SACA Birmingham to London Bike Ride

The SACA Charity Bike Ride is a yearly event that sees hundreds of fundraisers cycling 130 miles from Birmingham to London over two days, raising money for a number of children’s charities.

This year, all proceeds raised by the riders will go to SACA’s Home From Home at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which provides comfortable accommodation for the families of sick children receiving residential cancer treatment at the hospital.

This worthy cause combined with some persuasion from my friend Chris, who’d taken part in the 2015 ride, convinced me to sign up despite my middling level of fitness.

I’ve been cycling now for 3 years, mainly for commuting purposes – 15 miles a day while I was living in London, 6 miles a day to and from the station now I live in Stevenage – but I’ve never cycled much further than that, even though I’d been keen to do more.

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Being a casual cyclist, competing in a race would be a step too far, too soon, so this fun charity ride was the perfect starting point for me to move into longer distance rides. The SACA event is definitely more of a fun ride than a competitive one, with an emphasis on community spirit and fundraising, in a friendly family atmosphere, rather than a hardcore fitness event.

The ride itself, which costs £50 to enter, begins at Smethwick Guru Nanak Sikh Temple on the Saturday morning with the London-based riders (like myself) bussed up from Southall and Ilford the night before.

Breakfast is provided at the Temple along with bike checks from Cycle Training UK’s Dr. Bikes, hi-vis vests, a health and safety briefing, and a warm up session with the ride’s medical team before the bikes and the convoy of support vehicles set off at around 8am.

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To give you an overview of my set-up, I have a B’Twin Triban 500 SE that I picked up from Decathlon for £300. I upgraded the tyres to Continental Gatorskins to try preventing punctures, but the rest as it was when it left the shop. I don’t do cleats – yet – and my pals at Global Cycling Network provided me with their Core bib shorts, jersey, and hat, which meant I was well kitted up for the journey.

From there it’s a 100 miles to Luton, our destination for the night’s stop over. The ride is conducted at a leisurely pace due to the varying ages and fitness levels of the participants who range from lycra-clad cycling-nuts on super-expensive bikes, to teenagers on mountain bikes, and middle-aged blokes in jeans and flip-flops on hybrids, but the pack quickly spreads out once we hit the road and I was soon able to find a tempo that suited me.

My pace seemed to keep me just behind the leading pack which was a nice surprise considering my own perceived level of fitness. I had trained steadily leading up to the ride, putting in around 50 miles a week on Stevenage’s plentiful cycle paths, but it seemed like my hill-climbing abilities were better than most on the ride and I found myself getting ahead by overtaking on the hills.

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Being at the front of the pack gave you the advantage of having longer to rest at the many stopping points along the route. With it being a group activity, the ride stopped and waited for all the cyclists at every rest point along the way where the local Sikh communities provided food, drinks, and support.

My one complaint would be that there were probably a few TOO many stops – one every 10-15 miles – the longest stretch was around 16 miles – but the ride must cater for the less-experienced bikers as well as the seasoned ones, so it was only fair. There was never a shortage of conversation, food, drink and music at each stop though so it provided a good time to socialise and meet the other riders.

For me, the best stretches along the first day’s route were in the middle from Rugby up to Milton Keynes along the A5 where there were some huge inclines and long sections where you could really pick up some pace. The lunch stop at Daventry felt like a particular milestone following a particularly grueling segment that was uphill most of the way.

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Organisation-wise, I can’t really fault SACA. There were plenty of ride marshals on bikes, a handful on motorbikes and quads, plus ambulances, support crews, support trucks, and even a speaker wagon blasting out music along the way with a seemingly unlimited supply of water, energy drinks, oranges, bananas, crisps, samosas, and incredible spiced tea at every stop.

There were a few wrong turns along the way, mainly due to the cyclists being fairly spread out (and Milton Keynes’ seemingly endless roundabouts), but everyone arrived safe and sound in Luton by around 8pm at night. The local temple provided accommodation for riders willing to sleep in the temple overnight and the local council also offered free use of the community swimming pool and sauna, but Chris, Bas (the other guy in our group), and I headed to the Premier Inn for a beer and a Five Guys instead.

The second day is much more relaxed with only 35 miles to cover by 2pm. After an amazing breakfast at the Luton Temple, all the riders set off for London at around 9am.

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The ride was taken a much more leisurely pace on day two due to the road conditions that became more urban as the day wore on. One big hill at Elstree caused problems for some riders (including Chris who suffered with hamstring cramps and had to walk the final stretch) but I found myself amongst the first dozen or so riders to reach the peak so I was fairly happy with that.

After that, there were a few hairy roundabouts coming into Southall but we finally reached the finish line at around 2pm. From there SACA leads a parade of the cyclists down Southall high street where charity buckets were rattled and money was collected from local businesses for the charity, before reaching our destination at Southall Park where we collected our hefty finishing medals.

Overall it was a great experience, albeit not a very physically challenging one (well, for me who’d trained anyway, I’m sure Chris and Bas would disagree), but it was great to meet lots of new people and see some of the countryside along the way. Next year I may be tempted to just do day one, as there was a lot of waiting around on the second day, but I’ll definitely be signing up for the 2017 ride, after all, it’s all for a great cause.

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For more info on the Birmingham to London Bike Ride, head on over to the website here.

Picture Credits: Sarbjeet Bhambra