Tour De Penge

The Tour de Penge has been an annual fixture in the Penge Festival for many years. The 16 mile ride starts off in Penge, last year from Penge Recreation ground where bikes are checked over, then the whole cohort—men, women and children of all ages—sets off for Greenwich Park and back. A picnic lunch is taken on arrival in the Park. There is also time to stop off for ice-creams. The Road Safety team from Bromley accompanies them and also members of the St John’s Ambulance team. Police are alerted and guide them on their way. It is an exhilarating ride for the hundreds who take part.

Mark Soole, founding member of the popular community cycle ride, writes:

‘The Tour de Penge started as an idea by my neighbour Penny Read for some kind of activity involving the community and the area. She asked if I would be interested in organising a bicycle ride as she knew I liked to cycle. It appealed to me as well as a way to do something to help draw the community together.

At the time I was involved in various cycling groups and had come to know many  local routes for cyclists for a day out.

The phenomenal Waterlink Way seemed the most suitable. There is a train line most of the way along it for those who wanted to go back by train. Also it had very few roads andwas flat, with a cafe halfway along.

The first year was more successful than we thought with about twenty people – more than I had ever led – turning up. It was a huge mix, as now, with all ages and experience. One of the local police officers came with us on his bike which was excellent and improved safety no end.  It seemed that people enjoyed it so we decided to do it again.

The next year we were quite stunned when about eighty turned up. This time we had considerable help from other local cyclists – especially Jon Burns – as well as the local police. This helped get the group across roads, and we were much more rehearsed for accidents.

The event grew rapidly each year until it became beyond my experience to manage, especially with safety. I approached The Bromley Cyclists who kindly agreed to take over the practicalities of running the event and the Penge Festival added it to their events, meaning it was insured and managed in a way it could grow – now around 400 people take part.

Who would have thought such a simple idea could grow and be sustained, and long may it last.’

Jonathan Burns took over the running of the Tour de Penge in its second year in 2008. This coming June the Tour de Penge will be in its twelfth year.  Jonathan writes:

‘Each year in June, 300 to 400 riders can be streaming out from Penge Rec, down Maple road, along the High Street and on towards Catford, Lewisham, Deptford and finally the event’s destination, Greenwich. And return, 16 miles in total. The Tour de Penge has become the biggest community bike ride in South East London. All ages take part; 5 year olds through to those in their 70s and 80s. What’s amazing is that it’s all voluntary. There’s no central funding, it’s not part of British Cycling’s leisure cycling programme, it’s not funded and organised by the council and it’s free to ride. If you turn up with a safe working bike, you can ride.

What seems the norm now seems a lifetime ago in 2007 when Mark Soole was asked by the Penge Festival team to organise a family bike ride as part of the festival. Back then there wasn’t Lottery funding to support everyday cycling, no Team Sky, no Tour de France winners and Bradley Wiggins was a simple everyday Olympian. To be honest cycling was still a bit niche.

Things though were on the cusp of changing. In September 2007 Hovis sponsored the London mayor’s 1st freewheel ride with 38,000 cyclists enjoying a traffic free ride around central London and a free sandwich courtesy of the sponsors. Even more amazing the Tour de France started in London and rode out of South East London on closed roads. And it was an amazing success.

Which brings us back to Mark Soole in 2007. “Can I organise a bike ride?” Sounds a great idea, not a problem. Given the Tour was coming, let’s call it the ‘Tour de Penge’… But being on the cusp of something means that can’t always see that you’re on the cusp. And the expected small family ride along the Waterlink Way emerged a bigger than expected at the meet up point in Royston Fields. Lots of families and kids with bikes in different states of repair. This unexpected success caused a major problem, as even with support form the local PCSO team, there weren’t enough marshals and helpers and the ride was cut short at Ladywell Fields, with it being decided things were too risky to carry on.

However in 2008 Mark was able to link up with Jonathan Burns (who became co-organiser) and the local London Cycling Campaign group, Bromley Cyclists. And with this added support and experience, the 2nd edition of the Tour de Penge, 80 riders strong, wound its way through South East London, before finally arriving in Greenwich. The much missed Steve Watkin led the ride admirably. Remarkably, given the mixture of bikes (of varying condition), ages and abilities there was only one serious accident, which unfortunately resulted in a broken arm and trip to Lewisham A&E! Bike repair and maintenance was provided by the fantastic team at Deens Garage in Beckenham.

The key elements were now in place for a an even more successful 2009 edition which benefitted hugely from the formation of two brand new youth cycling clubs, Penge Cycle Club and Big Foot Go Ride (based in Hayes & West Wickham). As well as riders and parents, they helped us recruit additional helpers and marshals to supplement the fantastic support from Bromley Cyclists who were fast becoming an experienced ride leadership team.

Key figures who were to become stalwarts for the event included Winston Farquharson from SE20 Cycles & Penge CC, Charles Potter, Spencer Harradine & Eve Evans from Bromley Cyclists, Yvonne Wright & Louise Thompson from Penge CC, Adam Shepherd from Big Foot and Lyndsey Bryan from Bromley Council. The Penge Festival team helped provide a support vehicle and Steve acted again as ride leader. Another brilliant event with numbers of riders approaching 120+, many drawn out by the great weather and promotion of the event by Winnie and both youth cycling clubs. No major crashes this year but a couple of cases of heat exhaustion. The ride struggled to cope with the numbers though as up until now it had been run as one large ride and even splitting it into two groups couldn’t prevent congestion and delays as we struggled to get the riders through the many pinch points and road crossings along the route.

Without any road closures it was becoming trickier to run the event from Royston Fields and the decision was made on health and safety grounds to move the start to Cator Park (technically in Beckenham, but still Penge on our books). The other change introduced was to set the ride off in smaller groups each with one or two ride marshals staggered to leave at 5 minute intervals. This worked well with a quicker and smoother ride for all taking part. Numbers were down though with only 70 riders possibly caused by the new start location and bad weather. What was becoming noticeable was the skills of the young riders many of whom were attending the regular sessions of both Go Ride Clubs, seeing 6 and 7 year olds easily completing the course safely with no major accidents or crashes, despite riding in large groups. The ages of riders completing the ride was a constant source of amazement with a couple of under 5’s riding the whole route each year. Even more amazing was a balance bike rider making it all the way to Ladywell Fields.

Although still a regular participant in the ride, Mark Soole had stepped away from organising the event, leaving Jonathan to continue on as sole organiser with the full support from the Penge Club, including David Wood, Conrad Cornelius and John Haile providing ride leadership, witty banter and health and safety risk assessment skills.

Over the next couple of years while Bromley Cyclists continued to provide huge support, the growing Penge CC took over the responsibility for organising and running the event with one of the benefits being Andy Harding’s amazing route map and guide. Then came the brilliant posters and Tour de Penge T-shirts. “The man’s a genius” was the much heard comment. Ride organisers aimed to raise funds for the Penge Festival’s nominated charity, and given the event was free, made it tricky, so all of the profits from the t-shirts went to the festival, alongside the bucket passed around at the start of the event.

Come 2012 and the Olympics it was decided to move the start back to Royston Fields. Participating numbers were up and we got our first event but there still seemed something missing. Spencer Harradine The chairman of Bromley Cyclist group kept saying “The Tour de Penge should start in Penge and ride down the High Street. This seemed quite radical and tricky to manage safely but the organising committee felt it should be safe to do if the group was kept in a bunch and well marshalled.

So on a Sunday morning in June 2013, controversially clashing with the Penge Festival church service, the usual suspects gathered in Penge and the rest is history. Over a hundred riders lined up on Blean Grove and then headed down Maple Road en masse and then down the high street and onto Cator Park where the ride was split down into smaller groups, each with a ride guide. Brilliant support was provided by the Penge Police and PCSO’s helping us cross the Pawleyne Arms traffic lights. The whole thing worked brilliantly and each year the numbers increased with 350 riders taking part in 2014. Spencer was right of course! Check out the official video produced by Liam Burns, music by Penge’s Pacifico Blues.

To prove it wasn’t a one off, a similar number of riders took part in 2015 with Susan Burns taking over the co-ordination role and a small reception event being laid on at the event finish at Cator Park.

The 10th anniversary in 2016 saw Jonathan step back from the event completely leaving the Penge CC team and Bromley Cyclists to carry on this brilliant event. It’s continued to grow and develop with traditions such as the the ice cream, paddle and tea stop on the way home at the cafe in Ladywell Fields and attempts to ride over the spiral bridge remain.

In 2017 the team led by Connor Cossingham organised a fantastic BBQ at the finish of the event in the grounds of Alexandra Junior School, the home of Go Ride Penge. Andy’s wonderful T shirts continue to  attract admirers, with the 2017 version being a firm favourite.

We never managed to organise the Giro d’Hayes or the Vuelta D’East London but you never know. One year perhaps…

Apologies if we’ve missed anyone who helped out over the years but please accept our thanks to so many that helped over the years. Thanks as well to all the riders who came and took part and all the other road users and pedestrians who showed huge patience when encountering or being slightly delayed by the Penge Peloton. Thanks also to the business and community groups that have also helped out and sponsored over the years.

Dedication

I’d like to dedicate this article to Steve Watkin who sadly passed away last year. Steve was a great guy whose ride leading skills and enthusiastic attitude to life contributed hugely to the early success of the event. ‘

Ride Record

  • 2007    Year 1:   Royston Fields, Penge
  • 2008    Year 2:   Royston Fields, Penge
  • 2009    Year 3:   Royston Fields, Penge
  • 2010    Year 4:   Cator Park, Beckenham
  • 2011    Year 5:   Cator Park, Beckenham
  • 2012    Year 6:   Royston Fields, Penge
  • 2013    Year 7:   Penge Rec, Penge
  • 2014    Year 8:   Penge Rec, Penge
  • 2015    Year 9:   Penge Rec, Penge
  • 2016    Year 10: Penge Rec, Penge
  • 2017    Year 11: Penge Rec, Penge

Videos:

2012: https://youtu.be/Qo8LC2yOP8g

2014: https://youtu.be/ERczW3kF-cg

2015: https://youtu.be/lzkP73CVoQc

2016: https://youtu.be/OoVF5bUrQgU

For further info see: Penge Cycle Club

For further info see: Tour de Penge Facebook page

For further info see: Tour de Penge Sunday 11th June 2017

See Neil Scott-Sills’s videos of the Tour de Penge 2015 and 2016:

Tour de Penge 2015:

Tour de Penge 2016: