Two men. Two motorbikes. A sidecar companion called Beary McBearface. One epic 700-mile motorbike adventure across Britain.
Some ideas are just too good not to follow up. So when we heard about TSB Partner Gareth Nichols’ idea to undertake a challenging motorbike-and-sidecar ride across the UK – we wanted to hear more. He started at Ruthwell in Dumfriesshire – the very place where TSB founder Henry Duncan first had his dream of a new kind of self-sustaining savings bank to serve the local community. So how did it go? This is Gareth’s on-the-road journal.
DAY 1 Ruthwell Museum, Blood Bikes and Berwick-upon-Tweed
202 miles completed
Today’s the day. A few months ago I had this crazy idea of doing a charity motorbike ride from Ruthwell, the home of TSB, where Henry Duncan set up the first savings bank more than 200 years ago, back to Banbury. My team and I want to raise as much money as possible for our Local Charity Partner, Katharine House Hospice. It is a wonderful local hospice – it’s their 25th anniversary, and many people have benefited from their end-of-life care, kindness and compassion. Katharine House loves what we’re doing and have been tweeting and getting involved.
We’re stopping at lots of TSB branches along the way. They will be cheering us on, holding cake sales and organising collections.
I can’t take all the credit for this hare-brained idea. TSB customer Charlie Prescott was involved, too. He’s 71 and has been coming to the branch for years. We were chatting about our love for motorbikes and, before you can say, “What are we doing?” here we are. Honestly? I can’t wait.
Ruthwell is a lovely place. Half the village has turned out to wave us off. Tom, the Manager from TSB Dumfries, has come along and is talking about us on the radio.
I have been riding this bike at weekends to get used to it because it’s very different from anything I’ve ridden before. It’s like starting from scratch.
The bike has a fabulous, rather wacky, sidecar that Charlie built and I’ve even got a passenger: a goggle-wearing enormous fluffy teddy bear that was given to us by a local toy shop. He was named Beary McBearface by the hospice – very original! The bike has a maximum speed of about 40mph so we’re going to be a mobile traffic jam.
We’re being escorted on the first stage of our journey back to England via Gretna Green by a very special monster of a bike. One of the guys from the Dumfries & Galloway Blood Bikes, which is Dumfries branch’s Local Charity Partner, is riding with us. It’s a charity that transports blood and organs around the country.
By the end of today we’ll have been on the bikes for seven and a half hours and covered more than 200 miles. We’ve seen some stunning scenery. Berwick-upon-Tweed is the most beautiful town I’ve seen, bridge after bridge and stunning viaducts. Riding Beary through villages and seeing all the children waving was absolutely lovely.
It’s time for a rest. I wonder if I’ll ache tomorrow?
DAY 2 Newcastle to York via a beard shave in Sunderland (133 miles)
335 miles completed
The short answer to yesterday’s questions is “yes!” I woke up with aching shoulders but I’m raring to go. It’s a heatwave. Thankfully my jacket has vents everywhere that you can open to allow the breeze in. Another 133 miles to get under our belt. Support in the branches is amazing. Newcastle gave us such a welcome – I’d never seen anything like it. They’d got all our shirts on the wall and had made the most stunning cupcakes. Customers have been so receptive and generous. We were standing in the Newcastle branch and this old gentleman came up to me and said, “Why have you got all this kit on?” I explained to him about the charity and the hospice, and he got a bag containing £20 out of his pocket and he said, “You need this more than me, good luck to you.” I was so touched.
It’s time to lose the beard. I’ve been growing it since December and agreed to shave it off during the ride. One of the managers at the call centre in Sunderland shaved it off for me. My wife will be pleased, though! It was very white.
Beary is still attracting lots of attention, but I do have to comb his fur at the end of the day because of all the flies. I’ll glance across and see one stuck on the end of his nose. All good fun.
Just as we were finishing, my bike with the side car blew up! It was misfiring and running out of power. Eventually it just died. We have reverted to one motorbike, which means I’m riding Charlie’s bike and he’s in the support car. We plan to take my bike back to Coventry to fix it ready for the grand finale on Friday.
DAY 3 Leeds to Doncaster and Manchester – cake, jams and exercise bikes (160 miles)
495 miles completed
Charlie is getting to put his feet up in our air-conditioned support van, darn him, and I’m riding on my own. I sit and smile, and talk to myself, which is quite amusing at times.
Leeds Headingley copied the hospice logo onto some cakes – they were something. Doncaster branch had an exercise bike set up to see how far they could ‘cycle’ in the day as we were making our way to them. Honestly, the support is keeping us going.
We got stuck in traffic outside Manchester as shoppers were coming out of the Trafford Centre but it was totally worth it. We’re raising the profile of the hospice. We believe in helping our community. With the money we’re raising we can cover Katharine House’s counselling services for half a year. One lovely lady, whose husband died in the hospice, gave us £50. I was very moved.
DAY 4 A very rainy Liverpool to Leicester (173 miles)
668 miles completed
The weather has been kind – until today. It poured this morning; torrential rain. It would coincide with one of the longest days on the bikes. I’m keeping in mind why we are doing this. What’s a bit of rain? Or a bucketload of rain...
I actually rode the bike into the Liverpool branch. I got there and they said, “Bring it in.” That was a funny moment and everyone loved it. Six hours on the bike to get to the Leicester branch at 4pm. More awesome support. Then it was another three hours to Coventry ready for our final day. A long day, but brilliant.
DAY 5 Coventry to Banbury – Beary’s Back! (38miles)
706 miles completed!
Our last day, just 38 miles to go. And the best news of all... Beary McBearface is back in the game and the sidecar, and Charlie’s got his bike back. Cue lots of tooting and waves en route. Charlie fixed the broken bike at our Coventry base last night and put in a bigger engine. The Coventry branch were amazing. They were cycling in the window, raising money. Even the digital boards in the branch had our picture from Ruthwell, which was a joy to see.
Jonathan Ritchie, our Area Performance and Operations Manager, is a keen cyclist, so he raced us the 38 miles back to Banbury as practice for the TSB Beat the Boss triathlon challenge. All three of us crossed the line at the same time.
All the branches have been so collaborative – we’ve currently raised just under £4,500. We said we wanted to raise £2,500 originally, and then we said £3,500, so I’m truly amazed. And Beary is going to be auctioned off. I think I know someone who has her eye on him...
The biggest highlight for me has been seeing other people’s reactions. An elderly lady, who had never heard of us or the hospice, stopped us and donated.
Back at Banbury my lovely team had a big blue carpet waiting for us out in the street. The chief executive of the hospice and the mayor were there, along with lots of TSB people and customers. A local company had even made a cake with a map of where we’d been. What a welcome! And a wonderful end to a brilliant adventure.
How did I celebrate? I got home, had a cup of coffee and fell asleep, still in my leathers! Tomorrow the hospice is doing a charity Midnight Walk, so my team is marshalling from 10pm to 4am. Bring it on! I’ll be running on adrenaline. I’ll sleep on Sunday.