Event Review

Bike 4 Cancer "Bike vs Boat" REVIEW

by Caven O'Hara

Distances: 204.4 miles
Participants: 6
Start: Tower Bridge, London
Transport: Various choices
Feedstops: Numerous
Timed: Yes
Signs: Self-sufficient - GPX file provided
Road: A long, tough day but based on camaraderie and great support it shows you what you can achieve. 

When I was approached by the charity Bikes 4 Cancer charity to become an ambassador, I readily agreed. Not just to work for a charity doing great work for a terrific cause but to use my cycling to give something back. 

The first event we discussed is unusual in its format. All sportives are a challenge but this has a twist. The clue is in the name, bikes v boats. A simple premise but one heck of an undertaking. Two boats would set sail from Tower Bridge to sail down the Thames and round the coast of Kent to Brighton. For the cyclists a similar route, round the coastal roads of Kent and along the south coast to Brighton. First group one back wins and raises a shed load of money for the charity. 

St Katherines

Back to the small matter in hand, the ride would be over 300Kms or 200 miles in old money. We gathered as a group of riders on the Friday night, the spokels as we would become known over the next 24 hrs, for the first time for most of us. Some acquaintances had been made previously but for some including myself this was the first meet.

Charlie who works for the charity had tirelessly put together the plan and had arranged our meal for the evening. We were staying not far from the start at St Katherine's Foundation, an oasis of calm in the midst of the hectic Limehouse area of East London. 

Scenic Start

Conscious of an early start the team bonding at the local hostelry was kept to a minimum. With a pedestrian crossing outside our window my brain was confused several times into thinking the alarm was going off. It did however go off at 430. A quick shower and it was time to meet in the lobby, breakfast was provided in take away bags so we could whilst taking part in the photos before the off. A short ride to the start with Graham bringing up the rear in the support van and we were in place. We met Charlie and the sailors ensconced on their boats. Plans of a timely get away were scuppered with the news that a cruise liner was being led down the Thames. With photos done and the boats in the lock, they were soon through. We as a group took more shots for the album but then we had no more excuses. It was time for Nathan, Rich, Pete, Tom, Graeme and myself to head off.

The Crew Awaiting The Off

Getting out of London past the iconic sights makes up for the numerous traffic lights. The advantage of an early start is that it keeps you ahead of the traffic. Tom was the designated route master for the day, which worked well, a few minor blips but considering the distance we would cover, never an issue. Another factor that could have derailed us was mechanicals and thankfully we suffered one puncture all day and a couple of dropped chains. 

Leaving London it is difficult to determine when you really leave the city itself behind. There were a few false starts when you think you've reached the countryside but finally we did, not before we glimpsed the cruise liner that had delayed the start of the adventure.

The Opposition

About 50km in we met with the van for a pit stop and quick re-fuel. Spirits were still high and the banter was in full swing. As a group who had never ridden before we had been working well, through and off to ensure no-one did too much work. With the sun breaking through we were going to push through for another 50Km. 

The forecast had been for a clear if blustery day so it was somewhat of a surprise to get a rain shower or two during the day, nothing too heavy. We ended up taking the second stop a little short of the 100Km marker at the seaside spot of Seasalter where I randomly saw Matt, a guy I work with out on his own cycling adventure. The roads in some of these seaside towns offered something of a contrast to our ride out of London. Longer country lanes interspersed with towns and villages with short, steep climbs that kept you on your toes. The other contrast offered by the seaside towns is that some looked to be thriving and others provided a stark contrast. 

Bike v Boat Peloton

Deal was our next pit stop, coming at 122Km in and it was very welcome. An opportunity to refuel with coffee, food and top up bottles once more. This was more lunch than a pit stop although no ice-creams were consumed. The news that the sailors were not making good progress was on the one hand a real boost for morale but also meant that coming round the coast beyond Dover we would face a headwind or at least blustery conditions for almost half the ride. Given the latter half of the ride would see the majority of climbing plus some long open stretches albeit flat around Rye we were in for a long slog.

No, We Haven't Fallen Out

It is times like this were working in a group can be the saving factor. It is very unlikely that you'll all have a bad patch at the same time. Your team-mates can re-group around you and pull you through. With a little communication hiccup the next stop ended up being double the distance we had been working to - a double whammy. 

Not an ideal scenario but it didn't deter the spokles. The chat may have dried up a little but it can be difficult talking when the wind is snatching your words away. Despite the darker times we pulled together, still working predominantly in pairs if one person wasn't feeling great, that pair wouldn't do so long on the front. Instead taking some shelter at the rear. For the first time there was a real change in the parcours. After mainly rolling terrain, the road dipped into Dover as we passed the castle offering an impressive backdrop as we dived towards sea level. Once through the rather tired looking city we then had an equally long drag out and towards Folkestone as for the first time the climbing became a little tough. The majority of main roads had offered enough room with a bit of off roading as we took in some bike paths along the way. Nothing that road bikes can't cope with and nice for a change of view. 

En Route

Once we had passed through Folkestone we were then headed to New Romney and the marsh area that would mean a return to flat roads. However with the wind still carrying some bite this wouldn't offer much respite. 

There is something pretty thankless about riding on flat roads with the wind blowing in your face or across you. After what seemed like a long, long slog we finally met the van for a very welcome stop. By this stage there was nothing salubrious about the location but needs must. Next to a corrugated barn we took onboard fluid and food as we began our final push to Brighton. Even the news that the sailors were making little progress with even using sails and motors was not hugely uplifting. It was safe to say we were in the mental equivalent of the pain cave. Two-thirds of the way through but it still felt a long way to the finish. 

Food Stop

The light was beginning to fade and although it was still a couple of hours from sunset the going was hard. People were out enjoying their Saturday as we sped through Hastings and onto Bexhill. The lumps were getting more frequent and with less energy in the tank we were working harder. The morale was still going strong. 

We stopped at Pevensey Bay for a final stop, with 280Km on the clock, tiredness was kicking in. We did get to witness a cracking sunset before pedalling off once more. This time knowing that the serious hills were coming thick and fast. With climbs out of Eastbourne, Friston and into Seaford coming in the final 45Km not to mention the lump into Brighton, matters were not getting any easier. 

Puncture Time

There was a definite case of needing to get the job done. We had already put lights on the bikes wwhich made for some eerie riding off the top of Beachy Head down into the Birling Gap. The pace had dropped a little but we negotiated the hills and had started seeing more regular signage for Brighton. There was a quick route check in Newhaven before getting onto the coastal road for the final stretch. Inevitably the wind was a little more raucous due to the exposed nature of the road and the lumps that lead you into B Town it proved to a tough final stint. Eventually we crested yet another rise to be greeted by a sign for Brighton Marina, our official destination. It was with a certain weariness that we stopped and posed for celebratory pictures. There just remained a short pedal into town to get to the station/overnight accommodation before we could call it a day. However after almost 16 hours on the road, the Spokles could call it a day.

Sunset On a Long Day in the Saddle

Thanks have to go to both Graham and Charlie who admirably managed morale, food and drink and any other odd requests during the day that enabled us to do the riding. 

As a group we couldn't of had a better group, willing to work and support each other. A day that will live long in the memory even if the backside wasn't happy.

 Brighton - The End!

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