Today Steven Abraham will begin his attempt to beat a year-long long-distance cycling record set in 1939. In a challenge that will take over his life his “job” for the next 365 days is to cycle at least 200 miles a day, every day. A challenge of a different sort faces Andrew Sykes: he has given up a secure life as a teacher in order to cycle full-time. He, too, will be riding long distances, but with bags on – he’s to set out on a cross-Europe cycle tour and write up the ride for a book. Today’s his first day as an ex-teacher: “I’m on my own,” he admitted.
Abraham won’t be alone – he has a back-up team of helpers, and is eager for others to ride with him, sometimes pacing him, shielding him from the wind. Such help (which will be sporadic at best) is within the rules and helped the previous record holder. Tommy Godwin’s distance of 75,065 miles pedalled in one year has long been thought unbreakable. It required dogged, focussed and steely determination but it also relied on a British road network less clogged with cars. Today’s road surfaces may be smoother but 200 miles per day – rising to nearly 300 miles per day in summer – will require careful planning and plotting to avoid stretches of road where Abraham’s record-setting will not warmly welcomed. In 1939 Godwin was feted as a hero and his ride was national news for much of the year.
Like Godwin, Abraham is sponsored by Raleigh. He will be riding a Raleigh Sojourn, an off-the-peg steel-framed touring bike. He’s also backed with donations from well-wishers. The attempt will cost at least £20,000. Sykes doesn’t have an overall sponsor. His new life as a freelance writer is self-funded. He plans to cycle from the southern tip of Europe at Tarifa in Spain to the most northern point of Norway at Nordkapp. The 5000-mile ride will take three to four months but unlike on previous trips when he had to be back at school at the end of summer for the start of a new term he now has no such deadline. This is both liberating and “daunting”, said Sykes. His previous cycle tours were written up for self-published books that, via viral recommendations, sold 10,000 copies between them. "Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie" of 2011 was followed up with “Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie” in 2014. Both were written while Sykes was a French teacher at Gillotts School in Henley-on-Thames. The third book, as yet unnamed, will be available in 2016, and will also be self-published.
His first trip was written up on a daily blog, and became a book after a suggestion from a colleague.
“I started to piece together my story on the computer. When the time came to return to work after Easter, the writing bug had bitten and almost every weekend in the spring and early summer of 2011 was taken up adding an extra couple of chapters to the story. By the end of June I had completed my first manuscript. I had written a book.
“I went through the motions of sending what I had written to literary agents but, unsurprisingly, there were no takers. A little disheartened I went onto the Internet to investigate the possibilities of self-publishing the book to discover that for almost no cost whatsoever I could do just that. Within weeks the book was beginning to sell as an eBook on Amazon and I found a print-on-demand publisher to make physical copies of the book. It was a steep learning curve but I set about marketing the book using online social media. Then the online reviews started to be posted and it was clear that I had found an audience out there. Many found the book inspirational. No one was more amazed that the book was selling thousands of copies than me.”
Abraham won’t have time to write a daily blog but his epic rides can be followed live, thanks to GPS tracking. This live feed shows that he had ridden his first 100 miles before 11am today; and finished the day on a total of 222 miles. To keep up with a monumentally punishing schedule he will have to ride for 18 hours each day, come rain, shine or snow.
Podcaster and touring cyclist Jack Thurston said Abraham’s “homespun endeavour” is “as crazy as it is beautiful.” He added: “It goes beyond extreme physical endurance. It’s an existential quest with shades of mysticism about it.”
BikeBiz wishes both Abraham and Sykes the best of British in 2015. Happy New Year!
Pic by Judith Swallow