Original article originally published in The Sunday Times, 19 May 2013
Watching entrants to the long-distance cycling events that he runs arrive without their families, Lee Reynolds was struck by a thought: why not create a weekend that fuses a mass cycle ride with a music festival? That way, he reasoned, cyclists and their families could go away together for a couple of days, and there would be something for everyone.
So was born the Early Riser festival. The inaugural event takes place over the first weekend in August in the New Forest, Hampshire. Based around the Avon Tyrrell outdoor activity centre, the event includes musical acts such as Dodgy, and Sadie and the Hotheads, fronted by the actress Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey’s Lady Cora).
There will be a disco — the electricity for which is generated by cyclists — and a similarly pedal-powered cinema, plus celebrity guests and children’s entertainers as well as the camping and eating facilities you would expect at a festival.
At the heart of the gathering are a range of sportive cycling events (over distances of 48, 76 and 100 miles), a mountain bike contest and a fleet of demonstration bikes to have a go on, ranging from unicycles to rickshaws.
Reynolds, 34, who is a keen cyclist himself, is hoping that at least 2,000 people will join him, with weekend tickets priced at £78 for adults and £42 for children aged 12-16 (under-12s go free).
Of course, summer weekend events where cyclists camp and ride are almost as old as the bicycle itself. The grandaddy of them all is the Cyclists’ Touring Club’s York rally where riders have gathered every year since 1945 and which attracts up to 40,000 participants.
Its core audience are the kind of “cycling families” who are likely to have been taking part in weekly CTC runs since the children could first reach the handlebars on a “kiddie back” tandem. The event takes place on June 22-23, with family tickets costing £12.
Another traditional cycling festival is at Mildenhall in Suffolk (mildenhallrally.org.uk), which hosts an annual event centred on grass track racing. It’s where Victoria Pendleton first cut her teeth as a competitive cyclist, but includes novelty races that are more It’s a Knockout than the Olympics. The festival is on August 24-26, and entry is free.
The main purpose of all these events, naturally, is to hang out with like-minded cyclists, chew the fat and enjoy riding together. If trendy new festivals such as Early Riser do find an audience, and keep cyclists and their families together, so much the better. Pleasure shared is surely pleasure doubled.
TD May 13
Update 2018. So far as I can tell, the Early Riser Festival did not endure. The York Cycle rally went through some tough times too. The last that I attended, possibly in 2010, felt a bit forlorn. In 2012 the CTC decided that the event was past its sell-by date. Since then, a new committee appears to have revitalised the event. Mildenhall, which is a lovely event, continues in much the same format as it has for many years.