The great forum ride

Two and a half years ago university student and Cycling Plus forum contributor Gonzo – aka Rob Tipp

It's had a 897 day journey - see the pics and read about it here

Two and a half years ago university student and Cycling Plus forum contributor Gonzo – aka Rob Tipples – had an idea: the Great Forum Ride. Take a Cycling Plus jersey on a relay ride around Britain, get it signed by all who carry it, and then auction it on its return. So on a spring evening in 2004, he turned up in signature black and white striped garb to collect the shirt from the Cycling Plus office in Bath. We waved him off. And then we waited…

The passage of time…

It all started so well. A route was chosen and mapped, riders arranged, dates set. It was all online too. But in an inspired piece of British organisation – which doesn’t bode well for the 2012 Olympic Torch relay – things began to slip. Gonzo became an irregular forum visitor, and the jersey, after zooming from Bath to Plymouth in one 140-mile zebra-borne journey, suffered a chequered progress.

Across the south of England it went, through Dorset and a quick loop of the Isle of Wight and on to Bognor and Brighton – for the carnival, naturally – and in one of many backtracks to Bognor again. Sussex and Kent were also ticked off – with a puncture picked up in Lewes. After all those seaside resorts the shirt needed a bit of politics; a quick trip to the capital would sort things out. There was a handover by a statue of Churchill and, it being Friday 25 June – the last Friday in the month – this could mean only one thing: Critical Mass. Which naturally made the shirt a little thirsty. Luckily the Southend combo of Nutty and FatBloke were on hand with the booze. Fired up on beer and a trip to Upton Park the jersey was later pursued by a posse of chavs in a souped-up Nova, but they couldn’t keep up round the bends. Jersey and FatBloke – one, car full of chavs – nil. Phew!

The shirt then headed north, though progress was, er, leisurely. More time at the seaside followed, this time Sarrfend – sorry, Southend – some slo-mo sojourns in the backwaters of Norfolk and Suffolk, and a bit of posh time in Henley and Chesham with Jus5t1n, and in Buckingham with Chris Land. When Chris said, “The shirt is now in Coventry and will be making slow progress further north,” he wasn’t joking. This wasn’t helped by Simplesbharris, who was due to ride, breaking his arm. Or by Si Davies’s cat who ‘signed’ the shirt in its own feline way. It had, by then, taken six months to get to Derby…

Nearly a year passed before the shirt reached the North East. But where was it in-between? Who knows? Maybe in another temporal dimension… But Middlesbrough was soon passed. Fortunately, the lads from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet hadn’t really flogged off the distinct Transporter Bridge and this took the shirt further north, crossing the Scottish border (not “bringing the cheque and the postal order” like WH Auden’s night train) at Union Bridge.

The next reported shirt sighting (and no, not on Crimewatch) came from northern Scotland. Perhaps it had snuck back to England to watch the Ashes, or nipped to France for the Tour. What we do know is that it reached John O’Groats in August 2005, thanks to the monumental efforts of Hasufel (Ian) and Nigel, who rode the 320 miles from Elgin to JoG and back again, before handing over to Noggin. After taking in a few of the local refineries, the now-sated-on-singlemalts- shirt was reunited with one of the early riders, Ravenbait, after which Rjevans did some distinctly Edinburgh-flavoured riding, taking “the jersey on a little detour, to see some Trainspotting and Shallow Grave type backdrops”. Hopefully no premature burials or, ahem, substance abuse were involved (we will be having the jersey tested by a WADA-approved lab, you know). Though a little speed might not have been such a bad thing…

Arellcat, Edward, Nickwill and Oldnewbiker suffering punctures, lost tyre levers and needing a lift from Whit Van Man) just about got the relay to North Yorkshire, where the shirt was passed to Frustuck, who didn’t enjoy good weather. “Best bike a total mess, so washed it in the shower. It looks great now. Must have done about 140 miles with the jersey. Glad that’s over!”

Jan Connett completed leg 378 (yeah, right!), handing over to Bible Basher Biker at Abergavenny in hurricane conditions. “Yes,” says BBB, “the beautifully designed, carefully crafted, Coolmax Cycling Plus short-sleeved cycling jersey (which smells a bit funny) is now in Cardiff. But I had dedicated this ride to my friend Jo. She had died just that Monday from cancer. I told myself, ‘Jo was not a quitter, and so I was not going to quit’ – it did the trick and was a resource I called on over the remains of the ride.” He also raised a hefty £163 in sponsorship.

But BBB’s Merthyr ride wasn’t enough to keep the shirt schtum, and it was getting so desperate at the slow pace that it started posting on the forum. “Hurry up, guys and gals! The second anniversary of the start of the Relay is on 30th April. Get me back either before or on the date. Please… not a third year! I need a rest. I’ve got so much washing to do!” Sadly this crie de coeur didn’t do much good, though the jersey was at least close to England and home. And after one final delay – caused by the Cycling Plus team having to actually do some work – Ben Lawrence rode the final leg to Bath, just 897 days after Gonzo and the shirt had left.

The shirt had been through many hands, enjoyed numerous smoky boozers, visited several Premiership football grounds and, like an actor, enjoyed plenty of resting in its epic two-and-a-half-year odyssey. Riders endured broken bikes, punctures galore, rode through gales and sunshine (more of the former, it seems from reports), met old friends and were introduced to new fellow two-wheeling companions. The Great Forum Ride raised money for charity and served as a matchmaker for at least two doubtlessly happy participants.

Cycling Plus would like to thank all those who took part, and to offer our apologies to all those who didn’t get a mention in this necessarily truncated report. But we’ll leave the final word to Gonzo, the man who started it all, and who certainly earned his stripes: “Congrats to all who took part! Sorry I wasn’t around to help out for two thirds of it, but I knew that you were all capable.”





















































































































































































































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