Simon Usborne: 'One man was spotted panting his way up Ditchling Beacon on one of Boris’s clunky London hire bikes'


This was the week I was supposed to write about taking part in The Independent London to Brighton ride, this newspaper's first foray into the world of charity sportives. Yet, at nine o'clock on Saturday morning earlier this month, as the last of 400 riders pointed their wheels south from Battersea Power Station to the south coast, I was backpedalling in the direction of my bed. I'd left preparations to the last minute, and had failed to notice a broken spoke – the victim of rough handling on a recent flight to Ireland. The snap ruled me out, but there would be no excuses for the hundreds of riders who braved the morning rain to push themselves and raise money for children's charity, Action Medical Research.

Among the cyclists to line up for the 56-mile spin was a contingent from 'The Independent', most of whom sported nervous smiles. Tim Walker, or 'High Street Ken', our intrepid gossip columnist, swapped his Biro for a bicycle for his first bash at a proper ride. He made the distance but it showed; he returned to work hobbling with the effects of a slightly strained seating area.

Gail Edmans, a hardcore athlete from our advertising department for whom a ride to Brighton barely constitutes a dash to the shops, added to the challenge by rocking up on her fixed-gear bike. It's hard enough to climb with only one gear – and there are some decent hills on the route through Surrey and Sussex – but when that gear's fixed, there's no let-up on the way down, either, when tired legs are forced into a blur like Road Runner's as he escapes from the Coyote.

'The Independent' was hugely grateful to the non-journalists who donned waterproofs and smiles to make up the majority of the field. In total, riders raised £35,000 for Action Medical Research and were rewarded with feed stations and excellent support. So shame on me for my no-show. Arguably, a spanner in the spokes wasn't an excuse at all – I got a text during the ride to say a man had been spotted panting his way up Ditchling Beacon, one of the cruellest climbs in England, on a Boris Bike, one of the clunky hire bikes now swarming the streets of central London. I suppose I could have done that, I replied. And then I had another little snooze. Next year. See you there.;