We ride alone, we ride together...
I'm sure you can relate: there are times when I really just want to be alone on my bike. Maybe churning out mile after mile, staring blankly ahead, my mind doing nothing other than white noise; tap, tap, tap on the pedals. It's a trance state, you know how it is. Or I might be alone doing intervals, suffering, 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off; company is out of the question - who wants to be seen breathing through every available aperture with spit and snot garnishing your face. Or I might just want to be somewhere beautiful, enjoying the sights and sounds and smells, with no conversation to distract me; no wheels or bars to keep the right distance from.
But then there are times when I crave a little peloton. I want to be bar to bar, wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder. I want to be in concert with co-riders. Out of the saddle when they are, pushing it when they do, suffering together, feeling strong together, taking turns to get out of the wind.
Riding alone, riding together.
More people are riding bikes on UK roads year on year. The increase is evident in sportive after sportive selling out. More people want to ride, and ride with others. The sportive is helping to restore something important - community cycling. It's not that it had gone away, but it's been mostly hidden.
I love listening to Frank Blake, the oldest member of my cycling club, Brighton Mitre. He talks about the days when a large crowd of club members would set off at 8 in the morning and ride all day, returning as it was getting dark, with pub stops and bakery raids on the way. Oh, and they would race hard as well whenever they got the chance. He describes an era that sounds out of reach; almost Enid Blyton. But I think there might be a 21st-century renaissance of community cycling, and it's wrapped up with sportives and cycling clubs. We need to bridge the gap between the two, but that will come.
The Pearson 150 sportive on 22 May is part of the renaissance. Pearson is not just a retailer, it's a bike community running an event that brings riders together for a jaunt, albeit a tough one, down to Brighton, within spitting distance of the pier, before returning north into the Sussex and Surrey countryside, exalting in the beauty and suffering up the hills in equal measure. The aim is twofold: to raise as much money as possible for the Royal Marsden Cancer charity (£40,000 was raised last year), and to gather and launch up to 1000 riders for the day in a loop to the south coast and back, extending the bonds of the emerging cycling community.
Part of the community for 2011 will be two of the team behind the PUNCHEUR sportive, which takes place on the first Sunday of every March. They are driving the logistics, and the course will be marked with their distinctive orange signs and ribbons. People love the ribbons - it reassures them they're on the right route and don't need to keep wondering if they missed a turn. The ribbons say "It's ok, keep riding."
Pearson and PUNCHEUR invite you to enter either the 150km or 75km route on 22nd May. Come on your own, come in twos and threes, come with a crowd. Each one makes the event what it is, and we are hoping for a truly memorable one in 2011.
See you there!