Having just been on one, of a number of recently organised, charity cycle challenges, I want to praise them, and the unseen heroes who organise them. Like many activities they took a huge hit in lockdown, with many being arranged, but almost all being cancelled or going virtual – just about the same thing. In fact since the start of lockdown, I signed up for two charity cycle rides in Italy, a ride in Israel, and several rides in the UK – all of which were cancelled
A couple of weeks ago, however, Skyline, an organisation which specialises in these events, organised a cycle ride from London to Brighton in which seventy five charities and just under three thousand riders participated. There should have been more but there were last minute cancellations possibly because of fear of Covid and of the weather. The charities came from right across the spectrum. The largest group were medical charities; Diabetes UK, Great Ormond Street, Mind and Dementia UK etc.- then there were social care and then educational charities. I cycled in the first instance for a medical charity, Fight for Sight, which is the largest charity in the UK, involved with the struggle against blindness, and which has been involved in some ground breaking innovations in the field. I cycled also to raise money for Kisharon which looks after children with learning difficulties. My son is one of the people they support.
These rides are great for a number of reasons. First obviously, there are the charities – their raison d’etre. They are generally very good causes. The charities’ organisers run an extremely tight ship. The companies, who back these events, want to be associated with them partly for the good publicity, but also possibly partly out of altruism. It is surprising how infectious altruism can be. The charities exploit this and drive notoriously hard bargains, as indeed, they should. The riders know this as well, and by and large accept the spartan conditions they are given.
Then there is the adventure. Going to Brighton is hardly the trip of a lifetime, but in these days of lockdown it was about the best going. My first charity ride was for Ravenswood now Norwood twenty eight years ago when we cycled from Ashkelon on the Mediterranean Sea to Eilat on the Red Sea-from a cold rainy starting point to a sub tropical destination. Since then Norwood have arranged rides in five continents. Their riders have seen the midnight sun in Iceland, the Victoria Falls, the ancient Buddhist temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal, Havana, Kerala, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Death Valley in California, Rio De Janeiro, Table Mountain besides crossing the Equator on their bicycles. The riders are not doing this at the expense of the charities since they have to pay a fee at the beginning from their own funds to cover their costs but the rides give them a framework to fulfil their aspirations for adventure. The result of this is that the riders tend to get older and be more affluent which is problem for raising funds in the future.
It is also great exercise. The British Heart Foundation are great supporters and arrange their own rides. It is not just the ride itself but the training for it and the resulting ballyhoo which produce beneficial effects.
The comradeship on the rides is also remarkable. It was appropriate that the first couple I encountered, as we were coming up to the starting point, were Blind Veterans. These are a group who participate in rides all over the UK, but have struggled in lockdown. The couple I encountered had come down from Cumbria. They rode a tandem. The woman on the rear was blind, though not black blind. Unsurprisingly her companion on the front was sighted. Most of the riders are not as inspirational as that, but they are frequently impressive people.
Finally there is the diversity as the rides generally attract a wide following. The London Bikeathon -a cycling equivalent of the London Marathon- is a celebration of London’s diversity. The London to Brighton challenge also brought out the diversity in the population of the capital, with all ages and ethnicities being represented. With 42% of the cyclists being women this was possibly the most gender balanced cycling event ever. I don’t know how many other septuagenarians there were, but I was not the oldest rider by a long way as there was someone in his (her?) late seventies. There were sixty two riders over the age of sixty five -being the oldest discrete category they use. I was slightly over twice the average age of thirty five, compensated for, by the fact that I was riding a power assisted bike.
There was an extremely friendly atmosphere, not only among the riders, but also among the onlookers who came out and cheered us as we cycled through the villages of Kent, Surrey and East Sussex. The warm celebratory welcome in Brighton was a fitting end to a lovely day.