It began with a harmless email: “Gateley are organising a bike ride…leisurely pace, flat route, 66 miles, but a nice way to raise money for our charity (“Mind”) for the year.” Mind are also one of Quattro’s chosen charities for 2018, the other being Primrose Hospice, so we asked to take part.
Karl and I dust off our bikes (the dust being that collected on our last charity bike ride five years ago), pump up the tires by hand until they feel round-ish, dig out our old cycling clothes (also five years old, even dustier than the bikes), and set off without a care in the world, very confident that our thorough preparations will prove adequate.
We arrive to be greeted by the sight of a full-on professional bike race. There’s an event-specific ambulance, maintenance vehicle, and separate recovery vehicle, and everybody else there has a carbon-fibre £3,000+ racing bike, expensive uniform, cleats and shoes. We’ve even been joined by a semi-professional group of racers (honest).
The chief mechanic, sporting a Tour de France T-shirt, laughs as I bring out my bike – a £100 Halfords hybrid special, complete with panniers containing a whole tool kit. Some people there had spent £500 on lights that save two pounds in weight on their bike – my panniers weigh two stone (did I really need to bring a hammer?). My pedals didn’t even have straps. My tyres are three times thicker than anyone else’s – did I miss the memo about this being a road ride, and come prepared for a BMX track instead?
Fortunately Karl recovered our image and repaired our look of professionalism by hauling out his bike. Karl’s bike was actually an A-star rated bike when purchased. Shame it was purchased in 1957, the next step up from the penny-farthing. The handlebars had no grips, just a solid steel piece of metal, rusting at the edges, complete with a charming degree of “movement”. Remember those old black and white movies where the steering wheel moves 6 inches in either direction but the car stays straight?
We briefly considered whether we could get out of it by having a small accident that caused irreparable damage to our bikes, but noticed that the recovery vehicle had bought spare bikes along as cover for any accidents. We also noticed that these spare bikes were ten times better than ours. Maybe if we were to reverse Karl’s car over bikes we could borrow the spares?
But no, we were determined we would not be the ones to blame for our equipment. Instead we decided to up our game by embarking on a thoroughly professional pre-match preparation routine: 30 seconds of calf-stretching and a bacon sandwich in the pub. We then signed up for the beginners group.
So, 9.45am, off we set…
Good news, it is indeed true, no matter how long you leave it you never forget how to ride a bike. (Maybe we can leave it a bit longer next time then.)
Bad news: it seems you do forget how to pump the tyres up properly. It turns out that tyres roll better when they have a lot of air in them, or at least some air, or any kind of air would help. At the first pit stop we visit the mechanic where we discover that while our types are supposed to have 80 pounds of pressure ours only have 10. Shame this pit-stop wasn’t until 20 miles in.
That first 20 miles had been ok, despite running on flats. Only two people had dropped out, and it was neither of the Quattro hunks. Dropping out would be surprisingly easy as it turns out – the recovery vehicle and ambulance are following behind our group, providing an easy way out. But memories of Kenneth running for 40 hours non-stop shame us into banishing thoughts of surrender. And now that we have air in the tyres and jelly babies in our gut we’re sure we’ll find the rest of the ride easy.
But hang on, something’s wrong. We’d been sold a 66 mile flat run. Yet we’re following signs to those famously un-flat regions of South Derbyshire, the Peak District, and Uttoxeter. If you can’t quite place it, Uttoxeter is that pleasant village just before you hit Alton Towers. You know, the one with those country roads your dad drove you up when you were a kid… the roads where the engine strained in first gear and smoke started to stream from the radiator. Note to self: Must remember to actually read event details before signing up next time.
Also try to remember the time when you were actually fit enough to put effort into something and still breathe – why won’t my lungs work on these hills?
And then, what’s this? Group leader says we’ve got to turn round, we missed a turn. We’ve done a four mile detour.
You’re kidding right? Surely you can just find a shortcut and join up with where we are supposed to be? Nope, can’t do that, you’d miss out the most scenic bit, the bit through the ford and the ruins of the ancient abbey and the pretty hilly bit of countryside.
“I’m sure I’ve seen water, ruins, and grass before, I’m not that bothered to tell you the truth.”
But no luck, team leader turns us round, feeds us another jelly baby, and the 66 mile ride has now been extended to a 70 miler. Back on the saddle chaps.
43 miles gone = Lunch. This is more like it. In the pub, Karl on a pint of bitter, happy again. We’ve kept up with our group, legs feel good, shoulders broken, somehow. Slightly demoralising to learn that the first group, the semi-professional riders, have already finished the whole course. Yep, we’ve done 43 miles, they’ve done 66. But we can’t give in. Think of all the sponsorship, think of Kenneth, think of the utter shame of arriving back in the recovery vehicle. So adequately re-fuelled, we climb back on for the final push, a mere 27 miles to go.
But you know what… maybe there is a god. The hills are behind us. The last section is mostly flat. And a few downhills too. And our tyres have air so we can even roll for a while without pedalling (funny how much of a difference that actually makes). Maybe the exercise of the previous 43 miles has got us fit. But for whatever reason, we feel strong on the last section, and make it home with no incident.
Back in the pub and the experts are no longer mocking our bikes, in fact, we’ve actually even come in with some kudos*:
- “how the hell did you do that on those?”
- “those pieces of trash make it 50% harder”
- “you really are true hunks”
- “can I borrow your hammer?”
*Only two of the four remarks quoted were said out loud, but we could tell they were thinking the other two.
We ask the pros why our shoulders are hurting so much. Apparently something to do with the design of hybrids. With a racing bike, the riding position is such that the rider’s weight is evenly distributed, which can require a strong lower back and core, but places little strain on the shoulders and arms. With a hybrid, and particularly for riders like me and Karl, the weight is distributed so that much of the rider’s weight goes straight through the handlebars, with belly weight resting on the frame of the bike itself. This makes our six hours in the saddle even more impressive than those who finished at four, and we return home with pride salvaged and a small sense of achievement (Kenneth? Kenneth who? Pah!), and the only physical damage is a temporary discolouring of regions we can’t see anyway.
A great event all round.
If you would like to make a donation to Mind, you can do so at our fundraising page here.