a lovely warm morning with sunshine and very little breeze. This early on a Friday morning there wasn’t too much traffic and I enjoyed my ride. I got as far as Bradfield and then decided to wait there (rather than doing an extra hill), so when I got to the brow of the hill that goes to Wrabness I decided to turn round.
I did a U-turn on the road (there was no traffic) and then started cycling back towards Manningtree to find a layby in which to wait.
The u-turn involved my left wheel going through some grot at the side of the road for about a metre and lo and behold I had a puncture (my new fast tyres are not very puncture resistant!) so I rode on the deflating tyre to somewhere safe to stop and put the trike on the pavement.
One thing about these tyres is that they are very easy to get on and off the wheel and the puncture was really obvious too. There was nothing in the tyre, it was just a sharp stone or something that had punched a hole. I changed the tube, used my new pump (a Topeak Road Morph, worked really well) and as I was pumping up the tyre I saw two velomobiles approaching.
They called out to me “Do you need any help?” and I replied “No, I’m fine,” at which point they carried on. I assumed that this was Gabriele and some other random chap so as they continued on I called after them “I’m Auntie Helen, aren’t we breakfasting together?”
The guy who had called out to me turned round and came alongside. “I have no idea who Auntie Helen is,” he said, and then I saw that the other velomobiler was also a man. Not Gabriele then. I apologised and explained I was meeting some velomobilers. “Ah, you mean Gabriele, she went a different way at the roundabout from the ferry.”
These chaps carried on and as my bike was ready I followed them. I had a sudden thought that maybe Gabriele had taken an alternative route and was now at the Crown so it would be sensible to go back there.
I kept up with the two velomobiles without much difficulty until the downhill into Mistley at which point they shot off, turning left at Mistley Towers to go up New Road out of Manningtree. I carried on along the Stour River to the Crown. When I arrived the staff were preparing for breakfast but there were no other cyclists. I decided to wait at the Crown in case I otherwise missed them somehow.
After five minutes or so I saw, in the distance, the weird shape of a velomobile… and another… and another! They had arrived, along with a recumbent bicycle.
We said our hellos and everyone was introduced. Gabriele I knew previously (although had not met). I was introduced to Dutch man Bas, also in a white Quest velomobile, and two German chaps, Morten and Rolf. Rolf had a yellow Mango velomobile and Morten a very fast-looking recumbent bicycle.
Here are the vehicles parked in the Crown’s car park.
Then it was over to the picnic table outside for our Full English breakfast.
We started with some cups of tea and orange juice.
And then a good old-fashioned English Breakfast arrived, with accompanying toast.
It was a very enjoyable leisurely breakfast. Gabriele has ridden LEL before (on a normal bike) but it is a new experience for the other three riders, although Bas (the Dutch chap in the other Quest velomobile) has ridden over in the UK a fair bit.
Here are the velomobiles – firstly Gabriele’s Quest.
And Rolf’s Mango – this is shorter than the Quest but I think otherwise very similar.
Bas let me have a good look around his Quest.
You can just see written on the edge of the cockpit the words “KEEP LEFT” – an aide memoire for riding in the UK!
And on the side the elevation profile of LEL
And here is Bas and his machine.
Here is the happy band of cyclists – without Bas’s Quest and with my trike instead.
Gabriele and Rolf in their machines.
It was time to head off. I decided I’d ride with them to Colchester and lead them through the worst of the traffic so they were confident of their route.
We set off, straight up the hill in Manningtree in South Street (at least there’s no traffic). We certainly created quite a stir, a procession of weird vehicles!
Here’s a short video I took whilst riding at the front – a bit bumpy and noisy but you get the idea!
We then headed along the A137 between Manningtree and Ardleigh. I led the way – this was the view in my mirror.
We were holding up the traffic a bit but it was fun riding and we were making a reasonable speed.
We arrived in Colchester to discover that Eastgates Level Crossing was closed. No problem, I knew a good alternative that took us up Hythe Hill, but this would have been annoying for them if they were on their own.
At the top of Hythe Hill I took a photo.
Then it was a fast zoom around the ring road of Colchester, a dual carriageway called Southway. Not much fun really (and a rather potholey/rutted surface) but cars seemed to be very willing to give us space. We had lots of smiles from people waiting at bus stops or walking along the pavement.
We arrived at the Maldon road which is the route out of Colchester towards Chelmsford. At this point I took another photograph of everyone and then said goodbye – I was heading back home again.
They trundled off towards London leaving lots of astonished expressions on passers by in their wake.
Good luck to everyone with LEL – I hope that they enjoy it!
And if any of you want to track the riders on LEL, here is a website link for each of them:
For explanations of where they are on the route, here is the map of controls (the stops along the way to check in)
And a week later I met them all on the way back. You can read all about it here: Dinner With Velomobiles