It’s a Gorge-ous way to discover the joys of cycling

All smiles ahead of the Get Gorge-ous training ride. From left (back): Julia Shahin, Deborah Germaine, Jane Allen, Jane Hopkins, Claire Tidman, Jane Wells. Front: Liz Daniels, Francoise Grimshaw.

It’s a Gorge-ous way to discover the joys of cycling

Francoise Grimshaw will dedicate the toughest bike ride of her life to the memory of her late sister when she pedals up Cheddar Gorge as part of a 50-mile cycling challenge in July. For 75-year-old Jane Hopkins, taking part in the event is more a case of proving that age is no barrier to cycling.

Francoise and Jane are among nearly 80 people who have discovered – or in many cases rediscovered – the joys of cycling after signing up for the 2016 Get Gorge-ous Cycle Challenge.

The popular event, organised by Cycle Bristol CTC, invites adults of all abilities to get on their bikes for a 50-mile ride from Bristol to the Cheddar Gorge and back.

Those lucky enough to get a place are building up their strength, skill and stamina with a series of led training rides over five months ahead of the big day on Saturday, 2 July.

The first of those training rides was held in early February, covering five miles. By the second week of April, the distance had risen to 20 miles – and Tony Upfold, Cycling UK’s Communications and Media Officer, joined a group of eight riders to find out more about the Get Gorge-ous challenge, the people involved and what has motivated them to take part.

After meeting at the Fishponds Fish statue about four miles north-east of Bristol city centre, we set off along the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path – with Cycle Bristol CTC club secretary Liz Daniels leading the ride.

As we branched left to head towards Yate, Francoise Grimshaw explained how her sister will be in her thoughts when she takes on the challenge itself in just over 11 weeks’ time.

Francoise always rode a bike when she lived in Tarbes, in south-west France, but admits her cycling lapsed a little when she moved to England 18 years ago.

I registered for the ride in 2011 but didn’t do it in the end. I’m determined to do it this time in memory of my late sister Catherine.”

Francoise Grimshaw

She said: “In 2006 my sister Catherine died from cancer in the space of just three months. She was 49, five years older than I am, and was really fit. It really affected me badly.

“I got back into cycling about two years ago and it has helped. Now I want to do the Get Gorge-ous challenge for Catherine as well. I registered for the ride in 2011 but didn’t do it in the end. I’m determined to do it this time in my sister’s memory.” 

Francoise, who lives in Mangotsfield and works at the University of the West of England (UWE), added: “The training has been really nice and the social side is just as important. I want to get my husband out cycling as well and show him all the places we have discovered.”

Jane Hopkins cycled regularly until starting a family at the age of 23, then returned to two wheels in about 1990 and, living in the countryside outside Bristol at the time, used her bike to get everywhere.

Jane, who retired as a lecturer at the University of Worcester in 2014 and now lives in Kingsdown, said: “I’ve been using an electric bike since Christmas. I have arthritis and have had a hip replacement, and manual cycling had become too painful.

“I love the freedom of cycling and the electric bike is the best thing I have ever bought. I can now cycle further without having pain. I’m 75 and want to show that people who might be described as more elderly can still cycle. It’s good for you and I’m so much fitter than my peers.

“Get Gorge-ous appealed to me because I can do it now that I have a power-assisted bike. I wanted to get confident on the new bike and the training rides have been a perfect way to do it, with the 50-mile challenge at the end of it.”

A little extra power might not go amiss on 2 July when the riders tackle a 2.6-mile ascent through Cheddar’s dramatic limestone gorge – a vertical climb of nearly 500 feet. 

Also winding their way up the iconic Somerset landmark will be sisters Jane Wells and Claire Tidman – members of a family which has cycling in the blood.

Jane, who lives in Portishead, said: “My parents cycled into their 80s and dad was a CTC member. We’ve never felt we shouldn’t be cycling just because we have reached a certain age.

“We were a cycling family – we cycled as children, went on cycling holidays and then cycled to work. But I’m in my 60s now and hadn’t done any cycling for a while. You tend to lose your nerve a bit.

“A friend of mine – we go to an art group together – did the Get Gorge-ous ride a couple of years ago and I thought it was exactly what I wanted to do. So I signed up for it this year, along with my sister Claire and daughter Jess.

“The first training ride, in February, took us five miles round Bristol Docks. It was a bit of an eye-opener, I had never realised quite what was there. That’s the fantastic thing about going out on a bike – you get to see so many things that are virtually on your doorstep which you would otherwise miss.

“It is a great challenge – a 50-mile ride which includes the climb up Cheddar Gorge. And the name Get Gorge-ous is inspired, everyone asks you about it. The ride leaders have been brilliant and help you get back into it. I can really feel my stamina and muscles building up again.”

Jane’s sister Claire, who lives in Bristol, rediscovered the joys of cycling on holiday in France last year. She said: “I’d forgotten how much fun it was to get out on a bike. I realised how much I’d missed cycling, so I decided to take up the Get Gorge-ous challenge to push myself, get fit, see new places and meet new people.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, bearing in mind the family’s cycling heritage, Jane and Claire have a brother who runs a bike shop in Southampton.

Living next door to the Bristol and Bath Railway Path in Keynsham, Julia Shahin has used the popular cycle route many times. But, as she said: “You then think, where shall I go next?

“I had heard about Get Gorge-ous – I was on a Breeze ride and one of the ladies had done it before and said it was good. I had cycled 20 miles before on the railway path, which is fairly flat. So the hills on the training rides have been a bit of a shock!”

As the group enjoyed a welcome break from the rain, hail and chilly wind with coffee and cake at a café in Chipping Sodbury, Julia added: “It’s the first time I have been out as far as this on my bike. This area is really fantastic for cycle routes which take you to places you have never seen before.

“The scenery is stunning and changes so dramatically. Within an hour from home you could be cycling alongside the River Severn, or at Cheddar Gorge, or in Bath.

“There is the social aspect to it too, and it’s great to find a group of people who cycle at the same level as you – although I have to admit it’s been a bit cold on the training rides up until now!”

Jane Allen, a friend of Francoise Grimshaw who also works at UWE, was a volunteer helper (back marker) on the training ride and already knows what the Get Gorge-ous challenge is all about.

Jane, who lives in Fishponds, said: “I did the ride in 2011 as a complete novice cyclist. I was getting married at the age of 51, wanted to get fit and was hoping to join my new husband, Dick, who does a lot of cycling – although he was a bit too fast for me!

I have so much more confidence when it comes to cycling now thanks to the Get Gorge-ous Challenge. From being a complete novice cyclist when I did Get Gorge-ous in 2011, I now ride my bike every day to work – which is a 10-mile commute – and have done other long-distance rides.”

Jane Allen

“I was daunted just getting to the start of the first training ride. My husband had to help get me there. I couldn’t let go of the handlebars, couldn’t signal – but the training rides helped my confidence grow. The wife of my husband’s friend also did the challenge and became my cycling buddy. The whole thing was absolutely amazing.

“Six or seven of us now have a little ‘breakaway’ cycling group – all of us Cycle Bristol CTC members – called Got Gorge-ous! We go out on 20-mile coffee morning routes.

“I have so much more confidence now. I ride my bike every day to work – which is a 10-mile commute – and have done other long-distance rides, such as cycling to Salisbury with my husband.”

Deborah Germaine, who plays a key role helping to organise and promote the ride, said: “These individual stories reflect exactly what Get Gorge-ous is all about – getting people either back on their bikes or out cycling for the first time, and discovering how beneficial it is for your health, fitness and well-being.

“We provide loads of encouragement and practical advice. All participants need is a bike, determination and a sense of fun! We hope that having completed the ride, they will continue cycling regularly, be it to work, the local shops or for pleasure.”

Deborah moved to Bristol in 2009 and always wanted to join a cycle club, but had been previously put off by the perception of the ‘MAMIL’ road racing stereotype.

“Then I saw a flyer for Get Gorge-ous in my office postroom and thought it looked and sounded ‘normal’ and ‘for me’,” she explained. “It would also give me motivation to get back into cycling, having completed London to Brighton in 2007 when living in the Midlands.

“Since joining in 2009 I have been an active member – two years on the club committee and latterly part of the organising team for Get Gorge-ous in 2014 and 2016. I love cycling…oh, and cake!”

Ride Leader and Cycle Bristol CTC club secretary Liz Daniels echoes that final sentiment! Liz had cycled as a means of transport for many years but wanted to be able to do longer distances and explore further afield – so in 2011 she rode Get Gorge-ous. Since then she has been on various club trips in England, France and Belgium (and loved the cycling infrastructure over there).

We hold four training rides each weekend and will be building up to 25, 30 and 40-mile rides before the challenge itself. It’s really rewarding to see the riders’ fitness and confidence grow as each week goes by.”

Cycle Bristol CTC club secretary Liz Daniels

As part of the Get Gorge-ous organising committee in 2014 and 2016, and currently club secretary, Liz is heavily involved in Cycle Bristol CTC, which is a member group of Cycling UK and the biggest cycling club in Bristol – one of England’s eight ‘cycling cities’ – with just over 2,000 members.

Liz said: “It’s really rewarding to see the riders’ fitness and confidence grow as each week goes by. We hold four training rides each weekend and will be building up to 25, 30 and 40-mile rides before the challenge itself.

“As a club, we’ve been riding through the countryside around Bristol for over 100 years, so we know all the best routes, the best pubs, the best cafes, and all about cycling. We have bike rides every weekend organised by local people for local people.

“I should point out that I am also rather partial to cake and as a club member now know most of the good cafes within a 30-mile radius of Bristol!”

This is the fifth Get Gorge-ous Cycle Challenge since it was inaugurated in 2009 by Jane Chapman, Sally Pearson and Sue Hawkins, who also organised the event in 2010 and 2011. Well over 300 cyclists will have successfully completed the challenge by the time this year’s event is over.

Seven previous challengers have also become ride leaders – including Deborah, Liz and Bob Jefferies (2009 participant). They, along with club member Geoff Carter, organised the event in 2014 and this year.

Get Gorge-ous challengers need to have joined Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, after the fifth training ride to take part in the event itself – which is open to both men and women, with 18 men signing up out of a total of just under 80 riders this year.

Testimonials from two cyclists involved in Get Gorge-ous a couple of years ago show what a positive impact the event can have on people’s lives.

A lady called Sharon said: “I suffered a bad fall off a bike as a child and had never ridden again until buying a new bike for Get Gorge-ous in my 50s. Every aspect of riding made me nervous, even trying to work out how to use a bike lock for the first time! But if you feel like a complete novice, believe me, Get Gorge-ous will provide a hugely supportive cycling experience.”

And Alison T declared: “My impulsive decision to join the Get-Gorgeous challenge has been life-changing. As a graduate in my 50s I am now so much fitter, my asthma has improved and I absolutely love being out cycling in our beautiful local countryside.”

As for the lone male rider on this particular training ride, it’s fair to say I felt decidedly UnGorge-ous in such illustrious cycling company! Here’s to the big day itself…

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