Black Sheep Cycling
The Man Ride 2018
The Man Ride is an event like no other. Aiming to raise awareness for men’s mental health, this tough challenge sees five teams of two ride 1000km across just five days.
Time For Change
Featuring rides all over the world from Australia to South America, this global initiative helps promote open conversation around an extremely important, yet all too often unspoken subject. With 20 in 100 men suffering anxiety, 12 of 100 enduring depression and a shocking six suicides a day, something needs to change.
Making up the UK team were Liam Yates (pictured above) and complete with all his camera equipment, our very own Jake Armstrong (pictured right). Riding entirely unsupported, the pair set off from Brighton on 3rd October following Liam’s pre-planned route; a decision they soon lived to regret.
Sitting down with Jake, we take a glimpse into the reality of this notoriously tough ride.
Seizing The Opportunity
How did you end up on the Man Ride?
Sigma Sports have a great relationship with the people at Black Sheep Cycling. Our clothing buyer came out of a meeting with them and said “I think Black Sheep Cycling are going to ask if you want to ride 1000km in 5 days whilst filming the whole thing”, and that’s basically how it happened! I sat down for a Skype call with them a couple of weeks before to go through the rough logistics and then had a few more with the production company, but it was only a matter of weeks between them asking me for the first time and setting off on the ride.
Off the Beaten Track
How was Liam's route planning?
Interesting. I think the first 40km of day one set the tone for the whole journey. 25km of that was on gravel on the South Downs Way. Not easy on a bike made for those conditions, never mind a road bike with 25c tyres and 12kg of equipment in panniers.
The route as a whole I knew was never going to be easy, I challenge someone to find a flat road in Devon or Cornwall. They just don’t exist. We had to go around a few major cities as well such as Southampton and Portsmouth, meaning the roads turned into crumbing footpaths and sides of dual carriageways. It had to be done though.
As the week went on, we kept making new routes to try and take out some climbing as it was really starting to take its toll, but it turns out certain route planning software doesn’t understand the difference between a tarmac road and a farm track. We must have done at least 20km off-road each day.
As well as the bad parts, there were equally amazing moments. New Forest and Dartmoor were particularly spectacular. Going through Dorset and the Black Down Hills were pretty nice too. Just so, so, so hilly!
Why did you do it?
There were several reasons I wanted to do this. It would by far be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not just on a bike, but just life in general. I knew it would take me as far as I could physically and mentally go. It did, and then some.
The main reason though is for the cause this whole initiative stands for - mental health.
There was a time in my life, not too long ago, where I felt very alone. I was in an industry where I didn’t belong and because of that, I didn’t really have many friends. I had some months of no work and having to sustain myself whilst not knowing where my next paycheck was going to come from - it really was quite horrible.
At the time I didn’t think anything of it until I shifted my full focus on cycling and everything then started to fall into place. Mental health has also affected those close to me on a much bigger scale, I just want to do anything I can to help people realise that they are not alone. There are people who will listen, talk, help.
Was it harder than you'd anticipated?
I don’t think I could have ever imagined how hard it was going to be. There were times when there was no end in sight, where I seriously thought to myself “this isn’t going to happen”. Going so far away from home, knowing you have to go even further before turning around and having to come back, it was the most demoralising thing.
The roads around Devon and Cornwall were relentlessly up and down. Not like long alpine climbs that you could sit and get a rhythm on. It was straight up for 5-10 minutes, then a 1-minute descent, then straight back up again, over and over again for 200km.
We were also starting in the dark and finishing in the dark. A lot of the direct roads were main A-roads, meaning cars were flying past at 60mph+, me having a rear light and Liam having a front light.
I don’t think I realised just how hard it was going to be to climb with a 22kg bike. I was loaded up with laptop, camera, drone, chargers, clothes, in two panniers meaning it was very rear-heavy. It also meant I couldn’t get out the saddle much as the bike was just swinging about too much.
What were your highlights?
The biggest highlight for me was going to see Liam’s Gran. She lives in East Grinstead, not far from where Liam trains and he stops in every week to chat about what he’s been up to and stocks up on snacks. She was so lovely and welcoming. It was great to see the relationship that he had with her, how proud she was of him (and also her telling him he wasn’t looking very skinny!). Seeing that sort of interaction was exactly what I needed to get me through the final 50km home.
Some of the scenery we saw as well was pretty spectacular. As I said, Dartmoor and New Forest were particular favourites, we had a great sunset on Dartmoor that we were cycling towards and really made up some ground on there.
Also just looking online at the support everyone was getting from the community, it was really quite special. I got so many encouraging messages and it just goes to show that the Man Ride really does bring people together and start a conversation.
There were a lot of challenging times. Probably too many to name but there are a few that stick out.
Towards the end of day 2, we were about 30km outside St Austell where our stop was. It was pitch black and we were on a main A-road. I was feeling pretty sick and looked at the profile, we still had 900m of climbing to do in the form of fifteen lumps. I laid on the grass verge for about ten minutes, ate two mars bars and just thought to myself, how am I going to get to the end of this day, then three more after? I got back in, just ground away for the next hour and a half, we arrived in St Austell, sat outside a Tesco and just ate as much food as possible.
Halfway through day 2, I started to get pain down the front of my right knee. I’d had it once before due to cleat position, but I think this time is was because that when I was climbing out the saddle, I couldn’t move the bike at all because of the weight, meaning my knee must have been tracking in the wrong direction.
This got progressively worse as each hour went by through the next 3 and a half days. I was taking paracetamol and Ibuprofen every two hours which wasn’t helping my stomach one bit! It got to the stage where I couldn’t get out the saddle again, and I had to set off everywhere in the little ring because the big ring was putting too much strain on it.
What were your most ridiculous experiences?
I ended up in a ditch one night. Liam squeezed past what we thought was a small van on a narrow lane in the pitch black, turned out to be a double length tanker and I was too wide to fit meaning the weight of the bike made me fall into a six-foot ditch. The lorry drove off and I had to wait for Liam to come back and help me out.
In New Forest, we turned a corner in a town and there were two horses just stood in the middle of a mini-roundabout. Cars were driving around them and everyone acted like it was completely normal. It isn’t. There are two horses stood on a roundabout.
Liam having to go into a charity shop to buy a jacket because it was so cold and wet. Best £7.99 he’s ever spent I think. Also, on the way home in Brighton, he gave it to a man who was homeless!
Some of the tracks we went down were hilariously horrible. One was so bad that the tyre tracks we were riding in were so deep that it ended up stopping us with our pedals resting on the edges, not being able to move.
The Million Dollar Question
Would I do it again? Weirdly, I actually would. With a different route and less luggage. But the experience was one I’ll never forget.