The Gill Cycle Challenge: A journey of discovery, adventure and the joy of cycling together


Martin Gill – The Gill Foundation

The bicycle is an amazing invention. It has been a key part in the cultural and social change of many countries over the last 100 years or so, providing cheap transport, a broadening of horizons, the freedom to explore and pure enjoyment. In the early stages of the cycling revolution these impacts were felt by both men and women but as Susan B Anthony said: “I think the bicycle has done more emancipate women than any one thing in the world”.

The 2000’s have seen a cycling boom in the UK but one that has been centred a little more around men in Lyra emulating their heroes. Slowly this is changing with local authorities encouraging safe cycling for all, improved commuter and touring routes and more women participating in all forms of cycling.

I know there are still barriers for women to start cycling with certain issues being flagged on a regular basis: safety, getting the right gear, time pressures, affordability. These can be overcome and often joining with others to ride is a way to do that.

The cycling group I ride with in South West London, @SW19 Velo, was started by three couples and from its inception has always been focussed on including cyclists of all abilities but with an aim of challenging their physical and mental capacities on the bike. With this in mind, no-one is excluded or left behind and the joy of riding with others is put above searching for new Strava segment times – although some of that does occur too!

Group members, men and women, have undertaken a variety of challenges including 40km sportive rides, 100-mile Ride London participation, Lands End to John O’Groats, 24-hour distance challenges and multi day rides through Europe.

The group also shares routes – nice riding roads, places to stop and refuel with coffee and cakes; passes on information on bikes and kit – from type of bike to saddles, shorts and all-weather jackets; and provides a stream of used equipment to upgrade existing bikes.

Every year the group undertakes several challenges and this year we were fortunate to be joined by two representatives of Women in Sport on a 10-day ride in England and France covering almost 1,000 miles. Clare and Sharon had competed in a number of triathlons so were used to riding their bikes but riding with a group of other cyclists in a peloton and riding long distances day in day out was certainly a step into the unknown. For the non-cyclist I suppose it is hard to get some context on this challenge, but I suppose you could equate it to running a marathon each day for 10 days. I know Clare and Sharon were nervous ahead of the ride worrying about fitness levels, kit choices, integration with the rest of the group and the pressures of ride, eat, sleep repeat over 10 days.

The challenge started at Wimbledon Tennis Club and progressed via Portsmouth into France, south to Rochefort Sur Mer on the Atlantic coast and then returning across France to Calais, ferry to Dover and then back to London. Sun, torrential rain, lack of sleep, saddle sores and some emotional ups and downs followed but all were overcome. Training preparation was key it was certainly a focus of each of the riders, but the strength of the group dynamic allowed each team member to provide support to the others, as and when required. The occasional beer and glass of wine also helped make each day end well!

The finish back in Wimbledon after a long, tough day riding back from Dover brought a great sense of achievement showing that hurdles can be overcome and great fun had during an epic adventure. Whether your challenge is 1000 miles or 10 miles, go for it, be brave, get on your bike and set yourself free! Enjoy.