Mary and I were looking to increase our time out on the bikes, especially as the nights get lighter and the days warmer. So when my brother Gary, tagged us in a sportive event advertised on Facebook, we handed over £22 each and signed up to the 5th annual Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice Ride the Reservoir event.
It sounded delightful:
A charity sportive which starts at Bartley Green, before heading into the quaint villages of Romsley, Belbroughton, Chaddesley Corbett, Dodford, Barnt Green and then back to the reservoir. The route showcases some of the West Midlands’ most picturesque landscapes, but there will be some challenging ascents, including a tough hill climb at Romsley Hill.
The aim of the event is to provide you with an exciting cycle route around the beautiful countryside of South Birmingham and into North Worcestershire whilst also providing you with an opportunity to raise funds for your local Hospice.
It wasn’t mandatory fo fund raise. However having sponsors does give you an incentive to finish the event, and it is a good, local cause.
I set up a Just Giving page with an achievable target of just £300. Immediately, we attracted some pretty big donations. This was fantastic. It really gives you a lift to know that people out there believe in your actions.
Could we do it?
The welcome pack described the route as ‘hilly’. It was 75km. That’s 46.6 miles in old money, I’ve rounded it up to 50 miles from hereon in. Mary and I regularly do 20-30 miles on the bike, so the distance didn’t worry us. The event was taking place between 9am and 3pm. That gave us 6 hours to finish.
Mary and I are not road whippets. We like to savour our cycling. Mary will often say: ‘we aren’t on a mission, cherish it’. It has become a pretty good mantra. I found the time limit a pressure. 6 Hours is plenty of time to cycle 50 miles. I know from long days in the saddle we tend to average 10 mph give or take. This meant the ride would take us 5ish hours.
We had some natural, pre-ride reservations!
What did they mean by hilly. Hills are very subjective, depend on ability. They change depending on how tired you are and how much cake there is at the top. We sensibly decided to completely ignore the pre-ride information in this regard. I did take a peek at the route profile. It looked like an ECG of someone in the throws of a massive heart attack. I quickly mentally discarded it with the supposition that you can’t squash a 50 mile route profile into 4 inches on a page without having a massive heart attack. Yes; best to ignore it.
The promotional photographs of previous events were of professional, lycra clad cyclists on super-light, razor-wheeled, drop-bar bikes; despite the ride literature stating it was a ride for everyone and encouraged all to take part. I love shiny cycling gear and I would probably do lycra: if lycra did me. As I do not wish to offend, I steer clear of it. I also know that lycra isn’t going to streamline me up to a magical 15 mph. Instead I go comfortable and cycle in some old shorts, my trusty merino base layer and a Bicycle Adventure Club T-Shirt.
The ride literature said 3pm was the cut off point. Beyond this there would be no free burger, no cake, no drink nor cheers over the finish line. Would we make it in time?
Sunday 7th April, we arrived at the start by 8:30. Weather was forecast to be overcast with light winds. Perfect riding conditions. We get into the registration queue. It’s busy. There are over 500 cyclists taking part. I don’t think I’ve ever been amongst so many other cyclists.
It became clear that the ride, though not solely aimed at; is a big attraction for MAMILS – Middle Aged Men In Lycra. It was a very Man heavy event.
Mary was riding my trusty 1998 Kona Fire Mountain and wearing her Bicycle Adventure Club t-shirt. We only saw one other person who wasn’t in club-jersey or day-glo lycra. An elderly chap, who was riding a flat-bar, hybrid bike. He looked really smart in his shorts and a lovely v-neck jumper with a shirt underneath!
We collected our numbers, attached them to our bikes and headed for the start line.
Off We Go
Straight out the gate we climbed away from Bartley Reservoir, up into the Clent Hills. A helpful steward said it was the worst climb of the day. This was a lie. The brutal, relentless hills were left until the end. I don’t mind cycling up hills, there is always a top. The top never moves and after it there is always a down. We were reaching speeds of 30+ mph on some of the descents. I may go up slowly; but I have a gravitational advantage coming down!
We were overtaken by a constant stream of cyclists effortlessly gliding up the hills in their magical lycra. Shouting words of encouragement to those they passed. The route was superbly signposted with stewards at all the major junctions. It was great to be able to get on with cycling and enjoying the ride rather than being concerned about directions.
The sun started to shine just as we reached the halfway point. There was a pit stop where tea and cake was provided. Mary and I felt good. We knew we weren’t going fast but we were certainly enjoying it. The warm sunshine and country lanes made for fantastic cycling.
Around mile 35 I felt a bit low. I’d had enough and wanted to finish. I’m a bit faster up the hills than Mary so I was able to stop and rest my legs whilst I waited for Mary to catch up. I needed to, my legs were getting tired and twitchy. It’s time like this when knowing people have sponsored you makes you dig a little deeper. It’s always your head that gives up first.
The Final Push
The last 10 miles were brutal. First, up and over the Lickey Hills followed by the Waseley Hills. They were relentless, but I did enjoy the challenge and with hindsight it was the best part of the ride for me. Mary will tell you different, but on we pushed. Eventually, over the top of the last hill we could see Bartley Reservoir, and the finish in the distance.
Finally a loop of the reservoir and we had made it! Exhausted but very feeling accomplished and capable. The last ones into the carpark. No one cheered us in and just as we passed under the start & finish arch, they began to deflate it and pack away. There was a burger and a viennese whirl left for each of us.
Very different to the exploring style of cycling we like to do but a great ride and a good way to challenge yourself and get some stress free miles in, the route and cake taken being care of.
Even though we had doubts, and were a little nervous about our capabilities at the start, we did it. 75 kilometres, 46.6 miles in just over 5 hours.
The event was well organised. We were able to just turn up and go. It definitely wasn’t a social event but everyone was very nice and we were well looked after by the stewards and other cyclist. I’d certainly consider doing another.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has sponsored us on this event. I don’t want to make the Bicycle Adventure Club about charity events but if on the odd occasion we can do some good then we should. So thank you. Your support is appreciated.
Oh, and Gary…..Mary said ‘can you not tag us in any more facebook posts for a while please’ 😉