TORQ owner Matt Hart has been helping the inspirational William Tan get from Land’s End to John o’Groats in just 9 days on his hand bike with friends Peter and Alan. They went the pretty way, averaging over 100 miles per day with quite a few hills to get over. All proceeds go to Bloodwise to fight blood cancer.
The extreme time constraints and challenges the team had to deal with during their 9-day schedule from Land’s End to John o’Groats meant that they didn’t get to share much in the way of detail with you during their quest, so here’s a summary from TORQ owner Matt who reflects on this extreme and humbling trip and explains the idiosyncrasies of the power-sharing system he and Will used to reach their goal. Ironically, much of the footage is in the sunshine, because this is the only time the team could actually get their phones out to film and take photos:
“I think most of the team are speechless and probably find it rather difficult to articulate precisely how they felt during these 9 days. There were some amazing moments when the sun came out and we could look around us to see the magnificent UK countryside, with that unforgettable feeling of warmth as the sun’s rays penetrated deeply into our cores. There were truly great moments that will never be forgotten, but these were perhaps eclipsed by a schedule that we’d set ourselves, which on reflection was far too ambitious given that our task wasn’t simply to ride over 100 miles per day for 9 days, but we chose the ‘pretty way’ which added almost 100 miles to our trip overall, plus a significant amount more elevation, as well as our key objective, which was to work with Will, a disabled person, to help him succeed in the challenge too.
Will’s fitness and determination was simply incredible and on the flatter/downhill sections, it was often hard to keep up with him, especially if there was a headwind. This represented challenges in itself, because I refused to leave his back wheel, because his bike was so low to the ground that he would be left potentially exposed to the traffic without my being there. We fitted a very bright Exposure Blaze rear light to his bike and I had one on my bike until I lost it on Day 4. I then turned my Exposure Diablo backwards on my helmet in flash mode so that traffic could see us in the dire weather conditions. I was on a mountain bike too, so getting aero wasn’t easy, but given our schedule I wasn’t going to tell Will to slow down!
For the climbs, we had invented a power-sharing system based on the experience we’d had of cycling together in the past and by the time we got half way through the challenge, we had modified and perfected this system to the point that we could now highly recommend this set up to other abled/disabled partnerships in the future. The video below explains how the system works and you can see it in action too. It’s funny that it involved the use of a reinforced baked bean can and a length of dowel, but hey, it was pretty light weight, strong and it worked.
The biggest issue with this linkage system was the different ways in which a traditional bike and hand bike produce power. With a hand bike, both cranks are pulled down together, providing a surge in power with a prolonged dead-spot and this made a linkage between the bikes complicated. Initially, I thought that I could simply insert the end of the pole into the bean can on my bike and we could work together until I backed off the power at the top of the climb (where the pole would simply remove itself from my docking station. Unfortunately, every time Will performed a power stroke, the pole popped out of the can, so the system was next to useless. We needed something that would keep the pole in the can, but would allow the 2 bikes to separate in the event of an emergency. All was not lost, because I could simply grab hold of the pole and push Will one handed as I’d always done. I was also on a mountain bike with SRAM Eagle 12 on it, so I had much lower gearing than if I were on a road bike. This method was used regularly for the shorter climbs anyway, because it was often more comfortable, but the longer steeper climbs needed the special power-sharing system to work, or we would fail. This was finally resolved on Day 4, before hitting the Scottish Highlands, by inserting a screw into the top of the pole so that once the pole engaged with the back of the can, a section of inner tube could be stretched over it and this kept the pole in the can. It would also tear and release itself in the event of an emergency. Over the next 5 days, a variety of methods got us up the hills, but this system was essential for the steep climbs. We only failed on 1 or 2 sections of climbs due to the steepness of the hairpins, which were too tight for Will’s steering system. Will’s power stroke combined with my low gearing meant that we could get up anything, albeit slowly!
In terms of fitness, the team had it. Mine was pushed to the limit, simply due to the increased calorie expenditure compared to riding on my own. My knees also suffered and if it wasn’t for a special potion I got from Will (he’s a GP in Singapore), which I combined with arnica, it could have finished our challenge. Will’s disability means that he has no abdominal muscles, so cannot produce the power that other hand bikers can who don’t have his level of disability, but even so, his fitness and determination was remarkable. Both Peter and Alan who rode with us were pushed to their fitness limits too, which is what made this team to cohesive I think. No one was waiting for anyone – we were all just working our backsides off!
So, physically we were pretty much at our limits, so all we needed was some nice stable weather and a strong south westerly breeze to help us on our way. This wasn’t to be. We had beautifully sunny days on Days 2, 5 and 6, which we won’t forget. Day 3 was the wettest day any of us had ever had on a bike and the others weren’t much better. I think for me, this was the hardest part – dealing with the cold and relentless headwinds. On the last day we faced 9 degrees, rain and a 25mph headwind and we battled so hard to stay warm. Our schedule was so tight and we were so cold that we couldn’t stop for long, even when we wanted to rest. How much easier this challenge would have been if we could have stopped and sat at the side of the road in the sunshine every now and then. We were never afforded such a luxury – it was a relentless battle of attrition. I concluded that there were 3 components to succeeding in a challenge like this: Keep warm, keep moving and keep fuelling. Funnily enough, fuelling was the key. Without fuelling we couldn’t have kept moving and if we hadn’t kept moving, we couldn’t have kept warm. In terms of fuelling, we stuck to the plan (link below) and I’ve worked out that about 70% of our daily calories came from TORQ, because we had the TORQ Breakfasts, fuelled on TORQ products all day and the only deviation from this was a lean ham sandwich for lunch and our evening meal. We published our plan through the link below before we started and we stuck to it like clockwork and we always felt physically strong.
And finally, we had the mechanicals. We didn’t have a single puncture for the entire trip, which was remarkable. I have to thank Schwalbe for the supply of slick Marathon Supreme tyres for my mountain bike, which I made tubeless, so I was never going to puncture, but given the condition of some of the roads and the race tyres on Will’s bike in particular, it was incredible. On Day 1, which had fairly pleasant showery weather, we lost over 2 hours to mechanicals with Will’s bike, I crashed twice, being jousted off my bike by my own pole and we didn’t crawl in to our hotel until gone 11pm. Both Will’s gear cable and brake cable snapped on Day 1. The gear cable was so caught up in the shifting mechanism, it required surgical removal and his brake cable snapped, fortunately on a gentle slope, but this was terrifying all the same. Both cables went on to snap again later on in the challenge, but we were fortunately more prepared, although without the cable snips from a friendly BT man, Will would have been stuck in one gear until we met up with our support van again a couple of hours down the road at our scheduled stop on Day 6. The reason these cables snapped turned out to be because of the hand bike mechanism. The brake and gear pod rotate with the crank, putting strain on the cables – we would now recommend changing both cables every 200 miles for safety. Thank you to Fibrax for the supply of spare cables.
We did it though! Despite all the adversity, there could have been other factors like my knees packing in, or us getting multiple punctures or a mechanical that couldn’t be resolved that would have stopped us from getting to our destination, so we are so thankful for small mercies. Yes, it was really tough and seemed impossible at times, but it could have been worse. Will said that this was the hardest challenge he has ever done, so I’m bizarrely very proud to have been a part of that and I can concur that this was by far the hardest challenge I have ever done – something both Peter and Alan would agree also. At the forefront of my mind during this challenge was always the adversity that Will has experienced in his life with both his disability and then blood cancer and this is what kept me going. What right did I have to complain? He is a truly inspirational human being and an example to us all. If you’re ever feeling down in the dumps, think of Will – even better, think of Will struggling into a headwind and driving rain on his way to John o’Groats.”
Thank you to everyone who has donated so far to this fantastic cause to fight blood cancer and if you have yet to donate, no donation is too small, so please click on the link below and help us rid the world of this terrible disease:
Thank you also for all of your supportive and sympathetic comments as we fought the elements.
To read our story and reasons for partaking in this challenge, click on the link below:
Finally, thank you to those who joined us on sections of our journey – you helped us hugely with your support and encouragement – and thank you once again to Dave, our volunteer driver, without whom we could never have achieved this.