Tom and Charlie helped to set up the Big Boys Bicycle club in 2014. The club is an invitational group of riders who enjoy beer and cake as much as power outputs and strava segments. They are based in London and spend most of their riding time heading out into the surrounding countryside. They will be taking over our Instagram account for the next four days.
When did you start riding?
TO I always had a bike when I was a kid growing up. I had a Raleigh Demon as a hand-me-down from a friend. And then I got a Giant Boulder mountain bike. But then I got hit by a car while riding when I was ten and it really freaked my mum out, the Boulder was totally destroyed and she wouldn’t let me have another bike. I didn’t start riding a road bike until I moved to London in 2012 – I used it to commute on then quickly got more and more sucked into it.
CW I learnt to ride a bike on the family farm in Surrey in the 90s, but barely rode more than 200 yards around a barn until I caught the cycling bug in 2011. A couple of fairly serious injuries left me out of shape and needing some action, and watching the 2011 World Championships won by Mark Cavendish on the TV made me think “wow that looks fun, maybe I’ll buy a bike.” So I did. And it was.
What bike do you ride or ride the most?
TO I only have one bike. The frame is yellow, made of steel and was made by Decathlon back in the 90s sometime. Most of the other stuff on it is black, so we call it the Wasp. I ride it for touring, road rides, commuting to meetings in London. It is the ultimate all-purpose hack.
CW I’ve got a Canyon Ultimate Al 9.0 that’s on the brink of clocking it’s 10,000th mile after two and a half years and a Mango fixie that is perfect for the London commute, particularly through the winter.
Is there anything special about your bike?
TO The thing has a mind of its own! Within our group of riding buddies it’s a running joke that the Wasp is basically the worst bike in the world. When I’ve leant it to friends it has always performed extremely badly – the back wheel slipped free of the dropout once while my friend Adam was riding it, which obviously just brings the bike to a full and immediate stop. It always breaks down. Every mechanic who has ever seen it has basically condemned it having only a short time left before it fails catastrophically once and for all. But despite all that it’s still going strong. I maintain you just need to know how to coax it into life.
CW It fits. Having spent the first three years of my road biking life on a nice-looking but slightly-too-big Bianchi, having my Canyon properly fitted when I bought it was the best thing I’ve done. Being able to ride for 7 hours in total comfort is pretty special.
Have you got a favourite ride or place to ride and why?
TO I’ll always have an affinity for Regents Park. When I got the Wasp I used to go to Regents in the centre of London and ride laps for an hour or two, at least twice or even three times a week. It’s flat and boring, but there’s something meditative about just turning your brain off and sticking yourself in the paincave. Now, the BBBC goes there quite often on Wednesday nights for our weekly group ride.
CW The South Coast of England has some great spots, particularly the lush green lanes near Brighton that include climbs like Steyning Bostal and Ditchling Beacon, both offering spectacular views inland. I also love riding in Devon, it’s all up and down but there’s no shortage of great views to keep you going, and cream teas go hand-in-hand with cycling.
What is the most amazing thing you have done on a bike?
TO The first time I went touring with my bike I flew out to Santander in Spain and went off along the north coast. I went up into the mountains to watch a stage of the Vuelta a Espana (the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France) and then trundled over to the coast. It was spectacular.
CW I’m yet to hit the continent properly (this summer will see an end to that), so the best riding experience for me to date was probably the NSPCC Tour de Yorkshire in 2014. It took place a couple of weeks after le Grand Depart and was a two-stage Sportive that included full service car support, motorbike cameramen, domestiques and some great riding around the Yorkshire Moors and Dales that made you feel (almost) like a pro for the weekend.
If you were to go on a cycling adventure where would you go?
TO Big picture, I’d love to do the route from Europe through Asia to the other end of the continent. A proper, epic cycle tour for months and months.
I’ve also been reading a lot about micro-adventures lately, getting really obsessed by this idea that you can cram something amazing and adventurous into the working week – as a way of breaking up routine. The concept is you leave your desk at work as normal at 5pm on a Monday or Tuesday, then ride off into the wilderness somewhere to camp for a night, then get up early in the morning and head back into town. Shower at the gym or office and you’re good to go. Everyone around you has just been to their house and back – maybe been out to eat or for a drink, but you’ve done something freaking remarkable in that time.
CW I always tell myself that when I win the lottery I will up sticks and head east armed with a bike, some panniers and no constraints on time or money. That may not happen. I think if I could go anywhere and had to pick one area I’d go for Patagonia. The scenery looks spectacular and it’s hard to picture anywhere being better suited for a bicycle based adventure.
Why do you ride?
TO It all started in a very utilitarian fashion. I hated spending £30 per month on a ticket to use the London Underground network, which is a hateful, unnatural warren of tunnels beneath the ground. So I got a bike to commute on instead.
Since then it has consumed my life. I use the bike to get places, to stay healthy. I think a good solo ride is great to clear the head. In the BBBC we always joke now that cycling makes up 90% of our social life – so if you get injured it’s absolutely terrible because not only can you not exercise, but you also can’t see your mates.
CW I assumed I would fork out on that first bike and then be done with it within a couple of months. Fortunately, from that very first ride I was hooked. The speed, the freedom, the convenience and the sheer enjoyment were like a drug. Five years on, it’s still faster than the tube for getting to work, not to mention cheaper, I can escape to the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere after work and still be home in daylight and there’s always a good group of mates at hand up for a ride any day of the week. Add in some great coffee along the way and the license to eat way more cake than I should be allowed and you’ve got a pretty compelling case for riding.
How do you feel when cycling?
TO Fricking awesome! My favourite quote is by an author called Jet McDonald, who says, “The bicycle is a retrograde sensation machine – transporting you immediately into the realm of smell, sound, sight, touch, taste and balance, engaging with the resonant particles of life like a whisk in a bowl of raspberry juice.” How good is that?
CW It is genuinely liberating. Each ride begins with a blank canvas and you then have the time from then until you return home to create whatever you want upon it. It can be fast or slow, hilly or flat, solo or social. There’s no formula for a great ride, but any combination of those six factors can result in a great day out. One of my favourite rides last year involved 7 miles of cycling, 3 ice creams and a two hour nap in a field overlooking the South Downs. It was awesome. I didn’t put it on Strava.
Have you got a favourite view?
TO The view from the Snake Pass back towards Glossop is a favourite. The Snake runs out of Glossop (my hometown) towards Sheffield. I love the climb and looking back over the town I grew up in gives me the good vibes. I also went mountain biking in Romania in May this year and we went up to the top of this 1,900m mountain ridge. The view from up there was pretty spectacular. And Andorra is also incredible for views. It’s like a whole world built in the clouds. And Bolivia! The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is just totally ethereal. Another planet.
CW Box Hill may be too popular for it’s own good sometimes, but the vista from the viewpoint on a clear day is always spectacular looking to the south. Steyning Bostal is another great spot down on the South Coast and the area around Blackpool Sands, Torcross and Slapton in Devon is stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Galibier and Croix de Fer compare this summer.
How do you capture the views?
TO I just bought a Nikon D50 from a friend. It takes beautiful shots. Then there’s the ubiquitous iPhone, of course. I’m also trying to take lots of ‘mind pictures’ at the moment. It sounds ridiculous, but I have a terrible memory and I can feel myself losing moments forever. So if I’m ever aware that I’m seeing something really incredible, I actively tell my brain to ‘save’ it. It works, honestly.
CW Lugging a big camera around on a ride isn’t always a practical option, so it’s the phone for 95% of my ride pics. I’ve recently upgraded to a Nexus 5X which takes stunningly good shots and has been put to good use on the BBBC Instagram in recent weeks. I’ve also got a Garmin Virb action cam which has a really wide-angled lens which takes some pretty interesting shots on the go when I remember to take it.
Words and photos by the @bigboysbicycleclub