I was at Bike Blenheim last weekend. Modesty prevents me from detailing exactly how my racing went, save to say that I left Blenheim with my personal estate enhanced to the tune of a folding bike, a pair of sunglasses, and a rather curious giant pipe-cleaner that turns out to be brilliant for removing gunk from a cassette.
I love Bike Blenheim. I went to the first two, in 2008 and 2009, and was sorry to miss last year. The racing is good, the world Brompton champs is impossible to either watch or participate in with a straight face, and the setting is perfect. 8000 people came to Blenheim. It’s exactly what cycling in the UK needs, something that builds on all the growth in participation and the still increasing enthusiasm for mass-participation sportive rides.
This weekend, I’ll probably go over to the Mildenhall Rally, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And I’m a bit puzzled by my inability to nail down the difference between Mildenhall and Blenheim. They’re both big events, they both essentially take place in a field, they’re both devoted to cycling. But they’re really not the same.
I think perhaps Blenheim is more about getting out and riding, having fun on a bike. Mildenhall feels like it’s more about meeting old friends, having a drink. Not so much riding a bike as just being a bike rider. But that’s only a difference in emphasis. It’s not very much. You can ride at Mildehnall, there’s grass-track, touring rides and audax. You can stand around at Blenheim and talk to old mates.
A bigger difference is that Mildenhall is an older event, full of people who’ve been riding a bike for decades, or who come from families steeped in old cycling. People who know their E1/25b from their E33/25, and know how to install a threaded headset. Blenheim is younger, not in terms of the age of the crowd, but in terms of how long they’ve been riding. It’s more modern, in the good and bad senses of the word. Blenheim buzzes with an enthusiasm for riding. Mildenhall has an air of contentment with a lifestyle choice well made.
What’s most curious of all is how two different generations of riders have ended up with events that are the same in everything except feel. If you’ve enjoyed one, you’d enjoy the other.