At the Tweed Cycle Run
On a day when the light was as you thought only existed in landscapes by Gainsborough, five hundred dapper gallants on bicycles, dressed up to the nines in tweeds and other fancy gear, set out from St Paul’s Cathedral at midday to flaunt their finery in the face of the metropolis’ populace. And to see this vast current of stylish cyclists go forth from the great cathedral – launching themselves with a cheer down Ludgate Hill on flawless Spring day – was a joyous spectacle, guaranteed to melt the heart of any foolish misanthropist in a flash.
I never saw so much tweed gathered together in one place, as I saw that morning beneath the gleaming dome towering overhead. There were so many plus-fours and suits and jackets and trews and caps and waistcoats and ties, that I thought my vision was going awry for all the herring-bone pattern crossing my retina. Yet everyone wore tweed differently and everyone had dressed to look their very best, expressive of their relish at being among the first five hundred who managed to snaffle up one of the coveted tickets. The gentlemen had waxed their moustaches and the ladies had primped their perms. Groomed and shining, all were raring to leap astride their mounts and take the city by storm, riding vintage bicycles, penny-farthings and tricycles and tandems and boneshakers. There was even a piano-bicycle with a pianist who kept on pedalling even as he played the keys.
Just in its third year, no wonder the magnificent Tweed Run is already a global sensation. Beginning with one hundred and sixty cyclists arrayed in tweed for a turn around London in January 2009, it has now inspired copycat events in sixteen other cities across the world including New York, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo. Elegant in its simplicity, the notion of enthusiasts for traditional cycling attire banding together for a beano, enjoying a high old time, lifting the spirits of a city and raising money for bikes for Africa, the Tweed Run is one of the things we can be proud of giving to the world.
The traffic ground to a halt – horns honked and five hundred cycle bells tinkled – and drivers leaned from their windows to gawp in awestruck delight as, like salmon coursing through a great river, the playful cyclists of the Tweed Run teemed through the city streets spreading innocent amazement, causing pedestrians to stop in wonder and break into laughter at the bizarre poetry of this unique event.
Across Westminster Bridge they pedalled, over to the Palace then down the Mall, around Trafalgar Square and up Regent St – where Saturday shoppers broke into cheers and applause – before veering East to arrive at Lincoln’s Inn Fields at two for tea. Remarkably for such an unseasonably warm day and the ubiquity of tweed, there were few who displayed visible perspiration or reddening of the face, although the queue for a cuppa stretched halfway to the Old Cheshire Cheese and the lawn was littered with those grateful to recline upon the soft green grass in the shade of the heavy blossom and freshly unfurled leaves overhead. Music from the bandstand drifted gently among the trees as photographers took advantage of this colourful fête champêtre, while the tweedy cyclists, having become a tribe now, turned enthusiastically gregarious, and since they no longer required any introduction to one to another, a spontaneous sense of communal goodwill and excitement arose which overflowed the park.
From here, as the afternoon shadows lengthened, it was a straight home run Eastward down the Clerkenwell Rd to arrive at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Social Club, completing the day’s modest ten mile jaunt. There was singing and tap dancing, and a lively trade in pints at the bar as parched cyclists quenched their thirsts, and the party soon spilled out onto the green where new friends were swapping contacts as the time for farewells drew near. Lingering late and reluctantly leaving, it was a day of beautiful hullaballoo, already containing the anticipation of fond memories to come.
Later, I realised how rare it was to see so many people relaxed and happy in public, and inhabiting the city streets as if they owned them – which we all do. The day was a celebration of our great city which offers an unsurpassed backdrop to life, and the day was a celebration of British idiosyncrasy and our culture that delights in imaginative individuality of all kinds, and the day was a celebration of dressing up and having fun, and the day was a celebration of moustaches, and the day was a celebration of cycling, and, naturally, the day was a celebration of tweed – because, in case you did not know it, tweed is sexy again.