Paris-Cambridge Cycle Ride in aid of Future Talent

 We knew of Future Talent before [the bike ride], as Nicholas Robinson, one of the charity’s founders, was my headmaster for five years, and is heavily involved with the choir at King’s College, where we are both choral scholars. And, as choral scholars, we count ourselves so incredibly lucky to have benefitted from a musical education, and the idea of being able to help kids across England have the same experience was a truly wonderful one…  All in all, the bike ride was a huge success. We raised over £2,500 for Future Talent, and completed a challenge nobody, not even ourselves, had backed us to finish. The memory of the trip will stay with me for a long time – I certainly won’t be able to walk past a Boris bike again without checking, forlornly, to see if it is number 35663, the bike that made it from Paris to Cambridge

The idea for this trip has been a long time in the planning – on a family holiday in the south of France back in 2014, driving up the famous slopes of Mont Ventoux, we passed countless cyclists all attempting one of the most notorious climbs of the Tour de France. As we drove, I remember thinking ‘wouldn’t it be hilarious if someone did this on a Boris bike…’, and the crazy idea never really left my head.

Last summer, a friend proposed that we did a long range bike ride, for fun, the following year. I immediately saw my opportunity, and rapidly hijacked the plan with my Boris bike proposal. Unsurprisingly, four of the five people bailed immediately, but one, clearly as misguided as me, thought that it was a good idea, and somehow it stuck.

We deemed Mont Ventoux a tad too steep a venture, but rapidly replaced it with an extension of the rather well-travelled Paris to London route – Paris to Cambridge, where we are both students. Before we had time to rethink, and realise the madness of our plan, we wrote to the Santander Cycles organisation asking if they’d consider lending us a couple of their splendid bikes for a week or two the following September. Much to our surprise, they said yes. Rather irritatingly, this meant that we sort of had to go through with it all. Ah…

As the months progressed, and we got ever closer to the start date we’d set ourselves of September 4th, we realised we should really start to actually make some plans. We devised a route (via Dover rather than Newhaven  – no mile cutting for us!). We worked out what we predicted to be our average speed, and thus the number of days it would take us (with only 3 gears and weighing over 23kg, the Boris bike was not going to make this a quick trip…!). We booked accommodation, we bought cycling gear, and dusted off our pitifully underused bikes to do some training. And we chose a charity. We knew of Future Talent before this, as Nicholas Robinson, one of the charity’s founders, was my headmaster for five years, and is heavily involved with the choir at King’s College, where we are both choral scholars. And, as choral scholars, we count ourselves so incredibly lucky to have benefitted from a musical education, and the idea of being able to help kids across England have the same experience was a truly wonderful one. It was decided – Future Talent it was.

With everything in place, all that remained was to actually do it, and on September 4th we set off for Paris, with two Boris bikes standing proudly atop the car. The next morning, bright and early, we made our way through Paris to the Eiffel Tower, and set off. Despite the countless funny looks we received from the rather confused Parisians we passed, we managed to make it out of the city intact, and soon found ourselves cycling merrily through the French countryside. The next three days passed in a blur of extremely painful hills, worryingly steep descents and mile upon mile of French fields, but somehow we made it to Calais, and 2 hours later had officially made it back to England. We were, it seemed, in sight of actually making it to Cambridge…

Soon enough, though, it became apparent that English roads are rather less peaceful than French – much busier and much faster, it became a case of ‘put our heads down and forget what sort of bikes we’re on’ – gears one and two didn’t get much of an outing here…! Two days later, though, and we’d made it through London, and sat just 45 miles south of Cambridge. We woke up the next day to a gloriously sunny September morning, and got on the bikes for the final time – we were almost there.

Six hours later, we hit the outskirts of Cambridge, and shortly afterwards turned on to the beautiful King’s Parade, where a crowd of friends and family were awaiting us outside King’s chapel. Paris seemed like an age away as we finally arrived, 318 miles down on bikes that are intended for journeys of no more than 30 minutes, and whose 3 gears are intended for nothing more than a gentle ride around Hyde Park. Posing for photos by the chapel, where we spend so much of our time during term, we couldn’t quite believe that this 2 and a half year old idea had not only come to being, but that we’d actually managed to complete it. Nick Robinson was also there to greet us, which was a perfect reminder of quite why we’d done what we had, and of the positive effects our efforts might lead to.

All in all, the bike ride was a huge success. We raised over £2,500 for Future Talent, and completed a challenge nobody, not even ourselves, had backed us to finish. The memory of the trip will stay with me for a long time – I certainly won’t be able to walk past a Boris bike again without checking, forlornly, to see if it is number 35663, the bike that made it from Paris to Cambridge.

- Sebastian Johns