London to Paris is one of the most iconic cycling adventures to be had. I firmly believe anyone who wants to set their mind to it, can do it. My blogs on cycling from London to Paris are amongst the most popular on my site, and having done it 6 times, I think you could safely say London to Paris is a bit of a thing for me. Check out my other blogs here, here and here. In August this year I received a call asking if I wanted to lead the Techbikers ride. It didn't take me long to say "hell yes!"
But what is Techbikers? I hear you say.
It's a 320km charity cycle ride from Paris to London over 3 days, raising money for Room to Read. The mission statement rightly claims "it's a means for the tech community to put down their laptops and pick up a bike to support charity, network, share ideas and spread the start-up vibe."
It does all that and more.
It's the brain child of a group of entrepreneurs at Google Campus. Google Campus, a co-working space in the heart of East-London's Tech City, is a hub of inspiration. Behind TechBikers is Eze Vidra, Partner at Google Ventures (and Founder of Google Campus), Benjamin Southworth, ex Deputy CEO at Tech City UK, Abraham Choi, Founder of Decision Analytics and Mark Jennings, Founder of Shaken.
In my life before moving to Chamonix this summer, I was heavily involved with the London tech startup scene. I love the buzz of sharing ideas and being around people who are driven to make their ideas become reality. It was a no-brainer for me want to be part of this event. Although I'd led adventures and cycling tours in the past, never with a group as big as this, 75! I was a mix of excitement, and nerves to see how it would all play out.
On Friday 19th September, the morning the ride was to commence, myself and the rest of the support team were in Paris having driven over the day before with everyone's bikes. The cyclists arrived on an open top double-decker Paris tour bus and we snapped pics in front of the Eiffel Tower.
After a respectable amount of faffing - we had 2 Boris Bikes, one hand-bike and 2 Brompton bikes with us - we were off with Jonathan and I at the front of the pack leading the way out of Paris. Eek!
With all staff members having radios, we could stay in constant communication and do our best to keep the group together. We had cycled less than 500 metres before the radio crackled "we've got our first puncture, hold the group". Not as easy as it sounds trying to hold back a group of eager and excited cyclists keen to get the show on the road.
Our route from Paris to London was split over 3 days and fully supported by the awesome Cycle Friendly team. For many of the riders in the group, the first day, with 90kms to cover, was the furthest they had ever cycled in one go. Amazing! The sense of pride and achievement is what brings people back to do it again year after year.
They return to support others through the same challenges they experienced. For the relationships forged, the bonds that come as a result of creative conversations whilst cycling through the countryside. They return because there are no expectations other than to come and ride. Because they have a reason to ignore their phones, emails and demands from their work.
They love it because they challenge themselves, and go to places they've never been to before to dig deep and grind up those hills when their legs are saying no.
Finally, they love it because job title doesn't make a difference when you cycle. They feed off this amazing we're-all-in-it-together vibe and raise a ton of money (over £70K this year) for a charity they passionately believe in; Room to Read.
It's a very special affair.
I felt honoured to be a part of it.
Leading the ride was a new challenge for me. The rule was "stay behind Sophie". At times that was a little challenging to enforce and regulate! We got there in the end though :) I knew there were some very strong cyclists who wanted to give their legs a good beasting. I can appreciate that desire! I did my best to give the lead group a blast on the legs whilst making sure we waited at the rest stops for others to re-group. The two main aspects of Techbikers are raising money for charity and buidling the community. Therefore, it was important that we kept people together rather than letting the group get too strung out.
By the last day, I had (just) mastered the act of leading out the front peloton whilst cycling through the beautiful countryside at 28-32mph, through a hailstorm might I add, and keeping one ear open for the radio communications from the rest of the team about issues behind us.
Our route, organised by Jonathan who runs Cycle Friendly, was ideal. We stuck to quiet roads and weaved our way through classic French villages. All our rest stops were well chosen, and a great place to take a break. Alongside rivers and lakes or by crumbling forts, they were not only a treat for the legs to be off the bike, but also a treat to feast our eyes on.
It was the same on the UK side. We caught the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven and had 106kms to cover on day 3, before arriving back at Google Campus in East London.
At one of our rest stops on the top of the South Downs, we decided to make a human Techbikers logo whilst we waited for the bananas to arrive.
It was making friends and networking in all it's glory.
There were some absolute heroes of the ride that I have to mention. Sam Strong who broke his leg a few weeks prior but wasn't going to let anything stop him completing the challenge. Having never ridden a handbike before, he managed the 320kms on one, the look on his face at the end said more than words could about how hard it was. Incredible! The guys who rode on Boris Bikes, huge respect to you! Finally, Sophia, who only signed up a week before, raised a significant amount for Room to Read and had never cycled before. She had the biggest smile on her face the whole way.
There were many people who pushed themselves beyond anything they had experienced before. The sore bums, the endless eating of nuts, the tired legs in the mornings, the wind and rain biting at your face and hands, the punctures and mechanicals and through all the times they wanted to stop.
75 people left Paris and 75 people made it to the welcoming party at Google Campus. And in one big group.
They experienced what we love about cycling.
Seeing all this unfold before me and being a part of it was a reminder of why I love cycling and what draws me back time and time again to planning and going on cycling adventures.
If I could sum up this experience in 3 words they would be:
Freedom, Friendship and Fun.
Watch the video here:
It was a team effort from all the cyclists and the Cycle Friendly crew. Bring on 2015!