Representing Great Britain on the quirky fringes of sport...
I’ve always wanted to try a reach a level where I could perhaps represent the UK abroad in an official championships or international race. Cycling and running are obviously too competitive to be considered, so I needed to go to the quirky fringes of sport to find an event that I could compete in. The bi-annual Footbike World Championships were being held in Losser near Enschede on the German/Dutch border and this was my best chance of representing Great Britain on the international sporting stage.
I’ve yet to come across someone in Britain who scoots as much as I do. I use my adult micro scooter to go to and from the train station nearly every day. Wheel out my excellent Swifty Scooter for weekend adventures and own a Kickbike for long distance rides. My 85 mile scoot throughout North Wales on the Etape Cymru sportive in 2012 is still one of my greatest achievements and even put me on the front page of the Wrexham Leader and in Outdoor Fitness magazine!
Why do I scoot?
Scooting brings me a lot of joy and I like the feeling of gliding along without battling traffic as you would on a bike because you can legally use the pavement. The physical effort that combines cycling, running and rowing to propel yourself forward is great for overall fitness and the relatively low impact nature of the scooting motion means that riding a footbike is better on the joints than pounding the streets jogging.
Having to answer lots of questions about each of the scooters whilst out and about is part and parcel of scooting and I do not really like using the Kickbike in urban areas because the large front wheel and long frame make it an unusual sight to see in the UK.
I’ve lost count of the times that I have been asked whether I am riding a penny farthing or if I realised that I’d only bought half of a bike! At the World Championships, no such questions are asked as people from all over the world gather to compete against fellow scooter enthusiasts.
Footbiking is a serious sport in some countries with the Czechs, Finns, Russians and Dutch involved in local clubs and the Eurocup circuit of races. Some carbon versions of scooters can cost thousands of euros and the training required to hone the technique required for speed and efficiency is similar to that of a competitive racing cycling team.
Making my way up to Enschede via Wuppertal...
I signed up for the World Championships back in May and made suitable travel plans to get to Enschede in the eastern Netherlands. I booked a cheap flight to Cologne, headed up to Enschede with a detour to Wuppertal to ride on the famous Schwebebahn ‘suspended railway’.
My event wristband might have said ‘Athlete’, but I am definitely a railway enthusiast and lover of the journey more than serious competitor. I was staying at the De Fakkel sports hall close to Losser town centre and carried all of my sleeping kit in just my hand luggage bag.
The atmosphere in the sports centre was good with competitors from all around the world arriving into this small Dutch town for the weekend.
The guy next to me in the sports hall was an extremely athletic Russian from Irkutsk in Siberia near Lake Baikal and warmed up in the mornings like Ivan Drago in Rocky with a lunging routine that would have split me in half.
I struck up conversations with my other sports hall neighbour Guido Pfeiffermann who has completed some unbelievable Kickbike challenges including Canada ‘Coast to Coast’, Austria ‘South to North’ and Vienna to Berlin (582 km) in under 39 hours.
I also met up with Duane Phillips from Ireland who is a passionate Kickbiker and completed the 2500 km Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland on his now legendary ‘Irish Wolfer’ scooter. We scooted together along the Leeds to Liverpool canal towpath on a visit he made to Wigan earlier in the year.
Despite being a very niche activity, the Kickbike has been used to scoot the entire Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and around the world by several individuals. Many of these scooting legends had made their way to Losser to compete against each other and me; one of the few competitors ever to race a scooter from the UK.
The weekend was divided into three different races. I was unable to take part in the sprint competition as I was travelling on Friday. However, I would be able to compete in the Criterium street circuit race on Saturday morning and the 46 km marathon distance on the Sunday.
I picked up my Finnish brand Kickbike Sport from Vincent at Stepshop.nl and after breakfast in the sports hall, I headed out for a few trial laps of the 1.2 km km street circuit course around the compact town centre.
First race - the Criterium...
Instead of a completely smooth surface, I was surprised to find that the street race circuit was a mixture of paving stone cobbles, speed bumps that dragged against the bottom of the low clearance scooter and a few tight corners that would mean racing in close proximity at key points of the course.
I was due to set off in the 14.4 km Criterium at 12pm after the Ladies, Juniors and Masters races were over. There was not time left to worry about the upcoming race, but I knew that Sunday was the main event and I needed to come through the race without crashing, causing a crash or getting left too far behind.
I placed myself at the back of the field to avoid any potential clashes and lined up next to the other UK competitor – Ondrej who runs OP Scooters in the trendy London enclave of Crouch End. He set up the business based on his knowledge of the popularity of scooting in his native Czech Republic.
The front of the field quickly sped off and it was clear that my daily training sessions by scooting on an adult version of a micro scooter from my house to the train station were not enough.
Unlike cycling where a quick change of gear can generate a significant increase in speed, scooting is all self-propelled and if you have only ever been able to ‘kick’ at 25 km/h, then finding another 5 km/h on race day isn’t going to happen.
My fastest lap was the slowest in the field, but I was consistent enough with my average lap times to not finish last overall. I wasn’t too disappointed as my aim was to get through the Criterium unscathed. After the race, I headed off into Enschede city centre, hired a bike in Hengelo and stopped off at the Grolsch Stadium, the home of the top Dutch football team FC Twente.
In the evening, an impressive outdoor party was being held in a large open air theatre for all competitors and supporters. I found out more about the couple from OP Scooters and talked scooters with a nice couple from Hamburg whilst eating a selection of meats from the excellent BBQ.
I didn’t sleep much the night before the race as my inflatable camping mat was too small for my long legs and my portable pillow was as comfortable as resting on a brick. A loud thunderstorm hung low over Losser, but had the side benefit of cooling down the air temperature from 32 degrees to about 25 degrees on Sunday.
The big ‘marathon’ race day...
The race started at 1130 and after received confirmation that the distance needed to scoot would be just to complete the last lap after the winner had crossed the line. This meant that instead of scooting the full 46 km, I would probably only need to scoot around 35 to 40 km as I would be lapped once or perhaps twice based on my average speed overall from the Saturday Criterium.
I once again placed myself at the back of the field even though my number (61) would have given me a better stating position. Ondrej didn’t take part in the Sunday race, so I was the sole competitor representing the UK.
I was also wearing a retro Great Britain jersey from the 1994 Barcelona Olympics too. Chris Boardman wore the same version when he rode his iconic Lotus carbon bike. I was wearing mine for a scooter race in the provincial Netherlands.
The 5 km course was a mixture of the cobbled Criterium route, smooth tarmac and with a slight descent towards the German border for cruising. The weather was perfect and ideal for scooting with little headwind or blazing sun. The Kickbike G4 Sport proved to be a phenomenal machine and a joy to ride.
The extra course distance and surrounding space meant that I could easily swap legs and find a turn of speed. As in Formula 1 when the back of the field can provide more entertainment than the runaway leader, there was a thrilling battle going on between a group of us at the back made up of Italians, Czechs, Lithuanians and Dutch.
Thoughts from the race and overall experience...
I couldn’t keep up with the pace line in the beginning, but I knew that my fitness was stronger than most so could sustain a consistent speed of around 23 km/h for much of the race. I also didn’t need to stop for drinks and soon overtook my closest group of racers gaining places with every person passed.
The front field passed me twice, but to be honest, the winner; Adriaan Ringoir from the Netherlands was so far ahead of everyone else that he seemed to be out on a training run with the lead bike.
The race drew to a close and I was feeling good at the end. There were lots of tired faces around, but I felt like I could have done more. I am almost sure that if the race was a set distance, then I would have moved up the field based on consistency as I was only lapped for the second time less than 1 km from the line.
Either way, I wasn’t too bothered about my overall position and took part in the race to compete in a World Championships. Any thoughts of a top 10 or podium finish were shattered by my performance on Saturday and the speed of some of the international competitors who train week in week out.
I packed up my things in Losser, handed back the Kickbike to the rental company and continued on my short tour of the Netherlands up to the lovely university city of Groningen by train.
I am proud of my new found status as an international 'athlete', but I think I will stick to using the scooter for commuting and going along the canal rather than competing...