Since 2010 cycling trendsters Rapha have been throwing the Festive 500 gauntlet down and challenging all to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. On paper this seems like a fairly straight forward challenge, broken down it’s only 62.5km for 8 days. With a bit of commitment this shouldn’t cause much of an issue for your standard club rider. A few rides with your normal group and a couple of solo missions and the milage will come easily.
However, once you start factoring in life obstacles things get more complicated. Whether it be work commitments through the festive period, seeing friends/relatives, entertaining children or the obligatory hangovers it all eats into valuable cycling time. Still that’s ok as you could double up days. Four 130km rides over 8 days is still achievable without ruining yourself and allows a day to recover in between. Now factor in weather and unless your are the hardiest of audaxer there is a very real chance that it will be so unbearably miserable outside* that there is nothing for it than to just sit on the sofa and preload with mince pies for the next ride which will now have to be 260km.
You can see how the festive period quickly works against you and before the last of the leftovers have been eaten you are already panicking about how many days are left and how many kilometres you still have to complete.
With concerns of Christmas commitments and keen to crush miles, Stu and I came up with the Super Looper idea. We challenged ourselves to ride as far as possible on Christmas eve, racking up as many kilometres as possible freeing up the rest of the merry holiday to enjoy ourselves and hopefully see our names near the top of the Strava leaderboard. Many people attempt to ride the full 500km in one day and many hardy souls succeed** however we would add a twist – no gears and no brakes.
This isn’t our first attempt. Last year we fought savage headwinds and a 5pm curfew to achieve a healthy 273km’s on a carefully curated, flat, East Lothian route. This year we hoped to better ourselves. We plotted a new Fife based loop with Matt riding up from Edinburgh to get involved. Things were shaping up for a good stint on the bikes.
Stu and I got started at 12:15am and it was immediately clear that this ride was not going to be as easy as 2017’s iteration. Previously we had cursed the wind but enjoyed unusually warm weather that only required a jersey and arm warmer combo. This year there was hardly a breath of wind but the temperatures were easily around -4º. Wrapped up we started lapping the 15km course, ice formed on our handlebars and bottles froze. The first five laps were pretty uneventful, the roads stayed ice free and Stu and I barrelled round in the dark enjoying the quiet roads. Matt caught us for lap six and we ticked another 3 reps off before returning to the van for some illusion of warmth.
It was now around 6am and sleepiness was a big factor. We had covered 75 miles and although easy miles it was no substitution for being asleep. After a wee rest Stu and I dragged ourselves out the van to face the cold again. Matt, who had the pleasure of working all day the day before, was feeling less sporty and we left him in the van under a pile of coats hoping that a snooze would reinvigorate him.
After 90 miles of darkness the sun began to rise and bathed the countryside around us in an orange glow – this was to be the best bit of the ride. Now we had things to look at as we rode. A thick layer of frost had formed in the night and everything was now white.
The sun may have been up but it made no difference to the temperature. We finished lap 12 and popped our heads into the van to see if Matt was still alive. The van had provided little relief so he rejoined us in the hope that pedalling would generate some heat. The roads were now a little busier but the laps felt relaxed in the day light. Six more laps and by 3pm we matched last years 273km and were into the second half of the festive 500.
At 4pm the sun dropped behind the hills and we were plunged back into darkness. Matt managed another lap before calling it a day and returning to the chilly van to wait on us. We soldiered on with the 400km mark in sight. As the laps continued things started to change, thoughts of warm meals, warm hands and Matt shivering in the van started to weigh on our enthusiasm. It was 7:30pm and on lap 25 we decided to stop. We had covered 371km in 19 hours and 30 minutes. A big day in the saddle by anyones standard and something I was definitely proud of.
On Boxing Day I finished off my Festive 500 with a delightful 131km that looped around taking in some fine samples of Perthshire. Adding a little climbing up the Langside Road and Glen Devon to keep me honest.
Some people have spoken out against the Festive 500 on the basis that it encourages riders to put themselves in dangerous conditions or that Christmas is for spending time with family. I find this an odd stance against a healthy challenge that is aimed at encouraging people to get out and ride. It doesn’t have to be a solo mission into the depths of winter or a test of perseverance circling the same piece of countryside for hours. Instead it can be seen as a motivator to finish the year on a high note or set a fun challenge to be shared as a family or with a group of friends. Nobody says that you need to complete it by yourself. Sure you won’t be able to claim your woven roundel of glory but the reward is spending time with the people that you love. If you complete the full distance that’s a fantastic achievement but if you don’t, who cares. Life is about what you do, not what you don’t do.
Make what you will of the Festive 500 but anything that encourages people to get out and ride bikes is a good thing in my book.
If you cant get enough of our Festive 500 shenanigans check out Matt’s blog at seeyoudowntheroad.cc for another account of the Super Loop.
*Not an excuse to Zwift
**You folks in the southern hemisphere don’t count