Celebrate cycling's network success
Dusk falls. Streetlights begin to flicker on; the sky turns an inky blue. A child is gently woken by strange, ethereal music, drifting in from outside.
Scampering to the front door, she hears the music moving towards her down the twilit street. A thousand twinkling lights appear in the distance, getting closer. As the whirl of illuminated bicycles rolls past the house, the child realises that the serene, dreamy music that woke her is coming from speakers attached to dozens of the decorated bikes, which pulse and glow in the half-light.
This is the Lullaby Project. It has been created by Bristol artist Luke Jerram, who was also responsible for the street pianos that appeared all over the city in 2009, and the pixelated girl sculpture you might have seen on Platform Three at Temple Meads station.
The Lullaby Project's first outing will be in Bristol, as part of Pedal On UK, a nation-uniting festival to reignite the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic torch relays as it travels across the UK, touching down in Queen Square on Bank Holiday Monday, August 26.
Celebrating the completion of more than 80 cycling and walking routes that extend the National Cycle Network into the heart of communities, the Pedal On UK cycling tour will head out from Olympic Park in London. A group of riders, led by celebrities and sports stars, will pedal through more than 35 of these newly-linked communities, using the National Cycle Network. In each community they visit, the team will activate a series of local bikes rides (details about Bristol's are below) and join in with free community festivals.
Bristol's festival includes a full day of cycling-related fun, several guided rides and, as the glorious gloaming arrives, the Lullaby Project. Although official spaces on the Lullaby ride will probably all have gone by the time you read this, the route (looping mainly through Southville and Bedminster) will be advertised in advance, so you can find a spot to watch the roving orchestra do its thing. The music will roll out from Queen Square around 8pm.
But there's much more going on before that. There will be head-to-head action from Rollapaluza, who stage stationary (but exciting) roller-racing competitions. I tried one of these in London earlier this year and it was one of the most exhausting minutes of my life. There will be a special bike-powered cinema – burn off the popcorn as you watch – and a flatland BMX stunt show from local legend Matti Hemmings, who will be providing BMX coaching sessions, too. Continuing the performance theme, you can try circus workshops with the modestly-named Amazing Wayne, or shake your rump to some laidback live music.
If your bike's feeling a bit wonky and unloved, take it to Dr Bike for a quick check-up; if you're new to cycling or need guidance on the best routes around town, talk to the team of travel advisers who will have free maps and advice to share. When your tummy starts rumbling, ride over to one of the food stalls, or whizz yourself a drink on the pedal-powered smoothie bike. It's all free, and is aimed at anyone who would like to find out more about walking and cycling for their everyday journeys.
There will be three guided bike rides to Ashton Court and back (at noon, 2pm and 4pm), heading out along the Festival Way – a shining example of the community-linking routes being celebrated by Pedal On UK.
It's a splendid sweeping ride from Bristol harbourside, along the riverside and out through Ashton Court Estate. Several thousand people enjoyed this particularly well-placed link during the Balloon Fiesta earlier this month.
But it's not just special events that make routes like this important – almost half the people using the route do so to get to school or work, including Duncan Venison, 38, who works for the city council.
"I've been commuting from Long Ashton to Bristol by bike for nine years," he says. "Until the Festival Way opened I had two choices: the A370 dual carriageway or the maze of subways and footways beneath it – neither was an enjoyable ride. The traffic-free Festival Way now puts me right in the middle of Bristol having enjoyed a 'rural feel' ride through parkland and past allotments.
"It is actually half a mile shorter than using the subways and it certainly makes me feel more relaxed on the ride to and from work. My whole family enjoys cycling, so we also enjoy the route together at weekends."
The Pedal On UK project has a special resonance for Bristol. The National Cycle Network which it celebrates started in the city – its first ever route was the Bristol and Bath Railway Path – and Sustrans, the hard-working charity behind the Network, has its national HQ in the shadow of Bristol Cathedral. Although the Pedal On UK tour starts in London, the story really began in Bristol.