I recently signed up for a challenge called the Festive500 run by the company that makes Team Sky’s race kit – Rapha. The idea is simple. Cover 500 kilometres (approximately 300 miles) from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. If you split that distance equally over the 8 days it doesn’t sound TOO bad, but as we all know, Christmas and New Year are funny periods requiring prolonged periods of time playing board games, watching TV and stuffing your face with chocolate. The reward for completing this challenge…wait for it…a small cloth badge. As I was to find out though, this is oh so much more than just a badge…
As well as that precious badge, Rapha were also offering a prize of a place on one of their Cent Cols Challenge rides (a cycling holiday to you and me – my idea of heaven) for the most creative reporting of the Festive 500 journey. As I have already ridden 8000km around the world from Tooting to Turkmenistan in my trademark SuperCyclingMan costume, I thought I needed to seriously raise my game to have a crack at winning this prize. I summoned up all my superhero creative powers and delivered a campaign called:
‘The 8 bikes of Christmas’
So, from each of the 8 days (Dec 24-31st) of the Festive500 I used a different bike, ranging from a tiny children’s balance bike
to a top-end road bike fit for a pro.
My rides took me all over the UK – to places I had never been before and to places I knew very well. Without a doubt the hardest day was the 368km ride I did from Tooting to Torquay from 5am of one day until 3am of the following day, taking me through icy roads, gale-force wind, rain…and a kebab shop!
The Festive500 challenge also allowed me to rediscover old bicycles that I had not ridden for a long time. I particularly enjoyed dusting off my mountain bike and taking it for a muddy ride around the forest where I used to go for rides as a teenager.
It also let me discover completely new riding experiences such as my first time on a Boris Bike to Big Ben!
I loved every single one of the 8 bikes* I used during the challenge and it reminded me of the simple pleasure cycling brings in all of its many forms.
I got great support from friends, family (and some complete strangers!) during the challenge. The online cycling community really got behind me when I asked for help to find a Chopper bike to take me through the Cheddar Gorge. And on the final day’s ride on a Brompton from Bristol to Bath and back, I was even accompanied by a completely random Twitter follower who I had never met before! Thanks for that Richard Cranswick – who incidentally is running solo from Land’s End to John O’Groats in summer 2014 – well worth following his news on his Facebook and Twitter accounts!
In fact, the concept of different challenges on different bikes proved so popular and enjoyable that I am now planning a whole series of future ones over the coming months. Who knows what will happen? A Grifter to Grimsby? Or a scooter around Scotland?
One thing for sure is that I would never have had these experiences if it wasn’t for the Festive500 challenge. As difficult as it was squeezing in the miles during the Christmas/New Year period, I really enjoyed it and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Now the Festive500 is over, my plan is to continue getting ready for Part 3 of my world cycle in August 2014 with a “hilly and chilly” 4000km from “Turkmenistan to Tibet”. A place on a Rapha Cent Cols Challenge would certainly help with my preparation for that, but if I don’t win it, the badge that I am planning on putting on my cape will remind me of those “character-building”, “fun-packed” and “challenging” 8 days on 8 bikes.
The Festive500 challenge might be gone for another few months, but there’s plenty more challenges you can tackle in the meantime: Strava is not a bad place to start looking or there’s a whole heap of Evans Ride It or Wiggle series of rides on offer. Or, hey, go crazy, and make up your own!
Let me know if you can recommend any other good cycling challenges.
Happy and safe pedalling,
* I am not sure the rocking horse I used for one day counts as a bike, but technically I did ‘ride’ it