London Cycling Festival 2024: Brompton World Championships and VIA Criterium

Last week, Bromptons, fixies, and race bikes swerved around hairpin turns in King’s Cross as part of the three-day London Cycling Festival.

Conor Courtney was on the ground at the event and, below, documents the VIA Criterium and Brompton World Championships with in-depth reportage and a stunning photo gallery…

What does a golden-painted street performer, a lycra-clad racer, and a cheese-head-wearing Los Angeleno have in common? They’re all attendees at the London Cycling Festival.

The weekend-long London Cycling Festival, which took place in late June in Coal Drops Yard in central London, encompassed events from the boisterous Brompton World Championships to the high-octane VIA CRITERIUM to groovy evening DJ sets by local cyclists.

Looking down from one of the pedestrian bridges onto the course, spectators saw full-gas racing from local teams on £10,000 bikes and watched commuters unfold their Bromptons as quickly as possible during a LeMans-style mass start.

Events kicked off on Friday night with chances for the community to ride the circuit, as well as Cat 3/4 and fixed gear races. Michael Sudeau, the owner of VIA Atelier, said that it felt like this was the first time local community members have been able to race in central London since the Red Hook Crits and London Nocturne crits folded in 2017 and 2018.

Last year’s one-day event, Sudeau said, was a test for the full weekend of racing and activations from brands like Albion, Van Rysel, and others, a cycle-football pitch, and an opportunity to test ride bikes from Outspoken Cycles.

The course was a one kilometer loop starting from the two-tiered Coal Drops Yard, where seasoned cycling fans, employees of the bordering shops, and casual shoppers shook cowbells and cheered from the barriers and from above.

After the start, riders hit a short rise and a hairpin curve before a 200m sprint passing the VIA Atelier storefront. Riders then had a sharp left-hander, where an overzealous rider overcooked the corner in Friday’s fixed race, causing a mass pileup and the loss of several riders’ teeth.

The course passed through the corridor of tech headquarters on Handyside Street before swooping into Coal Drops Yard on a short, steep ramp (nicknamed the Coal Drop), to the finish giving the feel of descending into an amphitheater.

Eliciting the biggest cheers of the weekend, the Brompton World Championships took place on Saturday, consisting of 10 heats of 50 riders each to decide a 50-racer final. Costumes were encouraged, and riders took to the start line in style.

One such competitor was giving out Mcvities Gold candy bars while gathering petition signatures for Brompton to release a gold-painted bike. Other outfits included a custom Green Bay Packers-branded suit, complete with a cheese head helmet attachment, and a full Mary Poppins costume.

The Brompton World Championships were last held in 2019. David Row, the Head of Communications for Brompton, said, “When BWC started, it was just a group of people connected by this small bike and wanting to meet up, talk about the bikes and then see what they could do on them.”

The race is at the heart of the festival, Row said, but the event gives the opportunity to bring the community together to meet other Brompton riders from around the world.

“On a personal level, you know, I got goosebumps and a buzz just seeing everyone, everyone from every kind of Brompton community here in London,” said Row.

Victoria Danneels had traveled from Belgium to attend the event, where she owns a bike shop in Ghent. “A Brompton shop, of course,” she added. She was one of many international attendees for the event, with participants coming from all over the world to attend and race.

As the Brompton World Championships Finals rolled around on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere was joyous. Spectators slapped the barriers and screamed like it was the Tour de France and Coal Drops Yard was the Champs-Élysées.

Van Rysel had given out free cowbells and they were in wide use across the course. Spectators from the cycling and non-cycling community stopped to cheer on the riders, and slapped the barriers every time the riders rolled through Coal Drops Yard.

50 men took 10 laps around the course followed by about 30 women for only one lap of the course, each pedaling for glory and a new Brompton T Line, rather than a rainbow jersey.

The disparity between the men’s and women’s finals was clear. “It was over in a hurry,” said Vanessa Urschel after the final, noting that the women had paid the same entry fee as the men, and should therefore race the same number of laps.

“With the LeMans, you’re running out, you’re trying to get your fold out and navigate one another, so once you get your momentum going, you’re already done,” said Urschel, who had traveled from Leeds for the event, “I really enjoyed myself, but I would’ve loved for there to be parity in the race format.”

Row noted the discrepancy and said, “It’s the first time we’ve done it in 5 years, so there’s a lot we’ve learned from it this year.”

Joanna Dobinson, a mountain bike skills coach, said she thought the mistake was unintentional. Dobinson was, as she put it, “Thankful that we had it, it was an awesome event, but we need more laps next year. And we’ll be back until we win that Brompton,” she added with a laugh.

Urschel, when asked if she would attend next year, said, “If they could specify that they’ll have greater parity, yeah,” and added that friends who had come to support her were disappointed that they were only able to cheer for one lap after the excitement of the 10 lap men’s race.

Despite the disappointment of some fans and racers after the women’s race, the party-like event continued. Then it was time for racers to swap out their 16-inch Brompton wheels for 29-inch racing wheels, as the men’s and women’s Elite, Cat 1/2/3/4, and Masters races got under way.

Oscar Amey of Tekkerz, covered in champagne after stepping off the podium for the elite race, said of the atmosphere, “It was really loud. Going down the bridge, there were people everywhere. With the horns, the bells, it was mad.”

The sky turned from a brilliant blue dotted with clouds to an inky black racers took to the course. Tekkerz CC was the most successful team on the day, finishing with two wins and two podiums in the six races.

The festival wrapped up on Saturday with a round of races for under-16s, and a handful of Brompton- and VIA Atelier-led group rides.

The festival brought together disparate parts of the cycling community, from fixie riders to everyday commuters to hardcore racers. “When you come to an event like this, there are people from around the world, all different nations, all connected through one love of cycling and Brompton, and it makes you feel a lot better about the world and where we’re going,” said Row.

Even brands like Albion were benefitting from the festival. Graeme Raeburn, the apparel company’s lead designer, was stitching up a jersey on a sewing machine as riders and shoppers wandered by. Raeburn, whose Albion team was offering free clothing repairs, said this festival was a rare opportunity to test product in the real world and see common failures that they can design better.

As the sun splashed streaks of golden light onto the circuit Saturday evening, Brompton riders milled around the course, chatting and watching the crit racing, staying in costume as long as they could. Crit racers laughed and hugged post race and reveled in a rare opportunity for friends and family to see them compete close to home. For a few hours, it felt like King’s Cross was the center of the cycling world.