How did I get here? A decade or so ago I was a runner. I cycled to get around and that was pretty much it. I’d done a bit of cycling touring but that was mostly because it was the only way to tempt my friend Chris to go exploring in exotic locations.
Today cycling kinda defines me (just ask my friends…) and I stand on the brink of riding the Transcontinental Race (TCR): a mammoth undertaking that will see my trying to ride 250km a day from Belgium to Greece this summer. So (as I said) how did I get here?
I need to think about why I cycle to answer that question. Much of my riding is purely functional. I don’t own a car. I hate using the tube. So I get to work with a bike. Do my shopping by bike. See friends by a bike. But that doesn’t really relate to taking on the TCR.
My social circle has a lot of cyclists. A group ride is as much about seeing friends and catching-up as it is about exercise. But the TCR is solo and unsupported so it isn’t that.
So I guess it’s the last reason: to see if I can. Not to prove a point or show off; just to test myself.
I think this is a journey that is deeply and quintessentially human. To strive and see whether you can do something harder, tougher, more complex than before. In cycling it can be seen from the earliest days of riding. No sooner had the bike been invented than people were trying to see how far they could ride. The penny-farthing was invented in around 1870; by 1886 Thomas Stevens had circumnavigated the world on one. By the late nineteenth century long-distance cycling was a thing and in 1904 Henri Desgrange founded the Audax movement. And that was just the start…
My start was proably in 2007 when the Tour de France came to London and my friend Rory suggested we rode an event covering that followed the route of the first stage. It was hard. It hurt. It was about 180km. My first big ride. The etape followed and various other sportives and gran fondos. It got to the point where I’d fairly regularly ride over 200km with my friends. It became normal.
In 2013 I was talking to another buddy (Jorge) and we thought now that 200km was normal what would it be like to cycle 200 miles (or 320km)? So after a curry and beer we found oursleves at the start of the Hereward the Wake Audax. Finishing was hard and ticked a box.
But over the following years more boxes arrived and needed to be ticked driven partly by function (can I cycle home to Birmingham? Yes) and sociability (wouldn’t it be a good idea to circumnavigate London following the M25?).
At the same time the TCR was set up by Mike Hall. Each edition got more profile. Each time I followed the dots more closely. Each year I asked, “could I do that?”.
Last year I completed my first super randonneur series and rode from London to Manchester and back in two days. That made me think “I probably could” so this year I entered and in July I will take to the start line in Geraardsbergen and find out whether I can.