Velonotte - an overnight ride grand tour of early Victorian London

London Cycling Campaign Office Volunteer Elaine Yeung writes about her experience of this year’s Velonotte ride that took place in June as part of the London Festival of Architecture Fringe. Named as the Velonotte Albertina, the ride covered Kensington, Chelsea, Camden and Westminster accompanied with music and narrative to the urban evolution in the times of Prince Albert. The route is produced by Sergey Nikitin, historian & founder of the Velonotte with co-production by Adam Thompson of Hackney Bicycle Film Society.

On a drizzly Saturday night in June, I met with a few of the Radiant Riders (an off shoot group of the Shoreditch Sisters W.I.) to go on this year's Velonotte, a Grand Tour of Early Victorian London. Last year, the inaugural Velonotte covered areas in East London whilst tours have taken place in various other international cities since 2007. This time round, the 20 mile tour explored early Victorian architecture, history and notable figures.

As we made our way along the Mall which was closed to traffic to the starting point by Buckingham Palace, I was excited for my first overnight ride. But only a few hundred meters from the Palace, one of the girls' pedals dropped off. We discovered that the thread on both the pedal and crank had worn away too much and we were left with 2 options. 1) Cycle the route with one pedal. A bit tricky as the bike has a back pedal braking system not to mention the safety and one sided effort aspect. 2) Hire a Boris bike. This reiterated the importance of ride preparation, ensuring your bike is road worthy to avoid unnecessary incidents. As you may have guessed, the second option was chosen and along with about 5 or 6 other Boris bikes, we cycled into the night under a full moon.

People tuned into the 5 hour long broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM via smartphones, old phones with in built radio, pocket radios, some even had mini speakers attached to their bikes. One of the facts that I managed to remember was that Paul McCartney composed the song Yesterday in Wimpole Street. At times I found it hard to follow the broadcast with the background traffic noise. The marshals did a great job in stopping traffic at junctions to keep the group together at a steady 7mph.

At 1:20am, I had my first dreaded yawn. I started to wonder whether I will manage to entire ride at this rate. After a stop in Paddington, we cycled along the canal towards Kensal Green cemetery.


The weather wasn't entirely on our side, there were bursts of showers which was refreshing to begin with but after a while, it was decided that we would go to the stop point earlier to shelter and dry off. The hour long break at the Doodle bar near the Royal College of Art in Battersea consisted of queues to the bathroom and coffee bar. Despite being a daily drinker of the red eye, a cappuccino at 4am gave me a boost of energy and buzz I thought I was immune to.

As we made our way to Exhibition Road, the streets began to fill with sunlight, giving a warm orange glow of a new day.

Our final stop was the Royal Albert Hall just as the broadcast came to a close at 5am and after some obligatory group photos, we did a few victory laps before heading to Hyde Park for some bubbly and caviar! We also spotted the first swimmer getting into the Serpentine at 6:50am!

Route: Buckingham Palace - Charing Cross Station - Senate House, Bloomsbury - Wimpole Street - Orsett Terrace, Paddington - Kensal Green Cemetery - Earls Court - Doodle bar, Battersea - Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington - Royal Albert Hall - Earl's Court


On my way back, I discovered why the Mall had been closed to traffic. Not only were they filming the Top Gear presenters driving the new Jaguar F-Type around the Palace, the Mall has been transformed into an open air hall of fame as vehicles lined the street. Luckily at this time of the morning, the walkways were empty apart from the BBC crew and a handful of tourists.




7am and 30 miles later, I was finally back home. I was still buzzing from the night's events especially as my heart was still pumping from a go on the tall bike, my mind wasn't ready for bed. Thanks to all involved and took part in Velonotte, I had a great night, saw and learned about a few new places, met some wonderful people. I felt jet lagged for the few days that followed but it was totally worth it. Looking forward to next year!


More photos and videos can be seen on Elaine's Flickr and you can follow her on twitter @solospeeding