Kickbiking the Etape Cymru
About the Kickbike...
The Kickbike is an unusual piece of equipment. It looks like a bike with the large front wheel, brakes, but is actually a scooter and has no other moving parts except the wheels and handlebars. It is actually more practical than a bike because you can just step on and off and you can use the Kickbike on the pavement.
I bought my Kickbike off of eBay for £50 and collected it from Northallerton where the previous owner used the scooter to go from the campsite shop to his holiday caravan in Spain! On the way back, a group of lads on a stag do ribbed me constantly saying 'Where are the pedals mate?' amongst other cheeky gems.
Kickbikes are a popular method of urban transport in Finland and also a competitive racing sport in places like Germany and the Czech Republic. In the UK, they are virtually unheard of, so every time I use the scooter around Manchester, it is a real head-turner, often leads onto a few intriguing questions and requests for a go. To be honest, I don't like using it that much in busy places as it is so unusual and often head out to old railway lines converted into cycle paths to 'kick away'.
Entering the 2014 Etape Cymru...
Since owning the Kickbike, I have been up Cragg Vale, England's longest continuous road in West Yorkshire and was featured in the 2014 Tour de France, the Great Orme in Llandudno, the Wirral Trail and the Tissington Trail in the Peak District. However, one ride on the Kickbike sticks in my mind and this was the 2014 Etape Cymru sportive around North Wales. it was a bit of a throwaway comment to my colleague Jenny that made me do it, but it seemed like an ideal challenge for me to do.
The Etape Cymru is one of the UK's toughest closed road cycle sportives and the relentlessly hilly route starts and finishes in Wrexham, passes through the Clwydian Range, before going up the infamous Horseshoe Pass with a 20% gradient. For a cyclist, it is a tough challenge even with a choice of gears, however, on a scooter with no gears and only your legs to push you, this was a formidable effort that required all of my physical and inner strength.
What was I thinking..?
I pitched up my tent at a campsite near the Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse start and was so worried about doing the event the following day, I actually called my girlfriend and asked her to bring my road bike from Manchester. I was nervous not only about the route but felt conscious that as the route is hard for entrants on a bike that doing it on the Kickbike might backfire and I would be seen as a bit cocky, arrogant or even foolish.
At the start of the Etape Cymru, I actually hid my Kickbike near the sign-on because I was so nervous about other people seeing it and giving me negative comments. It was only when my number group was called that I collected the scooter and rolled over to the start line. Immediately my fears were allayed by the words of encouragement and astonishment from the other riders. As I started to scoot and pick up speed, I found it easy to get up to 25 km/h and even keep up with the other riders.
This is a very hilly route with over 3000m of climbing over the 85-mile course. Due to my background in running, I found it helped if I pushed the Kickbike in a running motion and used my whole body to propel myself forwards. However, there is a flaw in my scooting ability. I can only scoot on one leg! I cannot swap legs easily and find it more efficient to use the left leg, but move the another up and down on the footplate to stop locking up. However, as I reached checkpoint after checkpoint, my ankle was beginning to hurt...a lot!
The furthest I had scooted prior to the event was 40 miles around the flat in Liverpool, but going twice as far on a hilly circuit was pushing me to the limit. The Horseshoe Pass was not actually the hardest section despite its reputation and it was quite a buzz passing the cyclists.
The most challenging section was on the way back towards Wrexham and the World's End climb at 65 miles. I actually had a bit of a scare on the descent when a stone became caught beneath the low footplate and caused the Kickbike to wobble.
My ankle was starting to hurt (badly)..?
After 5 hours on the move constantly, my ankle was creaking with every kick and my sugar levels were running low. I was also getting overtaken by the cyclists and falling towards the back. I did say to myself that as long as I am not on the course when the roads reopened, then I would continue to the end.
As I reached the last checkpoint, all I had to do was keep going and the motorcyclists that patrolled the course kept my spirits up and motivated me to the end. As I reached the finish line, there was not only a sense of relief but also accomplishment. I completed the Etape Cymru in 8 hours 58 minutes and was not even the last rider. They even gave me a free jersey as a souvenir of the day which hangs in my bedroom on the wall!
One of the most impressive things on two wheels...
The organisers of the event said that what I had achieved was 'not normal' and one of the cyclists who saw me on the course said that 'it was one of the most impressive things he had ever seen on two wheels'. He later called the local paper and I featured on the front page of the Wrexham Leader and in Outdoor Fitness magazine!
The hardest part of the day was actually taking down my tent and lugging that and the Kickbike to the train station in Wrexham. The effects of that Sunday were being felt during the week though. I had severe ankle pain and I feared that I had slightly fractured it as there was a nasty creaking sound with every footstep. This stopped by the end of the week, but I did feel like I pushed it a tad too far.