A couple of weeks back, I cycled 320 km. over three days, from Paris to London with a group of 70 people. This blog explains why we decided to challenge ourselves instead of just taking the Eurostar, as most sane people would have done.
The Event: Techbikers and Room to Read
The ride was organised by Techbikers, an organisation founded in 2012 as a means for the tech community to support charity, network and share ideas. Since its creation, over 400 professionals, including start-up founders, venture capitals and executives, have cycled thousands of kilometres to raise close to half a million euros. All the money raised during the rides goes to the charity Room to Read, which uses it to support literacy projects such as building schools and libraries in developing countries, primarily focused on children.
This proposition resonated deeply with me because of three reasons: Firstly, and most importantly, it provides an opportunity to support a charity focused on education, a topic very close to me. Secondly, it involves a challenging session of cycling, a sport I am quickly falling in love with. Finally, it provides a perfect environment by being surrounded by like-minded individuals from the technology and VC community.
The main drive to cycle from Paris to London was to raise funds to help literacy projects in developing countries, providing more opportunities for people who are born in places where access to education in general, and literacy in particular, are not widely accessible. In my case, thanks to many generous friends and family, I have managed to raise around 850£ so far. My final goal is 1,000£ and the fundraising page will still be open for a couple of days so feel free to help me reach my goal and support the Room to Read projects. Techbikers London-Paris 2019 as a whole has raised so far enough money to build eight libraries, improving the lives of thousands of people!
The Reason: Access to Education and Giving Back
I mentioned before that education is a topic close to my heart. In fact, I believe that access to education is one of the main factors to reduce inequality and other challenges in our world. Everyone, independently of where they are born, deserve to have access to excellent education.
During my lifetime, I have spent several decades in one form of education or another, from my school time to my BSc and MSc in Spain and my PhD in the UK. One fact that will not shock anyone, but that we might not entirely realise most of the time is that, once we use a truly global perspective, this situation is an anomaly. Most people in the world do not have the luxury of having a great education.
With the exception of the PhD, I was able to spend these many years preparing myself for my professional life with the certainty of a roof over my head and not having to worry about paying bills. I was fortunate to have been born in a country like Spain, where education is relatively cheap. I was also lucky to be born in a middle-class family where both my parents worked, had university degrees and were eager to support me during my studies as long as I study hard enough. They supported me until I finished my MSc and decided to move to London. I was 23 years old then, and I will be forever thankful for this as I am completely sure my career would not have been as successful as it is now without their help and support. Do not get me wrong, I did work hard during all those years, but it is an undeniable truth that, without being born where and when I was, life could have been much more complicated and difficult for me as an individual.
The Challenge: Cycling from Paris to London
The plan was to start in Paris, just in front of the Eiffel Tower and ride to London over three days, ending in a party at the Google Campus, after a brief victory picture in Greenwich. Each day, we were planning to ride around 100km (the total distance was 320km) with an average ascension of 1,000 meters per day. This was, by far, the longest cycle I had done in my life and a great challenge for myself.
The first day started with the chaos of leaving Paris as a peloton of 70 cyclists but we managed relatively well. At that point people began to mingle and you could hear the same phrases again and again as people were getting to know each other (e.g.,”Is this your first TechBikers?”, “What do you do?”, …). All of this while enjoying the stunning landscape of Normandie with its idyllic lakes and small villages protected by majestic castles where we enjoyed some of our best coffee and lunch stops. This was also the perfect time for many of us to push our message on social media to increase the amount raised for Room to Read. At the end of the first day, we all enjoyed a fantastic dinner and shared our experiences (both in life and in the ride) over some well-deserved beers. After all, we had ridden around 100 km, including a short but quite tough climb in the first village outside Paris. For the record, this first day on itself was already a challenge for many of the riders who had never done a 100 km ride before. I cannot stress enough how impressed and proud of those riders I am. The grit and mental power needed to ride 320 km when you have never done a long session before is amazing. By now, we have all been together, supporting each other during the ride, for hours and the conversations were already changing with cycling tips floating around and people introducing riders to each other for future professional collaborations.
The second day allowed us to appreciate even more the beauty of this part of France and to get a taste of the love for cycling from the French (note, this ride was during the Tour de France). When cars passed by our side, they did it always in the correct way, leaving a clear safe distance and more times than not encouraging us and smiling in a clear contrast to the UK drivers.
The French part of our adventure finished in Dieppe with hours to kill before jumping into the ferry to Newhaven. From the cycling point of view, I was very proud of myself, being (barely) in the head group where several of us helped each other having a great pace during some of the segments. One downside of the trip was the fact that I had three punctures and Jaime, one of the other Spaniards I met on the trip, had another two. Obviously, this started some comments and jokes about the Spaniards always having punctures. As many entrepreneurs do, we did not see this as a problem but as an opportunity to do several “chases” starting at the back of the group (because of the time it took to change the tyres) and pushing quite hard to reach the front. TechBikers is not a race, but I have to admit that I enjoyed some of those chases enormously as we were flying through France at more than 40 km/hr. At the ferry, we enjoyed some relaxation time that some used to sleep, others to talk and others like myself decided to play poker and lose some money. The good news is that all the money on the table ended up being a donation for another rider. All was going great, and then we arrived in the UK…
After some problems in the port with the vans and the lorry drivers, we made our way to the hotels and we started the last part of the ride the next day. Some of us have heard that today was the toughest day, and the comments were absolutely right. We had 107 km of ride left, with 1,500 meters of ascension, including the painful Biggin Hill. It was not long before we got some of the welcomings from the UK drivers, who not only were passing us very close at speed but also where shouting at us at times. To make things worse, we went from almost perfect roads to roads made of potholes. I have been living in London for the last ten years, but this day, I have to admit that I missed France.
All the riders, including myself, suffered throughout the day, with the several hills spread across the day, but it wasn’t until we reach Biggin Hill that all hell broke loose. We had to climb two km at an average gradient of 7% with a maximum of 14%. All of this, in a road full with (impolite and impatient) cars, after 2 days of riding and many previous hills on the same day. This was the true test for the riders, and there was nothing better than to see everyone in the next stop with a smile and a sense of achievement in their eyes because they knew, the worst was now behind us. After this, we cruised through South London, stopping in Greenwich for our victory pictures. Here it is when people realised what we have accomplished and that sense of achievement that we got a glimpse of after Biggin was again in the atmosphere, this time just stronger, because we had ridden from the Eiffel Tower, to Greenwich park. We were tired, but we were all thrilled.
After that, we took a boat and went to Google campus to celebrate in the most stereotypical techie way, with beer and pizza and we realised how quickly we had made friends and potential connections in just a few days. It is truly inspiring how powerful cycling can be to get people together. This was also the moment when we discovered that we have raised enough money to fund eight libraries and at that point we were ecstatic.
My Take Away
This was one of the best events I have participated in my life. We did something challenging for everyone, in order to help people get access to education, while enjoying cycling in a beautiful landscape and all of this surrounded by amazing and interesting people. I encourage any person to participate in some of the TechBikers events because it is truly a fantastic experience. I want to finish by thanking everyone, from the organisers who run a seamless event to the riders who made the experience unforgettable. I will see you all next year!