We are talking miles today, not kilometres. Half a million of them to be precise. That’s the equivalent of cycling to the moon and back, or 20 times round the world.
On Sunday we had a small celebration with club-mates and friends from the Godric Cycling Club to mark the date where my Dad, Geoff Mayne, hit his half-millionth recorded cycling mile.
We had a lovely weekend, adding the required 50 miles and then a few more just to make sure. Geoff was joined by some cycling friends including some who almost date back to the fresh faced 15 year old who helped found the club in 1953.
The celebration took place at a favourite café, Rosie Lee’s in Loddon.
Norfolk helped things along because the countryside was in full harvest mode, lending the scenes a yellow glow of summer, I thoroughly enjoyed a bit of club riding “back home”.
Geoff is not alone in his feat, because he is a member of a British group called the “300,000 Mile Club” which consists of the small number of cyclists who can prove with a reasonable degree of evidence that they have ridden at least 300,000 miles in a lifetime.
The group might be described as “old school”, there is no Facebook page or website and its existence seems to be entirely by word of mouth. There is however an annual newsletter and update which provides a bit of an insight into this curious community. Currently there are 54 active members, and a role of honour of a further 97 who are no longer with us or no longer apparently active.
Their mileages range from the obligatory 300,000 qualification mark up to an astonishing 958,000, but as yet none has crossed the magic million. Of course if we go for kilometres several are over the million mark, anyone over 621,371miles in fact, of which there are about 15 in the club’s records.
What is remarkable about this feat is not just the distances, but as anyone I have spoken to comments “how do they know?”
For the distances I tried to do a comparison with how long it would take to accumulate half a million miles just through daily riding. If a Dutch cyclist was doing about 10km per day doing their commuting and daily errands it would take well over 200 years. I guess the Danish commuters who apparently do about 20km each way whizzing in from the Copenhagen suburbs might get close, but I worked it out as a 43 mile round trip for about 50 years (over 50km per day) which is some stretch of the imagination.
So how do they do it? In a British context the reason behind the distances are fairly clear. Almost all the high mile-eaters are either former racing cyclists who came from an era when almost all training consisted of “getting in the miles” or they have been cycle tourists who have done a prodigious amount of touring, often combined with the long distance touring challenges called Audax, at the peak of which is the fearsome Paris Brest Paris, 1200 kilometres in just one ride. In many cases they have done a lot of both sorts of riding, especially from the post war era when everybody rode to the start of their races, raced up to 100 miles and then rode home again, often completing 200 miles in a weekend.
My Dad fits the pattern, he started in a cycling club at aged 15 and only stopped veterans’ racing in his 60s.
Once he and a few chums were retired they then had their own group who went out 2-3 times a week for touring rides and so kept up distances of 200-300 miles per week, developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of every café in South Norfolk and North Suffolk.
Now as he approaches 80 he is still doing over 9000 miles per year, despite moving to the hillier, colder and wetter countryside of Scotland.
As to the second point “how do they know” it really relates to the first, because it is about the kind of people for whom their riding is important. So over the years they have accumulated diaries, touring logs and training schedules that recorded their daily trips and tucked them away in a cupboard somewhere, until somebody says “have you heard of the 300,000 Mile Club?”
Dad was exactly one of those, and I was there when the idea was seeded in his head. Back in 1999 when I worked at CTC we conceived a publicity stunt for BiketoWork day where I would ride from my then home in Cardiff to our offices in Godalming, exactly 100 miles in a day, accompanied by a few friends, including my very fit Dad.
As part of the publicity we invited CTC members who lived along the route to ride for at least part of it with us. While crossing between Cheltenham and Marlborough a sprightly gent on his immaculate bike spun out of a side road and joined us, none other than CTC and Audax character Neville Chanin. He was a bit of a legend in the club scene at that time, not only because he rode huge distances every year but he was a hilarious raconteur who could entertain for hours with tales of his trips and rides.
As we rode together we chatted and he said
“I thought I would make it a bit of a special occasion”.
“Thanks” said I, thinking he meant my ride.
“Oh no”, he corrected, “Not for you, for me”
And then he went on to explain that about ten miles down the road he was going to reach his half millionth mile and he wanted to celebrate it with some company. And so we duly stopped a short while later and Neville insisted on a photo with the Cyclists’ Touring Club Director to mark the occasion.
As he told me “It all started on my 12th birthday when my uncle gave me a cyclometer and a Cyclists’ Touring Club membership”.
He had faithfully recorded his annual mileage ever since.
Absorbing every word was Geoff who then chatted to Nev along the ride and heard about the 300,000 Mile Club. When he went home and shared the story with his mates they suggested “you must be close to that Geoff” and the quest was started.
Almost in honour of Nev the mileage point for Geoff’s half million was celebrated exactly on Lower Road, Rockland St Mary, Norfolk and he and I recreated the handshake.
There could be a postscript to this story where I offer my opinion that these riders like Neville and Geoff are throwbacks to a different era and we will never see the like again. However I have a strong suspicion that exactly the opposite is true.
Firstly extreme challenge cycling is on the up, with events like the new European Transcontinental joining the Race Across America and around the world all sorts of challenges are selling out quickly. The fact that the world annual distance record was smashed last year for the first time in 75 years is part of a pattern, not an isolated incident.
Secondly we are recording more. First there were electronic cycle computers, now even I, who has never recorded an annual mileage in his life, am using a GPS on Sundays and I can tell you I have ridden 2,312 kilometres since I started logging onto the Belgian BiketoWork web site as part of a commuting campaign. And for some people who are obsessively using tools like STRAVA the distances must be growing rapidly.
This future hasn’t completely reached the 300,000 Mile Club yet, but I have little doubt that this will change soon as the new generation of half million milers comes along. No doubt there will be a web site and social media tools in coming years.
But for now I salute that slight sense of eccentricity that provoked some cyclists in a generation to ride the miles and keep the diaries – and of course congratulations to Dad on his achievement.
Oh, and by the way, you don’t need to ask “how did you get into cycling?”, but I can assure anyone reading that I am unlikely to become a member of this club – put me down as closer to the Dutch commuter than the record breaker.