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Charity Bike Rides – what’s the deal?

I got a phone call from Unicef at the end of last year. I listened politely to five minute’s worth of well-rehearsed “have you been inspired by Ewan and Charley and the ‘Long Way Down’?”. Errr, well no, actually. Travelling to strange foreign countries and collecting strange foreign parasites has never really ticked any of my boxes as a fun way to spend a weekend or two, but it seemed rude to interrupt the nice woman whilst she was in full flow. Anyway, as my mind wandered off to other things, I found myself agreeing to accept a fund raising pack.

I forgot about it.

Several days later, it dropped through the letter box. I forgot about it. Several days later, I remembered it was there, opened it and glanced through it. All very worthy and all that, and forgot about it.

But whether it’s this initiative or something else, obviously something has inspired a significant number of people to do charity rides this year.

They started appearing in January, and keep on coming. I remembered the Unicef pack, and I’m beginning to wonder where I stand on this kind of jaunt.

One negative point that has been made about this kind of fund-raising activity is that if we all stayed at home, we could all put the money saved on fuel and tyres in the pot. If a couple of riders are doing a 3000 mile ride, that’s not an insignificant sum.

So are there redeeming features? Well, one obvious suggestion is that it “raises awareness” of the charity involved. That’s a reasonable argument if it’s a little known charity that would probably stuggle to raise funds, but the mainstream charities are so well covered I honestly don’t think they need this kind of activity to support them.

Sometimes there’s a personal “payback element” – someone doing something to raise funds for a specific charity for personal reasons. I understand the motives for that.

Some of the rides involve lots of individuals meeting up and doing sections of the ride together, so it’s got a social interaction aspect to it too – in that way it’s no worse than any other bike meet that folk ride off to every weekend, and it’s doing some good at the same time.

As I haven’t done anything about Unicef and was feeling vaguely guilty, I had a look at a few of the early year plans and decided to lend a hand to Coastbusters, which is a kind of “round the coast of the UK” jaunt – you can find out about it here – is worth my support. I’ve actually agreed to ride along on one section of one of the rides, and I’ll bung some cash in the pot as it come past.

But they keep coming. The latest one to appear on the radar is a grandiose scheme for two riders to spend three months visiting 46 countries in mainland Europe and travelling 20,000 miles. The idea is apparently to visit charity project sites (the charities are World Emergency Relief and Children in Distress) working with children in Eastern Europe, handing over the cash as they go. Oh, and they’re bringing out a DVD of the exercise for primary schools.

Fine as far as it goes, I can’t help but admire the scale of the exercise but when something gets this big, I can’t help get sceptical. And I’m not the only one – in response to some negative comments suggesting it was nothing more than a sponsored holiday, one of the organisers said they were self-funding and had budgeted £4500 towards fuel, food and accommodation, with some stop-overs hopefully being provided by locals along the route for free.

I looked at that and thought “£4500 for 20,000 miles, two bikes and two people and four months??”

I know fuel’s a bit cheaper as you go east, so we’ll assume that the 50p a litre stuff available in the old eastern block balances out the £1.00 litre stuff further west, so let’s assume an average 75p per litre for the entire trip. Let’s assume they get 10 miles per litre, that’s 2000 litres of fuel needed per bike.

2000 litres @ 75p = £1500

We’ll assume they use some hard-ish tyres… 7000 miles per set. That’s 3 sets of tyres @ £150 a set = £450

So we’re already up to £1950 per bike. And that’s without any other incidentals like pads, punctures, oil, accident repairs… Throw in a couple of ferry crossings if they can’t blag those. That’s the £4500 gone.

That doesn’t leave any spare spending cash for food, let alone accommodation or life’s little luxuries like a beer or a bottle of wine, no matter how little they cost in Rumania. I suppose she could mean they’ve budgeted £4500 EACH, in which case, they have about £250 a week to live on, which I guess would be just about do-able if they lived frugally and got budget accommodation.

Oh, and they are looking for 20p per kilometer (it’s about 30,000km) ; £6000 total. I guess they hope that’ll be a minimum rather than all they collect.

It’ll be the trip of a lifetime if they pull it off, but somehow, I just don’t get it. On the blog they mention already having visited Tunisia, Morocco, Nepal, the French and Italian Alps and the Dolomites in just a couple of years, but say “they were just holidays” and needing “a reason” for the next trip. Holidays they were, I’m sure.When I was 22, I took a month out to do 3000 miles round France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium and spent what is probably equivalent at today’s prices to around £2000 of my own money doing it, but didn’t see any need to turn it into a media fest of fund-raising to give it a reason.

Something about these trips just doesn’t figure as far as I’m concerned. I suppose it rates a bit higher in the ethics states than sponsoring mind-bogglingly rich celebrities to give up their valuable time to appear for free for half an hour on TV one night of the year, but maybe I’m just old fashioned and think that giving to a charity should be about giving something yourself, not getting other people to sponsor you for doing something you were going spend money to do.

Which is why for a number of years, I was a “bloodrunner” with SERV.

Still, if it floats your boat, you’ll find Bike4Europe here.

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