FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

I missed the send-off. Inevitable when buying 100 Tesco Meal Deals (100 sandwiches / wraps / pasta dishes, 100 drinks and 100 snacks! Food of champions). I didn’t get to see the Official team photo, the Tour de France-style chalked pavement, the cheering, flag waving kids giving their parents a Geweldige Start (Dutch for Grand depart. Destination London to Amsterdam. Not Paris). 


It wasn’t the last thing I was going to miss on the Thompson House Parents’ London to Amsterdam 24-hour Cycle Challenge (one of the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Sponsored Rides for Schools).   

Next up was the relaxed coffee / lunch break in the Hare & Hounds just around the corner from the school. The strict 24-hour challenge schedule meant that the Geweldige Start was more of a prologue as our riders headed straight to the pub.  

For everyone but me that is. I had those last-minute things that always need to be ferried to and from the support vans before they headed off across London. Lunch was a hastily made honey sandwich, wolfed down so that I didn’t miss my crew’s rollout. I hoped it was going to be enough to fuel me to Harwich. I hoped my stress levels were going to subside before Harwich too.   

No chance. From East Sheen to Harwich via 30 kilometres of Inner London. Through Clapham, past haunts of our distant youth. We all missed those days. We missed more than 1 green light as we cut east, south of the river, battling through Friday gridlock, London is far from a fluid cycling city. We were mostly seeing red. 

Looking back now, it was tough, maybe the toughest bit of the ride. We didn’t miss London once we’d successfully traversed it, from Putney, through Elephant and Castle and out past the Olympic Village.

Chigwell onwards we felt free, released from our urban shackles. Next stop Chelmsford. It was hot. Some of my group were feeling the pace. The afternoon break couldn’t come soon enough. A Tesco Meal Deal was never so tempting. Of course, we missed the designated stop. 

Then my Crankset fell out of the Bottom Bracket. During a humiliating dressing down at Evanscycles Chelmsford, I was told I was missing spacers (I took it humbly and thankfully – the Evanscycles boys kept me in the ride). Key Learning Point: don’t ride without testing new kit first. A new Ultegra di2 groupset is a good thing, when it’s had a few KMs to bed in. 

I never did get my afternoon meal deal. Instead, being last man on the road and a lowly Support Rider (abandoned by my Ride Director), I had to chase back hard for 30km. Like a lone breakaway (just at the back). I didn’t miss the Ferry but many of the front group had missed the memo about heading for dinner at the passenger ferry terminal and were enjoying post ride refreshments in the old port district of Harwich. Off I went to collect. 

I didn’t miss out on a mild hangover the next morning having missed the opportunity for an early night. If you look after the guys on the road they’ll look after you in the bar. I had to rely on electrolytes and hard riding, my sure fire cure for my post ride excesses the night before. I did miss our very own BMC Missile, he’d got the train home the night before. It meant that I had to move up to the front group. I’d did my best to hold their rear wheel and offer ‘support’ from back of the group. Besides they seemed content enough to do the hard work. 

The Dutch side of the route was all segregated cycle path. Surprisingly difficult to follow through the towns. Cycling on the road is the Dutch equivalent of a faux pas. We did our best to abide the rules of the cycle path even when the cycle paths became unruly, cutting through the coastal sand dunes, rolling and pitching like the waves to our left. I’d missed this, a 50km bike park entirely dedicated to the cyclist. 

Thank God I missed the bollard that appeared from behind the rear wheel of the bike in front. How I don’t know. It would’ve been nasty. I thanked mountain biking for honing my bike handling. (Later Stevo wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t miss the kerb, he hit it square on. Snapping his bike in half. There’s not much worse than can happen to a Support Rider. He jumped on a spare bike and gave chase in his torn and ripped Lycra. Catching up just in time for the photos). 

With the clock ticking down, ever closer to the 24 deadline the decision was taken to crack on without the missing back-markers. Controversial. As long as it wasn’t the Support Riders decision, we just did what we were told, just went with the flow, put the hard work in at the front or dropped back and brought the stragglers back up to the main group. It’s hard graft this support riding lark. 

The run in to Amsterdam was pan flat (as you’d expect), tracking the canals into central Amsterdam. Progress slowed as we got closer to the Central Station, delicately negotiating the traditional Dutch bikes hogging the cycle paths.   


Thompson House had done it. In 24 hours. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. All that was left was to load the vans. Our stay in Amsterdam would total 30 minutes, we’d miss the celebrations on the roof top bar and the boat cruise. With Stevo’s bike folded in half and forced into the small gap remaining in 1 of the vans we were heading for home. What could possibly go wrong now? Job done.   

What about missing 3 bikes? That will be it. We spotted them in the rear view mirror just as we pulled away. They were loaded somewhat more carefully than Stevo’s and with only a ferry left to miss we battled out of Amsterdam, hit the Autoroute hard and hurtled towards Calais.  

Why the rush? It was Father’s Day the next day and I didn’t want to miss that. 

Congratulations to Thompson House School. Their dedication to training, riding and fundraising was exemplary.  Hoed (chapeau in Dutch).

Trinity Primary School:  Henley to Paris 2017

Trinity Primary School:  Henley to Paris 2017

However much you look forward to your London to Paris cycle challenge – 1 of the true monuments of cycling challenges – there is a dark shadow that hangs over every aspect. From training in the depths of winter, the beastings in the spin studio through to packing your kit the night before the Grand Depart.

The Newhaven to Dieppe 2300 ferry night crossing. It can’t be trained for.

Imagine then your departure point is Henley Upon Thames. Adding a draining 50km to the parcours. With the dreaded night on the floor getting ever closer with every pedal stroke. The triumph of reaching Newhaven is muted. Even the bonus shower in Newhaven’s finest hotel (Premier Inn) and a feast at Newhaven’s finest eatery (Brewers Fayre) can’t wash away the foreboding that prior knowledge of inevitable sleepless night brings. Just ask any parent.

The day’s ride (a damn good one) quickly falls into the distant past as you watch, confused, as apparently more knowing cyclists perform strange stretching exercises whilst balancing their backsides on strange shaped rubber balls, as you struggle to keep your eyes open first in the plastic seats (nearly as uncomfortable as a saddle) in the DFDS holding bay – I mean the passenger ferry terminal, before finally your transported on the DFDS cattle truck (sorry bus) onboard the ferry. Finally.

It’s a shame. Any route that cuts through Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Surrey and both the Sussex-es can’t be bad. True there was ‘Death Valley’ (aka the road to Twyford) to be survived, the TTT along Drift road to be endured and multiple stretch-hummers (on the way to Royal Ascot) to be avoided but on the whole Day 1 was not far off the Best of British. Even Crocknorth was met with a smile – or was that a grimace?

Then it happens. It’s as bad as you think it’s going to be. You’d been promised cabin. Or as good as. It’s the floor then. ‘Why did I sign up to this.’ you ask as your eyes don’t close as soon as your head hits your inflated pillow. At least your head is awash with images from the send off, your kids looking up at you proudly. The send off was unforgettable. That’s why you signed up.

Then the French bit of the ride happens.

Dieppe is quiet at dawn. Its race course deserted. The 30-odd strong peloton rolls through town. En masse. As one. For approximately 10 minutes before the selection. The Mountain Bike in 1 group, everyone else in the other. 

Even that collective didn’t last. There were soon lots of groups. Whether separated by metres or miles they are all joined in their awe of the traffic free roads (it was only 6am after all), the radiant sunrise and the super smooth tarmac. All the fuss about the ferry had hidden the fact that ride between Dieppe and Paris is one of the best. 24 hour challenge or not, it should be ridden by everyone. It’s got everything, climbs that hurt more than enough, descents that excite just enough, cutting through scenery that makes you feel good to be alive.

Everything you need, except somewhere to buy a coffee and croissant. It wasn’t until 50km in that rural France shook of its sleep. Buchy represented the first sign of life, a bustling market where you could buy an eclectic mix of vintage bikes, ski boots, agricultural equipment, fireplaces. You just wanted coffee. You gulped it down quickly in its flimsy plastic cup if you wanted to get back on the road and drive on for Gisors (to watch the 1st Lions Test). You took your time in the morning sunshine if you just wanted a second coffee.

If Henley to Paris isn’t the normal London to Paris, neither is racing on to Gisors to watch Rugby. The Lions versus All Blacks 1st Test. But you did. You probably also had pizza and a couple of pints before the final run into Paris from Poissy whilst the rest of the Peloton caught up in time to join your second pint.

Then it was just Paris or bust. 30 riders snaking through the Parisian traffic, with tiredness, heat, hunger, excitement taking grip of your senses. Of course there was a puncture less than a kilometre from the finish line. That just preceded the crash at the finish line.

With all riders accounted for (“never leave anyone behind”), you’ve created a new monument in more ways than 1 way: A prayer at send off, a police escort, lucrative jersey sponsorship, a BMC 24-hour distance record, a fixie and a mountain bike with Tri-bars, homecoming in the Reading FC team bus, leaving bikes in the ‘Hands of God’.   

It’s hard to know how to follow that. Where to next? Bring it on. (Just not on the Newhaven to Dieppe Ferry).

And here’s proper report: https://www.henleyherald.com/2017/06/29/trinity-fundraisers-conquer-24-hour-cycle-paris/

Kew Riverside Primary School: Kew to Bruges 2017

Kew Riverside Primary School: Kew to Bruges 2017

Friday 19 May, 9AM (sharp) the first Bicycle Moaning Collective Sponsored Ride for Schools of 2017 rode out of Kew, South West London, across London via the perilous South Circular, heading through the rain for Dover on the South East tip of the UK (Day 1: 160km / grippy). Followed by a ferry to Calais (and a much needed drink/sleep) before heading North along the heavily fortified coast (WWII) of Northern France and Southern Belgium before spurring inland at Ostend for Bruges (Day2: 120km / pan flat).

The peloton of parents from Kew Riverside Primary School was unique in a number of ways. It included – shock horror – Mums! (We soon discovered they’re no different from Dad’s – just the toilet stops are more complex!). For the 1st time on our school rides the riders were resplendent in a cycle jersey designed by their school kids, topped off (or should that be bottomed out?) with zebra print bib-shorts. A cycling first for sure.


What wasn’t unique was that they had started training in the depths of winter, were an eclectic mix of cycling-newbies and seasoned weekend warriors, operating as a cohesive unit to drive themselves through the wind and rain, up and over brutal climbs (that one behind the EuroTunnel terminal) to cover the 280km to raise money for their kids’ school. If you knew where some of KRPS riders started and saw how they finished you’d be impressed and inspired in equal measure too.


Enough off the plaudits. There was more than the fair share of cycling mishaps. Failure to unclip the right foot, equals painful fall. As does grinding to a halt (on that hill), slowly toppling and almost gracefully, tumbling into a hedge. Then in the moment of euphoria of arriving in time to catch the ferry there was the abandoning of bikes at the ferry port or the riding with only 20psi in both tyres. That was just the drama in the peloton – the BMC Support Crew have a few stories to tell too but they’re keeping quiet about those – what goes on in the support vans, stays in the support vans. 

After conquering the rain, steep hills, British roads and traffic of the Kew to Dover leg – and most importantly not missing the 1730 ferry (don’t tell the Riders we had booked a flexible ticket!) – waking in Calais to blue skies and a fresh tailwind was a welcome boost. With a few early morning, pre-departure bike tweaks by Glenn the Mechanic (as he is known) the show was ready to get back on the road. A very flat road, hugging the coast and in some places almost straying onto the beach. This stretch of Belgian coastline is well worth a visit, bike or no bike.

Where Friday was a day to test the best of them, Saturday’s ride was just reward. So was some rather exotic Belgian takes on coffee in De Panne. The kilometres flew by and it was perhaps a touch disappointing that Bruges hovered into sight so soon. Maybe carry on to Brussels? No, Bruges will do, popping celebratory champagne corks in a back street behind the hotel will do just fine!

Many thanks to all the KRPS Riders, for training so hard in the depths of winter, persevering with mastering clip-in pedals and for being a damn fine bunch of cyclists – embracing the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s ethos of each rider helping their team mates when they need a smile, some gentle encouragement or a little shove up a hill. Lastly, thanks to Sabina Mangosi who proved that everyone needs a strong mum to help them along.

testing times

testing times

I’m testing whether I can ride a bike again after my carpel tunnel operation.  It’s interesting (if it wasn’t so annoying) to consider how a small thing – like a great big incision just where the hand holds the bars – can destabilise the functioning of the rest of the body.

I will spare you the detail on what functions are impaired by temporary loss of use of a right hand other than to say riding a bike is one of them.  Not only do you grip your bars with your hands to steer (obvious 1 that) they also stop your 5kg head banging of your handlebars (assuming that your core isn’t super conditioned – mine neither).  A whole lot of your weight goes down through the palm of your hands and a whole lot of pain comes back up as you crash over another pothole.

Then there’s the starting off, keeping the bars straight as you stamp down on the pedals, accelerating away from the lights.  You can’t change gears easily or brake when the muscles in your hand have been severed.  Whilst I was listing out my exhaustive excuses not to cycle in the winter, a ‘good friend’ reminded me of Danny Crates, the 1 handed cyclist we rode with on Ride Across Britain – his only concession was to walk over cattle grids over the 960 mile journey.

So I shut up, which I think was my friends hope.

I’m back riding, out with some of the crew of the newly formed Kew Riverside Primary School CC.  Formed with the intent of completing the 1st Bicycle Moaning Collective Sponsored Rides for Schools of 2017.  They’ve chosen London to Bruges.  It feels good to be back out on the road, it feels good to be helping the new to riding riders, talking them through gear changes, road positioning, refuelling, new kit choices and telling them not to worry (as long as they train) about cycling 200 miles in 2 days.

It feels good to be introducing new riders to riding a bike – hoping that my bike-chat isn’t putting them off.

The Bicycle Moaning Collective have 3 more schools signed up for epic 24 hour rides in 2017.  That’s 4 new Cycling Clubs!  Covering off the distance to their respective destinations (Amsterdam, Paris, Paris from Henley & Marlow) is half the test.  Getting everyone up to pace (an average of 15mph), with the right kit and most importantly riding as a cohesive peloton the other.

The good news is that they’re already out training.  I’ve got some catching up to do.

hero dads

hero dads

It didn’t start as the children gathered in the school playground on a warm May Friday afternoon. Nor when they started singing (in French). Not even when the Dad’s did a lap of honour of the playground – high-fiving with the cheering kids whilst trying not to fall off their bikes before exiting through the gates and turning left for Paris.

No it started in back in the winter when Dad’s started congregating outside the local bike shop early on Sunday mornings to train for a London to Paris in 24 hours sponsored cycle ride. This was Dad Cycling at its best, up out of bed early, 3 hours on the road and back in time to referee breakfast at the family kitchen table (OK – sometimes we don’t get back when we say we would).

Those early starts, the terrible weather we’re all worth it when on the starting line, in the school playground you made eye contact with your child/children and just for a moment you felt like a hero. More than a few Dads admitted to hiding a tear behind their dark glasses.

Even when you’re a Hero-Dad you can’t just jump on your bike and ride to Paris, you need some, or preferably all of the following:

Some good mates:

I knew 2 or 3 Dad’s from my daughter’s school. I now know 27! Not just from the ride but from training together, exchanging advice and some really funny cycling related banter (honestly) on WhatsApp. This meant that by the time of the big day we knew each others’ cycling style, cruising speed and mood on the bike which meant we could encourage and motivate each other far better than a group of strangers. Of course we now have a fantastic shared experience which will keep us bantering and riding together long after our Facebook posts have faded on our timelines.

Some know how:

We didn’t just train our bodies, we trained our minds. OK, we didn’t boost our collective IQs but we learnt through our training: Group riding skills, what it’s like to hit the wall if you don’t eat properly on the bike and how expensive it is if you don’t maintain your bike (both in taxi fares home & repairs). Look after your bike and it will look after you!

Some motivation:

Ride for a good cause – we were riding to raise money for our children’s school, £15,000 had been pledged for a new toilet block – what more motivation do you need? A good cause can make you battle through those mental lows and physical pains that are urging you to get in the broom wagon.

Friendly competition – when the day of the ride seems a long way off and it’s cold, wet, dark outside the motivation to get out and train can be running at zero. Not if you are in a http://www.strava.com league with your fellow riders and want to break into the top 10 (some weeks 200km didn’t even get you a top 10 place!)

Some great support:

To mis-quote Robert Louis Stevenson (because most people do!) “it is often better to travel than to arrive” – we followed a fantastic route from Dieppe in the early hours to the centre of Paris in bright sunshine, charted by http://www.thebicyclemoaningcollective.com who also provided support riders, support drivers, lots of food and a super quick puncture-fixing service.

We were also supported by http://www.pearsoncycles.co.uk who provided bike-fitting and bike servicing, http://www.payasugym.com who kick-started out training with deals on gym passes to get us into spinning classes. Finally, Chestertons in East Sheen funded our all important tour cycle jersey!

So did we do it? We cut it fine. Very fine. We raced, all 31 of us, to reach the finish line under the Eiffel Tower…. with just 2 minutes to spare!
If you are a school, club or charity who would like help in organising your own London to Paris sponsored cycle ride please contact thebicyclemoaningcollective@gmail.com

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