Phew. We did it. If there’s been one thought that’s been secretly gnawing away at me for the last four months, it’s ‘what if we held a cycle protest and nobody came?’ What if the rain, engineering works, half-term holidays, general apathy, everything conspired to keep everyone at home? As I woke in Edinburgh to fog which then resolved itself to a steady mizzle* I felt certain we were doomed. It was going to be us, a bunch of bored marshals, some amused policemen and Graeme Obree. We’d closed off the centre of Edinburgh, and all for nothing… As I pedalled a borrowed monster cargo bike laden with panda t-shirts down to the Meadows in Edinburgh I was glad that its wonky steering and tendency to put its parking brakes on all by itself distracted me from worrying about anything else.
Of course, it didn’t happen. There was one point when I looked round the Meadows and saw that the line of people stretching out waiting to start the ride not only went round the corner as it had done last year, but disappeared right out of sight. One feeder ride from an Edinburgh suburb had 160 people on it. And our t-shirts – our only real fundraiser, apart from two generous donations from CTC Scotland and Andrew Cyclist – went so quickly that when one of the marshalls dashed over to pick up a t-shirt for Graeme Obree there were none left. There was only one thing for it. Thankful that it had been cold enough for me to have a nice merino baselayer underneath – and that it wasn’t one of the ones the moths had got at – I sacrificed mine. It’s not often you get to share clothes with a genuine legend of cycling.
Last year, I was at the front of the ride, leading the charge down the cobbles of the royal Mile. This time I was right at the back with an empty cargo bike, a very relieved deputy chief marshal, a marshal dressed as a panda and the last of the riders: a woman, and her little girl who was determinedly pedalling her tiny bike as fast as her legs would go, an expression of fierce concentration on her face. I asked her if she was having fun and she gave a huge nod that almost unseated her, still concentrating hard. I saw later on twitter that the police escorted her safely the whole way before finally opening the roads back up to the cars. I expect that yesterday was a day she will remember her entire life.
I hope that when she does look back at it, she can tell her grandchildren that she was there at the moment when cycling changed in Scotland for the better.
*’this isn’t rain it’s just haar’, someone said. People of Edinburgh, if there is water falling out of the sky it is raining. Rain isn’t just something we have on the west coast you know.