From York to Leeds with 6 other guys slowly on a giant purple octopus.
I’d seen the information about the CoBi UK end-to-end Charity ride but only rose to the bait when I saw that another member of the Bromptontalk forum was taking part this week so the penny dropped that it was happening here, now.
An email from somebody called Sophie told me to be at York Railway Station at 9am on Friday, the route was short that day, around 24 miles, so it looked like an easy ride. The weather forecast said that day would be very wet with 11mm of rain, I packed some suitable clothes and changes of clothing and arrived at York around 8:30.
No sign of a circular 7-seater tricycle but I found a fellow stoker who had seen it go past the station on a trailer. Shortly after 9 we were joined by a third with a phone message that the machine was off being mended, then the minibus arrived to pick us up, a bit tight with a crew of 10 plus all their camping equipment and supplies and my Brompton. First stop was a small house where one of the previous day’s crew was providing breakfast.
Once the overnight campers had stoked up after a wet night on the ground we descended on Get Cycling, the cycling promotion organisation who own Miss Cobi, the 7-seater conference bicycle. Stripped of her mudguards with her complicated innards being prodded and discussed in full public view she was not, perhaps, at her most dignified but an impressive sight all the same.
Meanwhile we all got to play with the diverse range of interesting and downright silly bikes in the Get Cycling warehouse, including an amazing side-by side tandem two-wheeler, basically a normal bike with the riders sitting either side of the frame. Quite scary to ride but fun to watch.
This palled after a while and the repairs to universal joints and brakes were taking longer than hoped, so we headed for the sandwich shop for lunch. Meanwhile the weather lived up to its billing with several heavy downpours. Eventually, after some headscratching and tweaking over the rear brakes and a full set 0f new VW Polo tyres, the job was done. Some photos and we were ready to go around 3:15, not that long after our original ETA in Leeds at 2pm.
First job was to get Miss Cobi back to the day’s start point at York Minster. Guinness World records were prepared to create a record for a conference bicycle travelling from John-o-Groats to Lands End but we had to be meticulous to ensure that each day’s ride started where the previous one had left off. Local opinion was that it would be just as fast to pedal to the Minster as load it on the trailer so we set off.
We swung out onto the road, rapidly accelerating and the first dreadful secret about Miss Cobi emerged. She only had one gear! Just when you thought it was all going fine and time for the pilot to engage second gear it became clear that there was no second gear. Spinning madly we topped out around 7 or 8 mph. Her gears were chosen for the challenge of hill-climbing rather than speed on the level so previous remarks about the “all-day spinning class” from the old hands now became plain.
We cruised through York, rattling our collecting bucket to good effect, collecting smiles and waves from most of the passers by as well as hard cash, swung round in front of the Minster and headed off in the direction of Wetherby. It was after 3:30pm and we had a long way to go at snail’s pace.
On uphills the job was generally OK, there was some resistance to pedal against, the speed hardly dropped and we made good progress. Downhill we just free-wheeled and picked up a respectable velocity but most of the route was level and that was quite a problem. The most practical strategy was for individuals to spin ferociously for a few seconds, sufficient to get us up to maximum possible speed, then relax and somebody else would pick up the pace. The very low gear ensured that it wasn’t hard for one person to move it along. Spasms of manic pedalling and a painfully unsuitable saddle were mitigated by the social quality of the experience as we joked, told stories, discussed the passing scene and speculated on fanciful adaptations to the conference bike concept.
The reward for our late start was that the rain had all but stopped. We had a few spits of rain but nothing to justify wet weather gear. The downside was that, as we approached Wetherby, the rush hour was just getting under way and, on our way out of the town, we started to collect a huge tail of homebound commuters, unable to overtake because of the similar oncoming stream of vehicles. At least it was an excuse for a few stops to walk around and stretch our muscles but the biggest problem was finding suitable spots to pull off the road.
We began to encounter a few hills, not particularly tough to climb but they revealed Miss Cobi’s second secret weapon and redeeming feature, her inertia. 200kg of conference bike plus 7 riders is a fair weight and on the downhills, even the slightest downhill gradient, she would pick up speed and require no help from us. On the level at the end of a downhill, or even if there was an uphill to follow, she would keep plowing on at a good speed for a remarkable time, breasting one hill with no assistance from us where an ordinary bike would have lost momentum half-way up.
The last 7 miles into Leeds was increasingly easy. There were some uphills but none requiring hard effort apart from a short section up onto the flyover over the A1. These climbs gained us the altitude we needed for a fast cruise into the city, mostly freewheeling with a scary rising rattle from the 14 universal joints as we sailed downhills, top speed clocked by the support bus was 32mph. Lots of cheers, horn honking and waving from passers by and we sailed into the city centre which might have been a traffic nightmare earlier in the day but at 7pm was an enjoyable cruise with some early evening Friday revellers to cheer us on.
At the railway station we stopped for photos before loading Miss Cobi into her trailer. Just when four of us were about to head into the station for trains home the first of the following day’s stokers appeared. Everybody was pleased to be going for a night in a sponsored Hilton Hotel bed just down the road and another hotel promised for Manchester, must have seemed pure luxury after camping out for nights on end.
Getting on my Brompton to cycle away was astonishing. High gears and longer cranks felt completely strange, my soreness from Miss Cobi’s very basic saddles was less of a treat. I’m glad I did my bit and have nothing but admiration for Ed and Jack who have pedalled their demanding mistress day after day since the beginning of the month and still have two weeks to go.