Mountain Bike - Riding The Thames Path

Posted: Sunday, 29 September 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Having "pre-disastered" this run solo, back in the July heat, it is was now time to do it again but in the company of friends. With all my recent gallivanting I've hardly been on a bike for weeks, I tried to keep up my fitness by doing as much walking and stair climbing as possible, but there is a big difference between 50 steps and a 70 mile round trip on a chunky all terrain bike. So it was with some trepidation that I set off from Purley for the 11am rendezvous at Greenwich.
For once the weather forecast looked to be favourable, sunny skies were predicted only marred by a 15 mph North East wind. This would be right on our nose heading down the Thames towards Dartford, the only advantage being that it would gives us a fantastic push on the ride home.

I made good time and soon met up with "new boy" Andy Z out for his first ride with fellow RetroBikers, he had even managed to find a new recruit, Steve who had arranged to meet a mate from work to follow the same route as us, but had been stood up whilst waiting by the Cutty Sark, poor bloke. It was not the first time that this buddy had done this either, Steve, if you get to read this, remember, revenge is best served chilled.

Lots of heads down riding into the wind

Our other Andy, aka Buster soon popped round the corner of the Cutty Sark and we got started. The forecast wind wasn't particularly noticeable as we made our way past the historic landmarks  of Greenwich and Woolwich.
Some of the paths are quite narrow and the signposting can be confusing as there is both a footpath and cycle route which often merge only to separate a few hundred meters further on. On a couple of occasions the signs lead us into cul de sacs, I was paying so much attention to them at the Thames Barrier that I rode over some kerbing and made a sudden, involuntary dismount.

The industrial landscape of Thamesmead

Moving on through the industrial landscape of Thamesmead the wind became more noticeable and there was a little less chat and a bit more heads down riding. We had a welcome break at the Running Horses pub in Erith, just off the route and re-charged our batteries for 30 minutes or so.
From Erith yatch club the path becomes hard packed single track and follows dykes along the Thames and its tributary the Darenth, this involves a fair bit of zig-zagging and makes the short distance to the Dartford bridge last quite a while. Steve's knees were beginning to grumble, so he called time and headed back homeward, but not before posing for the victory shot.

Steve - posing for the victory shot

Getting to the bridge control from the riverside is quite awkward thanks to overlapping security fences around the base of the bridge and nearby power station, but after consulting the maps and some faffing about, we eventually found a way through.

Lots of barriers - finally a way through!

At the bridge we used the free taxi service to get across the river to Thurrock, this involved getting our 3 bikes onto an adapted pick up truck, once done there was the 5 minute journey through the tunnel to enjoy.
From Thurrock it is just 10 minutes to Purfleet and the start of a route through Aveley marshes, Buster expected a mud fest but it turned out to be well paved and civilized. We followed the route as far as the hill, unusual feature for this part of Essex and as far as I can tell man made. But it does provide some fine "big sky" views of Essex, Kent and landmarks in London such as Canary Wharf and The Shard.

Ever wondered where all the £60 mountain bikes go to die?

With the clock ticking and already feeling worn it was time to turn around, this being just the halfway point. Back at Thurrock we made the jaunt South taking the QEII Bridge which also gives some excellent vistas of the river. Back in Kent we said farewell to Andy Z who was off to Dartford for a crafty (car) ride home to Sevenoaks with his Mrs, well done that man, a sterling effort for a first timer and winner of the "I've been brave" award.

Andy Z - winner of the "I've been brave" award

This just left Buster and I to head back towards Greenwich, at least the wind was behind us, even so I called a 10 minute rest break to finish off the last of my snacks and get a quick energy rush. Fortunately Buster had left his car in Beckenham so we rode the last section from Greenwich together in the gathering dusk. It was with aching legs that I helped lift my bike on to his bike rack and we both marvelled at the iron man stamina it must take to do events like Mountain Mayhem.

The last section from Greenwich in the gathering dusk

So that's another route in the bag, I still think it could do with a few more tweaks and would definitely benefit from being a circular route, I just need to find a pleasant way to get from Rainham Marshes to Gallions Reach. My thanks go to my fellow riders for making the effort and look forward to the next time, #2 Suburban RetroBike is this Saturday coming!