The annual Ride London cycling event, which was beset by long delays last year after a series of crashes, has run notably more smoothly on Sunday after organisers brought in a series of new safety measures.
The 2016 event saw thousands of riders forced to stop for up to two hours almost halfway around the 100-mile version of the route after an entrant crashed into a tree at speed, requiring an air ambulance to land.
The knock-on delays saw disruption to the elite men’s road race event, which takes place on the same roads later in the day. On Sunday, 24,000 riders took on the 100-mile route on roads closed to traffic through London, with about 4,000 tackling a 46-mile version.
The ride, started in 2013 as a legacy event of the London 2012 Olympics, is at the centre of a weekend of cycling events in the capital, which the organisers say will involve more than 100,000 people this year.
On Saturday, more than 70,000 people, many of them children, pedalled along a 10-mile route in central London closed to motor traffic. The weekend also involves BMX and handcycle events, and elite men’s and women’s road races, which this year have the top-tier status of world tour events.
While the weekend is generally seen as a success, there was criticism from some participants in the 100-mile ride last year that it was overly packed and marred by numerous crashes as people sought to overtake.
Hugh Brasher, who is in charge of the events and also heads the team that organises the London marathon, said there had been a “huge number of measures” put in place from 2016.
The number of entrants in the RideLondon 100 was cut from about 27,000 to 24,000, and the start times were spread out slightly longer. Ahead of the race, entrants were urged to ride carefully, and each starting wave featured two so-called ride safety captains in official jerseys, charged with keeping some order.
Brasher said that with the initial contingents of riders home, there had been relatively few incidents, even with slippery roads following heavy overnight rain, and he was hopeful that people had absorbed the safety message.
“We were really just saying to people, look, this is about going out to enjoy yourself, it is an incredibly enjoyable experience,” he said. “You can go and focus on the wheel in front of you and see nothing other than that, or you can appreciate cycling thought this amazing city into some beautiful Surrey countryside.
“It’s trying to get people to look after each other. That was one of the messages we were giving out.”
The weekend of events was, Brasher added, learning all the time: “People forget this is only the fifth iteration, it’s four years old. The marathon has been going for 36 years.”
The organisers are also keen to improve the gender balance in a pursuit traditionally skewed towards men, though Brasher conceded that this was also a gradual process. The 100-mile event had a male-female ratio of about 80-20, he said, with about 65% men in the 46-mile version.
“It takes time,” he said. “When the marathon began, it was more than 95% male. Now it’s about 57%. With the cycling, people come and watch or they see it on TV, they start thinking, ‘I can do that’.”
Another innovation since the event began is what is termed the “fixing challenge”– taking people with serious health and lifestyle issues, and showing the vast benefits of more exercise.
Last year, the first such guinea pig was a 63-year-old man who began seriously overweight and with numerous complications from type 2 diabetes. After training for the event, his diabetes had been reversed. Four more “fixees” were taking part this year, from 2,000 applicants, Brasher said.
“Cycling, I do think, is more accessible than running, from a fitness point of view,” he said. “And it’s a method of transport – you can start getting into work on two wheels. You’re getting fitter, you’re getting healthier. It’s really important that this event is inspiring people.”