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Watch: Ride Across Britain documentary

David Kenning
26 Jun 2017

A day-to-day account of one of the most iconic challenges available to British cyclists, the Ride Across Britain.

The Ride Across Britain organisers have released a documentary about the event, which we rode last year. The event covers the length of Britain over nine days of riding, taking in some of the best scenery Great Britain has to offer.

The Ride Across Britain, a day-today account

In 1873, four members of Middlesex Bicycle Club set out from the most southwesterly point of mainland Britain, Land’s End in Cornwall, to ride all the way to John O’Groats at the far northeastern tip of Scotland. Riding heavy, single-geared machines on roads that had yet to benefit from the invention of tarmac, it took them several weeks to cover the 873 miles.

Now, nearly a century and a half later, this iconic challenge is undertaken by hundreds of cyclists every year. Modern bikes and smoother road surfaces enable them to complete the distance quicker and more comfortably, but it’s still a serious feat of endurance.

We’re always looking for fun ways to test the latest cycling gear, so we thought why not try it ourselves? And so signed up for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

This annual organised ride takes a scenic route though some of the finest cycling country this fair land has to offer, covering a total of 976 miles over nine days.

But what bike to carry us on such an epic journey? With a host of features to improve rider comfort over long distances, the new Trek Domane SLR seemed like the ideal machine for the job.

And with plenty of dhb clobber to keep us looking the part, we set off…

Stage 1 - Lands End to Okehampton

Distance: 172km/107miles

Elevation: 2,678m

Having spent the night in a tent in a Cornish field listening to a howling Atlantic storm smash into Britain’s most southwesterly point, BikesEtc's David Kenning awoke at 4.30am. He was about to embark on a challenge he’d been dreaming of for years. Much soreness, a bit of ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’ and one huge adventure lay ahead. Here David takes up the tale…

‘I poked my head out of the tent expecting the worst but thankfully the rain had stopped. I packed up, threw my holdall in the back of the lorry and headed to the catering tent for a traditional cyclist’s breakfast – a bacon and egg roll. By the time I’d gobbled that and given my bike and kit a final once over, it was time to head over to the start line, where I found myself among around 700 riders: folk from all over the world who’d gathered to test themselves against one of the most gruelling cycling challenges the UK has to offer. Even though I’ve spent years tackling long-distance audaxes, I’d never attempted nine back-to-back century rides. 

‘I couldn’t wait to go and thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. By 7.15am, I was on the road, starting with a 10-mile jaunt down the A30 to Penzance before hitting the back roads. The weather was improving as we rode, with sunlight punching its way through the clouds until the skies were a rich blue. Not surprisingly, many riders stopped for an early photo opp at St Michael’s Mount. 

‘As we approached the Cornwall/Devon border the riding began to change. People talk about rollercoaster roads, but what we hit was like a series of big dippers. Hard hills to winch yourself up, followed by exhilarating freefalls on the other side. The final stage of the ride, meanwhile, proved to be the sting in the tail. Of the 2,678m of climbing in this stage, around half of it was squirrelled away in the last 30 miles. Ouch!

‘By the time we rolled into Okehampton, where the organisers had already pitched camp, my left Achilles tendon was on fire, but one massage and two cups of tea later, I was already hungry for tomorrow’s challenge.’

Day 2 - Okehampton to Bath

Distance: 179km/111miles

Elevation: 2,593m

‘Our 5.30am alarm call this morning was PJ and Duncan’s 1993, erm, classic Let’s Get Ready To Rumble. I didn’t need much more incentive to get moving and was out on the road soon after 7am.

‘My Achilles ache from the day before had been banished by the excellent massage. Provided by final-year sports therapy students from Birmingham Uni, we were the perfect subjects for them to hone their skills. With the sun already high in the sky, I soon realised the weather forecast had got it wrong and I could safely ditch the excellent dhb arm and leg warmers I’d donned.

‘Each stage is split into three sections, with pit stops every 35 miles or so. The riding was glorious with the first stage weaving through rolling countryside and ancient Devonshire villages. 

‘This stage was already proving tougher than yesterday’s ride, with the first big climb of the day coming near Cothelstone in Somerset. At 3km long and averaging 6% gradient, it forced some riders to get off and push. I’m no Nairo Quintana but by dropping down through my gears and pushing a steady cadence I managed to get myself to the top, where supporters from the Deloitte team greeted us with cow bells, flags and big cheers. A lovely touch.

‘The descent down the other side was a pure white-knuckle blast, made all the more terrifying by the fact that we were riding directly into the sun. With the twisting road drowned out by its light, it was largely a case of hang onto the handlebars and trust the Force, Luke! 

‘We arrived safely at the second stop in the village of East Huntspill where organisers Threshold had laid on, among other things, chilled watermelon – ideal for getting much need nutrients and liquid in on such a hot day. 

‘Refreshed and stretched it was then time for the final section. The first part of this was across the flattish Somerset Levels where it was possible to get into a group and get some good fast riding in before the ultimate challenge of the day, which I could see looming up ahead long before we reached it – Cheddar Gorge. 

‘It had long been on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. Climbing through its snaking roads beneath towering limestone cliffs was a thrill, albeit a challenging one. The first part of the climb is really steep, hitting 15% in places, but then it levels out a bit letting you to get a good rhythm going and enjoy your stunning surroundings. 

‘With the Gorge conquered it was all rolling countryside to the end, allowing for a fast run into Bath. PJ and Duncan aside, it’d been a perfect cycling day.’

Day 3 - Bath to Ludlow

Distance: 159km/99miles

Elevation: 2,205m

‘Heading out into Monday morning traffic was odd. It’s easy to forget the real world is carrying on without you when you tackle something like this. 

‘The overcast skies made the air quite muggy as we rode the first section. A long climb out of Bath led us onto busy main roads which we followed until we crossed the Severn Bridge. After leaving the first stop at Chepstow, though, the next section made for much nicer riding, as we left civilisation behind and got out into the countryside. 

‘Boasting the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, this bit of Britain offers some truly special riding with rolling hills, magical woodlands and oceans of fresh air. 

‘Before the second stop, a testing up-and-down section had to be conquered, with 17% gradients in places. But if the ride up them was a beast, the descents were a blast. When we rolled to a halt in the village of Fownhope I was still grinning. I checked my computer to see what speed I’d peaked at and was thrilled to a see 81.9kmh (50.8mph) – the fastest I’ve ever recorded on a bike, and another first for me in a week of firsts.  

‘Because I’d felt a bit flat when I’d woken up that morning, I’d decided to take it easy all day, and on the final 30 mile stretch of flatter (although not as flat as we’d been led to expect) roads to the finish at Ludlow Race Course, I was glad I had. With plenty left in the tank, I got in with a strong group and we bombed along all the way to the finish. Pacing myself on the early part of the ride had clearly paid off and I was feeling revived, strong and ready for more.’

Day 4 - Ludlow to Haydock

Distance: 174km/108miles

Elevation: 1,263m

‘I learnt a number of key lessons today. The first one was listen to your body. When I woke up I was suffering from a touch of saddle soreness. A blister “down there” can be embarrassing but I needed to get it seen to, so went to the on-site doctor. One blister plaster later and I was ready to ride.

‘Although it was chilly and misty at first, I was soon flying through Shropshire’s rolling lanes in glorious sunshine. I rode for while with a chap called Phill who’d crashed on day one and ended up in A&E with concussion. He’d missed two stages but as soon as he was given the all clear by the docs, had jumped on his bike and re-joined the camp at Ludlow, determined to carry on. Lesson number two? Don’t give up!

‘After a longer than usual first section (43 miles) the next leg was along flat, open roads. I got picked up by a chaingang of about 20 riders and stuck with them all the way to the next pit stop – doing my fair share at the front, of course – and we nailed the 30 miles in an hour and a half. Lesson three? You make better progress as part of a team.

‘The final section took us across the Cheshire plains. The sun had shone all day but 15 minutes from the finish the skies turned black. Luckily, I was spared a soaking by the lightweight dhb rain cape stashed in my saddlebag. Lesson four – never trust a weather forecaster!’

Head through to page two to read about days 5 to 9 of the Ride Across Britain

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