The Rapha Festive 500 may sound crazy for many. Why would anyone cycle 500 km during the days when most only think about eating and drinking, with or without their family, friends? And during the coldest time of the year (Rapha is a British, Northern Hemisphere company, after all)?
Plenty of reasons, but I think George Mallory said it best:
People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.
— George Mallory, Climbing Everest: The Complete Writings
I had plenty of joy. And learned a lot, about myself, about the city that I live in (arguably, the finest on the planet), and about many other things.
580 km may seem a lot for some, but if you look at the map below (which doesn’t even show all of London), you realise there’s still so much left.
I’ve been cycling since I was ten and always loved exploring on a bike, especially after moving – this is the fifth city that I live in. However, due to work-related and personal reasons, I was bike-less for the first three years here (I did have a Cycle Hire subscription though, but rarely used it). I did walk a lot, and, as a freelancer, was lucky to work in many different areas, so I got to see a lot of the city. I still don’t understand why most Londoners, especially those born here, rarely go outside their home / work areas. London is an amazing city with so much to offer. Even before the start of the challenge, I knew I’d have plenty of things to see & show, to myself, my family, friends, and any other good souls reading this.
While ‘per pedes’, Brompton had been on my mind for a good while, mostly because I don’t have much space at home, and having owned another foldable before (besides a MTB), I knew it’s the best by far. I managed to buy the speedier version in the summer of 2013. I did worry about the small wheels and tried it a few times, but I quickly got used to it, and happily got back to cycling. It’s such a great, fun bike, it made sense to use it for the Festive 500, especially as I thought it’d make the whole experience a bit more impressive. I wonder if anyone else did it on a foldable, shame Strava doesn’t have the option of sorting results based on bikes as well.
Last but not least, Rapha made me cycle so much more during 2014. I don’t remember how I learned about them anymore, but among my first purchases were a merino crew neck tshirt and a shirt from their City collection. I was glad to see ‘normal-looking’ clothes designed with cycling in mind, as for me, lycra only makes sense for pros, or those really cycling at a similar level. Not for most others, the mamils, as they are called (this cartoon by Mark Knight sums it up really well). Anyway, the tshirt’s fit and material felt so great, it was one of those rare ‘I’m not taking this off, just remove the label’ moments (I was later amazed to see what a difference it makes to wear wool instead of cotton while riding).
A few more similar experiences with several of their products (disappointments with other brands), plus small details like labels with inspiring stories, the fine logo, great photography, writing, and I was hooked. I often placed my winter gloves near my bed in the evening, so I’d get excited and go out for a ride even if the mornings were getting darker and darker. That, in my book, is what an inspiring product (brand) is all about.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
‘The worse it looks, the more I smile’ — I wrote & drew this some time ago for my Drawriting personal project. I think it works very well for cycling too. Sure, it’s nice to ride in good weather, but there’s something different about the satisfaction you get when you brave the elements. I know this very well from years of skiing, sometimes in blizzard conditions, my brother and I the last on the slopes. Even so, I did fail to see things this way towards the end of my last ride, after I got the puncture. Too tired, maybe, but still a good lesson to learn, I hope.
Just as well, cycling at night is a lot better than I thought (with good lights, of course). Unlike during the day, when you can easily get distracted, at night, it’s just you, the bike and the road (especially if there’s little or no traffic). You can reach a state of ‘flow’, when you barely think anymore, your body just moves seamlessly. Meditative, in a way. Add rain and wind to darkness and you get a serious challenge, one that will leave you overjoyed for a long time once you beat it.
There’s no way to really put in words how happy I was some of the days, so I’ll just move on. I knew it, but it was good to confirm it yet again: I love London and I really doubt I could ever get bored of it. I’m hoping to cover a lot more of the map above in the new year.
I also realised that I really should get a bigger bike. The Brompton is great for short to medium distances and in the city, but it takes a lot of effort on longer rides, especially outside the city. Riding from London to Brighton for example (110 km, with plenty of hills), is not impossible, but far from easy. And sometimes you just want to give it everything you have, thighs burning, moving as fast as it’s humanly possible. Bromptons are just not built for that.
With all this in mind, and because I live near Epping Forest and enjoy riding through it quite often, a cyclocross bike seems like the best choice. Btw, I only learned about CX bikes (their short name) from Rapha blog posts and products. I have my eye on a Genesis Croix de Fer, another British brand with a fine story (the current record for cycling around the world was done on a Croix de Fer).
Anyway, I can’t wait to get back on my bike, as soon as my legs recover a bit. Looking forward for the 2015 Festive 500 as well, hope it’ll be at least as awesome as the one done by these two guys, Salzburg500.
580 km — 1512 photos — 54 hours — 8 days.
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