A cycling challenge for 2019

My New Year’s resolution this year was not to make any New Year’s resolutions – especially not where cycling is concerned. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve set arbitrary goals for the year – either a certain number of kilometres or hours to ride per week, or a set number of rides per week, or any number of monthly or annual targets. They all end up being pointless because I fail and feel faintly sad about that failure, which inevitably detracts in a small way from the enjoyment of cycling.

Who knows where the road will lead?

Who knows where the road will lead?

So my New Year’s resolution – not that it’s a resolution, mind – is to ride my bike when I want for as long or as short as I want and just enjoy the process of turning the pedals for its own sake.

One of the most enjoyable weekends of last year was going cycling with Ned Boulting and Simon Gill from Cambridge to Southwold and back over a glorious, sunny June weekend. It was a ride that was one per cent work and 99 per cent pleasure because I documented the journey for an episode of The Cycling Podcast’s new series, Explore.

Explore looked at the worlds of bikepacking, ultra endurance and endurance riding and I was nervous about dedicating an episode of the series to our pleasant weekend ride to the seaside and back. The series featured so many inspirational stories. Between us, Hannah Troop, Richard Moore and I interviewed James Hayden, who has won the past two editions of the Transcontinental; Michael Broadwith, who broke the 17-year-old Land’s End to John O’Groats record; Jenny Graham and Mark Beaumont, who hold the round the world records for women and men; and several others who have done some seriously impressive things on two wheels.

All Ned, Simon and I did was ride to Southwold for fish and chips and a few pints. And I made Ned and Simon carry my luggage. Hardly the stuff of legends. (Mind you, Ned rode a heavy old beast of a bike and was covering the ground quicker than me on my carbon-fibre machine.)

The 2018 Cambridge-Southwold-Cambridge Classic. Photo by Simon Gill.

The 2018 Cambridge-Southwold-Cambridge Classic. Photo by Simon Gill.

My reasoning was that I wanted the series as a whole to feel accessible to as many people as possible. There’s no way I’m going to cycle to Australia, or round the world. I’m never going to break a point-to-point record. And if I ever decide to take on something like the Transcontinental I’ll not be able to trouble the top 90 per cent of finishers. But I do love cycling, and especially the feeling of rolling out in the morning and finishing somewhere completely different in the afternoon.

Because Ned is such good company, and one of those people who has something interesting to say on more or less anything, I thought it would make a pleasant listen. And, in its own little way, I hope it’s been inspiring too. It’s certainly motivated me to think of a manageable challenge to tackle in 2019.

The idea I’ve come up with is the Magical Mystery Tour (with apologies to the Beatles) which will be a multi-day crowd-sourced luxury bikepacking adventure dictated to me (and whoever I can persuade to join me) by podcast listeners and people on social media.

The plan is to set out one day in June (probably) and ask people on Twitter to suggest our destination for the day. As Hannah has pointed out several times during the course of the debute series of Explore, my parameters are fairly narrow, so I won’t be riding 200 kilometres a day or anything silly but we’ll try to make it a challenging distance each day. At the end of each day we’ll ask for tomorrow’s destination. I’m not sure whether we’ll select from a short list or put it to a public vote, we’ll see.

At the moment the details are sketchy. It could be a three, five or seven-day adventure, it might just be me riding, or the whole thing might not work at all, but I love the idea of surrendering control and letting the imagination of others determine the journey for us. Who knows where it’ll take us – perhaps we’ll even leave the United Kingdom? (And with Brexit due to happen in March, maybe we won’t make it back).

So that’s my challenge for 2019.