Singletrack Issue 121: Jason Miles

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Jason Miles

Your big ride. Is it pure?

Jason rails against the self-appointed, solo bike ride Council of Elders.

I remember a couple of years ago, I threw my hypothetical hat into the imaginary ring and tried to put my name on the start list of a self-supported, long-distance, bikepacking race. It was somewhere in Scotland. Probably not the one you’re thinking of. 

A few months before that I’d got into a bit of an internet forum ‘scrape’ in which I’d had a silly argument about how a friend’s big ride had not been included on some obscure league table of completion times on that route by a self-appointed governing body of big bike rides. The reason was that I assisted this friend by driving a van from the start of the ride to the end of the ride and generally kept an eye on him at various points along the way. Mainly the bits where the trail crossed a road. More to give me something to do and a chance to take photos, rather than as a safety measure.

The point was, this friend of mine just wanted to complete the ride. I don’t think he was even aware of the enshrined list of completion times and I wanted to drive the van simply because he asked me to and I knew how important it was to him. We’re mates. I’m not going to say no. 

He was aiming to ride the whole route in about 24 hours (mainly because he only had a limited amount of time off work), which he did and I, along with hundreds of other people via the magic of social media, was dead impressed, but some people obviously decided that they had to adjudicate and declare this particular big bike ride a waste of time and effort because it was in contravention of The Rules and I thought that was somewhat lacking in good grace. We all know how easy it is to get drawn into a full-scale row on the internet. But one must make one’s point. 

Anyway, back to me putting my name down for this bikepacking race. I was told to sod off, basically. It seemed that my very involvement in the Self-Supported Big Ride Law-breaking ride, the subsequent internet skirmish and to some degree, my prior preoccupation with following course tape and arrows for 24 hours at a time meant that I simply wasn’t made of the right stuff. The fact that I’d argued the toss over what my mate’s intentions were and why we were out there, defiling the big bike ride rule book all those months ago and that I’d questioned the very existence and validity of a Governing Body of Big Bike Rides meant that I’d made actual, real-world enemies. It’s like I was about to be stoned to death for uttering the word ‘Jehovah’. 

To resolve the situation I did what I normally do, reacted in a quite childish manner and told this someone to shove their event up their chuff and then did something else which probably involved course marking tape and arrows instead. 

Massive great big rides are fantastic, and they seem to get bigger and dafter with each passing day. No sooner have we finished congratulating and marvelling at the achievements of the latest idiot who’s ridden their bike across such and such a continent for the past two weeks without any sleep when some other fool pops up with an even more stupid idea. Not been chased by wild dogs in a Third World country after riding 200km and spending the night in a cave? You’ve not lived.

Does anyone really ride harder if they know there’s someone ten miles ahead in a vehicle? Does anyone ride more carefully if they know they’re alone? I’m not so sure. I ride how I ride, and I don’t tend to think too much about what I’m going to do if I crash in the middle of the countryside. I’ll take some precautions – I’ve got a mobile phone, some food and a space blanket – are those enough of an encouragement to ride harder than I would do if I didn’t have those items? How about riding with a SPOT tracker? Those seem to be allowed but does the fact that everyone in the world with an internet browser can see where you are mean that you’ll cast all caution to the wind and somehow reach your destination sooner? 

If someone wants to ride a route completely solo then good on them. But we can’t expect everyone to ride the same route on their own or without their dad waiting at the end to drive them home. Some kind of Bike Ride Taliban claiming that some sort of rule has been broken, one ride is worthier than another (or in some extreme cases that I’ve seen, isn’t even a valid effort at all) is just plain rude. Fair play to the tough guys and gals who do things totally unsupported, but to pour scorn on others who prefer to have a lift home from the finish arranged or to have someone looking out for them is ridiculous. 

We’ve got enough rules in our lives, ta very much. A big ride is just a big ride. Who started all of this nonsense anyway?

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