In 1986, 30 years ago, Peter McQuade eased onto the saddle of his bicycle and set off from the middle of Paris on a solo bike ride to his home on Hayling Island in Hampshire. He had no experience, apart from a few miles in practice. He had no special clothing or saddles nor a particularly fit-for-purpose bike. No one really did what he was about to do in those days.
What he had was a personal drive to raise money for a cot death charity. Peter had friends who had lost one of their twin baby daughters to the tragic syndrome and he wanted to do something meaningful in support. Today, Peter still cycles each year to raise money but this year as he rides onto Hayling Island on the 18th July he will have more than 250 other people cycling with him. At that moment this famous event, known as the “Paris to Hayling Ride” will pass many significant milestones.
Many hundreds of people have been inspired to join the ride since 1986 and there have been some very impressive achievements. The moment the riders cross that bridge onto Hayling Island, the Paris to Hayling will have:
1. Raised over £1,500,000 for more than 500 different charities over 30 years.
2. Attracted many 100s of riders from all over the UK and indeed from 14 other countries. However, Hayling Islanders have played the most significant part contributing huge numbers of riders and provided the vital support team so necessary for organisation and safety. The impact on Hayling has been profound.
3. Boosted local causes by fund raising for schools and virtually all youth related clubs and associations where extra funds are so badly needed.
4. Created several other fund raising charity bike rides including an annual “Channel to Channel Ride” from Bristol to Hayling which is now in its 16th year. The organisation also approached the charity HOPEHIV in 2011 and suggested that with its many years of experience it could help them launch their own ride. There have now been 4 successful HOPEHIV events (The London To Hayling Ride) raising in total nearly £150,000 with the Paris To Hayling Organisation providing the route and logistics support.
Because when it started in 1986 charity bike rides of this kind were unknown, Peter had no way of knowing whether what he set out to do was achievable. Indeed cycling was not anything like as popular as it is today. It was still 6 years before Chris Boardman won Gold at the Barcelona Olympics which many see as the start of the modern cycling boom. The only bike ride at that time was the famous London to Brighton which started in 1982 but it wasn’t the multi- day challenge Peter McQuade was undertaking. When he set out that on the first morning he began to wonder just how daft he really was. Furthermore he was so tired at the end of that first day he fell asleep during his dinner. He eventually made it home and the next year a handful of friends encouraged him to do it again – this time they would join him. It then built rapidly from there to the thriving success it is 30 years on.
There are probably many reasons why the ride has lasted so long but the camaraderie of the event is legendary. People have typically first signed up for the event as a “one-off” sometimes to raise money for a charity close to their heart, perhaps being inspired by illness suffered by a family member. But very frequently they enjoy it so much that they come back time and time again. Many have met their life partners on the ride. These include Mary Burras the surviving twin who met her husband Mark on the 25th event. One lady from Reading joined up with a friend sometime after being widowed. Her friend dropped out and she was concerned that she wouldn’t know anyone. She had no need to worry as she was soon adopted by some participating riders.
Some months later she was so delighted with the new friendships that she had made that she sold up and moved to Hayling, where (naturally!) in due course she met another rider who became her husband.
The success of the ride is also due both to the people who take part and those who run it. It has always been an event entirely run by unpaid volunteers unlike most significant charity bike rides. Even the support crew pay an entrance fee. There has been a very diverse eclectic bunch of characters involved in the ride vent over the years and these have included riders who have missing limbs or major organs, who are blind or deaf or who have been inspired by trauma to themselves or others. People from all walks of life have participated – judges, boxers, doctors, teachers, school children over 14 and one year local MP David Willetts joined the ride and declared that it had “become an Hayling Island institution”, .
Some riders have been so successful in fundraising that they have become one of the top individual fund raisers of their chosen charities. One of these and indeed the Paris to Hayling’s own top fundraiser came close to losing his life to throat cancer. He subsequently entered the ride and 12 events later has raised over £50,000 for a neck and throat cancer charity.
The Ride Itself
The “Paris to Hayling Ride” in 2015 involves almost all riders cycling from Hayling to Paris via Caen, Evreux and then from Paris to Hayling via Rouen, La Havre and Caen. It will cover around 400 miles over 5 days. In order to get fit enough to endure an average 80 miles a day for 5 consecutive days, riders go out during the spring and early summer covering 300-400 miles in practice. This in itself demands dedication and stamina. Over the 30 rides, 24 have been to Paris/Versailles, 3 in the Loire Valley, 1 in Brittany/Normandy and 2 in Holland.
Although Peter McQuade is the only rider to have completed all 30, there are several “veterans” who have done more than 25.
Young and gifted
While the event is focused on raising money in an enjoyable way, with no particular regard for cycling ability, it has helped some participants developed into highly competent cyclists. In that regard the “Paris to Hayling Ride’s” collaboration with Ditcham Park School, Petersfield is particularly noteworthy. From just one student, Chris McQuade entering in 2004 (following the family tradition!) the school’s participation has grown and developed to the extent that it has a national reputation for its cycling, with parents even selecting it on that basis. The British Schools Hill Climbing Championship is regularly held on its drive on the South Downs and two of its past pupils are now riding with semi-professional teams.
Although Peter McQuade is dismounting after 30 years he intends to capture the challenges, fun and tears in a book to be published late 2015 or early 2016. “Raw Hides and Sore Heads” has 60,000 pages in draft and will amaze readers with the inside stories of diverse set of people determined to help their chosen cause.
So, the story of the “Paris to Hayling Ride” is not just another story of a charity bike ride. It’s about a leader who wanted to do something meaningful for his friends. It’s a story about a single event which grew bigger and bigger, going off in lots of different and unanticipated directions. It’s story about how a small community got behind the event and helped it make a difference to so many people’s lives over three decades.