In 2016, Steve McKeown and a couple of mountain biking buddies set about raising money for Cancer Research UK after hearing some sad news from their friend Jim Trotter. Jim’s wife Lisa had just been diagnosed with bowel cancer two months after being given the all clear from the breast cancer she had bravely fought. It was decided as Lisa’s fight was so tough, the least they could do was face a really tough challenge themselves.
They knew of quite a few other nutter bike riders who would be up for a big challenge and settled on an epic off-road mountain bike ride from Knaphill to Brighton… and back. They decided to call the group Saddlesore.bike after the website they had created and make the ride back from Brighton more interesting and challenging by taking the route of the Downslink bridleway that connects the North Downs Way and South Downs Way National Trails. Ninety eight miles in one day.
So, with 40 riders and 150 supporters, they set off from The Garibaldi on 18th June 2016 for the first ride and with the support of 150 people raised just under £7K for the charity.
Spurred on with this success, the challenge has become an annual event and The Downslink ‘brand’ has started other fund raising events such as quiz nights, a charity gin festival as well as having donations and help from many local businesses and sports clubs. This year, The Garibaldi hosted the ‘set off’ and ‘after show’ parties and provided all day entertainment for families including pig racing, face painting and bouncy castle.
Tragically Lisa died in November 2018 and in honour of her memory, the Saddlesore event in June 2019 with some other donations has raised a whopping £29,000. The proceeds will be split with Woking and Sam Beare Hospice and Woking Age Concern. At the end of this year’s ride, Lisa and Jim’s children Sadie, Kitty and Seth gave out the medals to riders, following in their mum’s footsteps.
When the riders were back and after the presentation of medals, the party really hotted up with music from Steve’s son Dorian’s band “Blackbird”.
2019 saw two additional events introduced that were organised by Gail Smith and Carolyn Long. The Quiz night in January and the Gin Festival in April were held at the Vyne in Knaphill and both were sell-out events. Both were very very successful and contributed to the 2019 fundraising total. Great fun was had by all, new friendships were made and money raised for the two charities. It looks as though these will be repeated for 2020.
You may not know it, but:
Anyone can support The Downslink challenge either through direct sponsorship via the website, by buying T-shirts (available only during April/May through the website) or buying one of our calendars which will be available very soon.
In 2020 we will be holding the Quiz night on 11th January, the Downslink Challenge on 13th June and the Gin Festival on 25th April. Please keep an eye out on the saddlesore.bike website for further details.
The Knaphillian caught up with Steve to ask him about the Saddlesore team and The Downslink Challenge charity:
The Knaphillian (TK): Hi Steve – Congratulations on this year’s fantastic fundraising success. Tell us a bit more about The Downslink Challenge:
Steve: Essentially this started as a charity bike ride raising money for local charities but it’s a lot more than that now. This has grown into something much bigger with two additional annual events being a quiz night (in January) and a Gin festival (in April).We are a group of inspired people, all local who want to make a difference whilst having a bit of fun. We feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many generous people.
(TK): When did the Downslink group start and what was your inspiration?
Steve: A few of us were keen off-road cyclists and used to cycle along the Downs link (a disused railway line running from Shalford to Shoreham by sea) all the way to Brighton and then get a train back. We always thought that we could do the journey both ways in one day but feared the challenge.
We were all out riding one day when one of our riders Jim Trotter was explaining how his wife Lisa had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Personally this was quite upsetting as I knew the family quite well so naturally wanted to do something about it. So, what better incentive then to take on this massive cycling challenge of riding from Knaphill to Brighton and back again in one day… off-road, whilst raising money for charity.
And so the journey began,The Garibaldi pub to host the event, website created etc.
This is where our two superstars Gail Smith and Carolyn Long both stepped in to arrange the fun day at The Garibaldi, bouncy castle, face painting, organise raffle prizes etc. All of a sudden we found the community coming together with people pitching in to help at the fun day or to marshall the cycle route and looking to do what they could to help. It really was very humbling.
We invited Lisa, who had been recently diagnosed with cancer and Viv Everard who had battled cancer and come through it, to do the best job and give out the medals to the riders as they returned. From this they were to become “Our ladies of inspiration” and would continue to carry out this privileged task each year. Sadly Lisa passed away in 2018 so her eldest daughter Sadie (11) stepped up to carry out Lisa’s duties in her honour for our 2019 event.
The event has grown every year with fundraising leaping from £6,690 to £17,276 to £20,589 to £29,149 in 2019. Each year the money is split between Woking Hospice and another local guest charity that changes annually.
(TK): What is the achievement you are most proud of?
Steve: The whole Downslink thing is just brilliant. The kind words that people say can bring a tear to your eye. But it’s just really nice to share that with a great bunch of people who year in, year out put their heart and soul into this.
(TK): What is the most challenging time you have faced?
Steve: This year’s cycle event was a tough one as we had lost Lisa Trotter in November 2018.
When we allocate the riders their numbers for their bikes for the event we have never used the number 1. It was always felt that this would make that one rider different to the others, special. We want all of the riders to be part of our team.
Instead we would give the bike number to someone who we felt deserved it as a momento or even needed it, but this is given without any fuss, quietly, unannounced at the end of the event.
This year we took it with us on our journey, myself and Jim Trotter. We both rode as “last man” on the day clearing the course as we went. We took a detour into Brookwood Cemetery and laid the Number 1 on Lisa’s grave as we came through.
I found that quite challenging emotionally but I can’t say how Jim felt. He’s a strong man.
(TK): What are your plans for the future?
Steve: Who knows? The girls (Gail and Carolyn) have already started organising a “Calendar Girls” style Downslink Calendar for 2020.
We are happy to keep the events we have at the moment but anything could happen. Just keep your eyes on www.saddlesore.bike
(TK): Are you looking for other members or volunteers?
Steve: We are always looking for additional help with our events be it at The Garibaldi for the fun day or marshalling the course.
And any businesses looking to contribute via sponsorship or a raffle prize is always welcome.
(TK): Anything else you want to share?
Steve: It’s always very difficult to remember every single person that has helped out across the three events and we would hate to miss anyone out so, I’d just like to say on behalf of the team, a MASSIVE thank you to anyone that has helped, sponsored or participated and all the local businesses that have supported us too.
The Downslink Challenge team are:
Steve Mckeown – Organiser
Gail Smith – Organiser
Carolyn Long – Organiser
Richard Roberts – Managing Director Trident Garages – Event sponsor
Mike Overton – Website
James Palmer – Graphic Design for T shirts and Leaflets etc
Martin Durrad – Garibaldi landlord…all things pubby!
Mark Everard – Trade sponsorship
Suzy Woolley – Spreadsheet guru (essential for rider’s info)
Helen McKeown – Marshall organiser
Rachel Prior – Photographer
The Band “Blackbird” – Evening entertainment
Paul Smith, Dave Long, Colin and Kerry Voice, Paul Woolley, Ian and Sally People, Jim and Lucy Green, Sandra Wheeler, Joy Cassidy, Josh McKeown, Frankie Brayshaw, Paul Benstead, Jackie Emms, Viv Everard, Andrew Franklin, Andy Mumford, James Brierley.
You can also contact saddlesore.bike and the Downslink Challenge group through their Facebook page.
And donations can be made through their website.