Two people pedalling along on a tandem isn’t a particularly unusual sight on rural roads. And while a bicycle made for three might be stretching things a bit, it’s not beyond the realms of the imagination.
You can understand my reaction, therefore, when I was asked to join farmer’s son Ed Greig on a leg of his round-Britain tour on a seven-seater circular bike.
Such a thing couldn’t exist surely? Who would be crazy enough to dream up such a machine?
Apparently, while living in Amsterdam, American artist Eric Staller had a dream in which he saw a group of friends in a circle facing each other while cycling through the leafy countryside. The Conference Bike was born.
Having been persuaded that such a machine might exist and that I should play my (small) part in this worthy endeavour to raise money for Cancer Research, my next question was who might have come up with such a mad-cap scheme?
I met Ed two years ago when I covered the Land Rover G4 Challenge – a competition of extreme endurance. He was a participant and made it through to the UK finals.
It would take someone capable of such mental and physical stamina to dream up the idea of cycling the British Isles on a tricycle made for seven.
“Twelve years ago my aunt died of breast cancer and ever since I’ve been raising money for Cancer Research,” explains Ed. “However this time I wanted to do something original that not only raised money but also awareness of the disease. One day last year while searching the internet for present ideas, I stumbled across Eric Staller’s circular bike.
“At £10,000 a pop, a pedal-powered seven-seater clearly wasn’t going to be my brother’s birthday surprise but it did trigger an idea.”
He wanted something more original than a John O’Groats to Land’s End ride, so decided to make a round-Britain tour, stopping off at the six main Cancer Research centres.
In a bid to raise awareness of the ride, he set out to make it a world record. Having persuaded Guinness to create a completely new vehicle category for the conference bike, all he needed to do was prove that this would be the fastest end-to-end tour conducted on such a machine. Being the first and only people crazy enough to attempt this meant, despite the taking scenic route, its record-breaking status was assured.
Having hired the four-wheeled circular bike from Get Cycling in York, Ed and friends Jack Cole and Ian Clegg set off in August – the 1200-mile route taking them from John O’Groats to Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Southampton, Exeter and onto Land’s End.
“Over the course of the three-week tour we had more than 250 different riders join us. I’m not sure whether it was that people felt they ought to do their bit for a good cause or that they wanted to get into the Guinness Book of Records. Either way we’ve had fantastic support.”
A great deal of that support has come from agricultural contacts across the country. Whether it was providing a field to camp in or a full-on fry-up, farming families up and down Britain have pitched in. Alnwick farmer Graham Swanson donated and wired up amber flashing lights for the support bus and trailer.
“It’s at times like these that you realise what a close-knit group we farmers are,” says Ed.
“Without this support we’d never have managed to get past Dundee. But all the efforts been worth it, especially now we’ve raised more than £33,000.”
• To see more on the project or to donate visit www.cobiuk.com
The stretch of the route that I joined the team on could have been easier, says Nick Fone.
Anyone that has driven the road between Lyme Regis and Sidmouth in Devon will know how many impressive hills there are.
Yes, it’s true, for every up there is also a down, but try telling that to seven exhausted conference bikers. The problem with the result of a collaboration of American, Dutch and German minds is that they didn’t really take hills into account when they designed the circular bike.
Each rider pedals a normal gearset – the sort you’d find on any ordinary bike – but there is no choice of gear. Each set of pedals is connected to a circular-ish driveshaft joined together by universal joints (the sort you find on a pto shaft).
This runs to the back axle through a more substantial motorcycle-type chain and sprocket set-up – again single speed.
The lack of gear changes invariably means that pedalling uphill is an incredibly slow, excruciating process. Conversely, when it is running downhill, the bike is often going too fast for pedalling to make any difference.