Pan Celtic Race & Cloud 9 Cycles. A weekend of films, riding, and a cosy inn as reported by Taylor Doyle of Cloud 9 Cycles.
When I asked Matt Ryan, the creator of the Pan Celtic Race, who I had yet to meet in person, what we should call our joint event and screening weekend for THE FILM, he responded with:
“I quite like…Cloud 9 and Pan Celtic Race Present a Gathering – Special Edition…essentially what we are doing is putting on a Gathering but this one is special. So, the Special Edition in gold text please! ”
It wasn’t until later that I realised that the Gathering was, in fact, part of a series of Gatherings, and that this one was, in fact, quite special. It wasn’t long until I learned that the Gatherings are a vibe, a communal, welcoming space for anyone who can handle the clan. They feel like a movement, coming from a special breed of ultra-endurance cult members here in the UK—many of whom I’d have the pleasure of meeting over the course of this weekender. This community strikes the perfect balance between competitiveness and compassion, a camaraderie that manages to psyche you up and encourage you at the same time that it keeps you humble.
I had heard that the Pan Celtic Race guys were full-on, lovely, maniacs. My kind of people. Still, you can’t fully understand the excitement and hype around the Pan Celtic Race until you meet these exceptional human beings, the creators of the beast, and soon you’ll find that you ‘get it’.
We started our special Gathering on a Friday eve in November at Cloud 9 Cycles in central London. Matt and Rebecca, and their lovely family arrived in good time for merry meetings and greetings and then to get some food in celebration of their son Harvey’s birthday before it all started. The restaurant of choice for the new 21 year old? Nando’s, naturally.
Toby and Pete were close behind, and we went for coffee at the neighbouring cafe, to become acquainted and talk about the evening and weekend ahead. Everyone arrived with their bikes, fully loaded for the weekend. We hung around the shop, the Cloud 9 team, Adam, Billy, Luca and myself waiting patiently for everyone to arrive. We had spent the whole day cleaning and tidying, as is an unending task in a bicycle shop. Do we have enough beer? Do we have enough space? It was like waiting for your guests to arrive to your house party, you never know just how many people are actually going to show, and how many new faces might be coming along. We spend so much time in the shop that it basically is our home.
Albion arrived to set up their pop-up display, showing off their latest weather-appropriate fall and winter kit. Albion is a partner of the PCR and their kit is well-considered, tested, and mighty easy on the eyes too. Before we knew it, our little shop was packed, beer was flowing, and there were more people than had been in our space all at once than ever before. Many old friends embraced and were welcomed upon arrival. It was pretty obvious who the PCR riders from 2019 were, greeted enthusiastically and excited to be reunited. There were also PCR 2020 riders present, who were gearing up for their first PCR experience in July 2020.
Anticipation for the premiere of the 2019 Race Film was palpable. After a brief introduction, we rounded everyone up, and everyone rounded up their drinks, and we headed next door to our screening venue, the beautiful Building Centre, to be hosted by the wonderful folks at New London Architecture.
We settled in and gathered round (a bigger turn out than expected!) and kicked off the screening with a short film from our friends at Restrap. Their film, Arigatou, follows four friends endeavouring to ride across Japan, from Osaka to Tokyo, via the infamous Mount Norikura, the highest paved road in Japan. After being treated to that light-hearted, cinematic adventure, Matt Ryan, the chief of the clan, gave what can only be described as a spoken word ode to the beginning of time and space, including the birth story of the Pan Celtic Race.
Whether you had ridden the race, were set to ride the race, or would never endeavour to do such a thing, the 2019 Race Film is a beautiful and honest depiction, following different riders through the entire race, from sign-on right through each Celtic nation, to the finish line in Llandudno. Legend Ryan Flinn (aka RHINO), a prominent rider represented in the film, was sitting front row, with a wide toothed smile, gazing up at memories past.
After living vicariously through the big screen, the film came to a close, we applauded to the PCR’s first year of existence. There was an excited buzz in the air, and a bit of gratifying relief for the PCR crew. Months and months of time and planning, put in by Matt, Rebecca, Toby, Pete, and countless others, were finally represented on screen, and shared with an appreciative audience. After a birthday song for Harvey, sung with great gusto, we made our way back to Cloud 9 Cycles for some fish and chippies, some more celebratory drinks, and an after party of sorts, knowing very well that we had an early start on the bikes the following morning. Deciding when to have the last beer at such enjoyable happenings is always a strategic call.
Saturday morning started with some of the best coffee in London, from our neighbours at Store Street Espresso. Riders came slowly at first, with a couple early risers arriving bang on at 7am (impressive! There are always a few…). The shop eventually filled up with clan members new and old, nipping to the café for some breaky and some caffeine and then raring to go. There was faffing-a-plenty, as all good rides begin. I won’t call out any specific clan members here who looked like they had decided to have their last beer about 4 hours earlier.
Our destination was Enigma Bicycleworks in Hailsham. Enigma are a beloved original race partner and supporter of the Pan Celtic Race. They are an impressive UK brand, and the quality, attention to detail, and care that goes into their bikes is exceptional. We were in for an exclusive tour of their factory.
We set off south, meandering our way out of central London, which is always a particular experience on a group ride. After a quick zip around, and brief halt at Trafalgar Square to see the sights (bloody tourists…) we continued on until the urban environment fell away. It took a little while, and we all naturally spread out into different pockets of riding buddies, but we were eventually treated to our first country lanes. “Right, who’s got the route?” Classic. Those who managed to get the route onto their device before the weekend, despite the general hecticness of life, made themselves known, and those who were riding blind were sure to stay close. We had 100kms of a fairly hilly route, considering most riders were from far hillier regions of the UK (or at least many made sure to mention!). We were treated to pretty fair weather, with some good sun later in the day but definitely getting chilly at pit stops. Some stopped at cafés and pubs along the way, others opted for side of the road fuel ups. We were taken along a curated route planned with the help of Komoot and scouted and amended many times by myself and different members from the Cloud 9 team in the weeks leading up to the Gathering.
The route was mostly road-based, with some time spent on cycleways, specifically the delightful Cuckoo Trail, an old rail trail, on the last stretch into Hailsham. This was when the speckled sun came out and lit up what was left of autumn’s leafy colours, most of which was already layered into a slippery carpet beneath our wheels.
I ended up spending most of the day riding with Lee Grieve from Roaming Roads Co. and fellow Cloud 9iner Luca Gozio. Many a good conversation has been had atop a bicycle, and typically the longer it goes on, and as the shadows get taller across the roads, the deeper it goes. Before you know it you’ve told your condensed life story, through adequately laboured breath. Or am I the only one that does this to people? I had the pleasure of learning all about Roaming Roads Co. the hyper-custom touring experience creators based in the Peak District that Lee recently co-founded. Check them out – Roaming Roads Co Facebook Page
Upon arriving at Enigma we were greeted with spectacular hospitality. A full spread of homemade cakes and cookies, and hot coffee and tea at the ready. Richard Lambert from Enigma, who had joined us for the screening and the ride, aided the Enigma team with giving tours of the factory. The owners, Jim and Christine Walker welcomed us warmly, sharing stories and showing us around their great space. Dave Rollinson, the master of Enigma Paintworks, took small groups at a time into his painting booth to show us his magic, giving us impressive demos, and explaining his process. I cannot convey here just how talented Dave is. With a decade of working for Harley Davidson before his time at Enigma, Dave’s skills as a painter, craftsman, and designer, are exceptional. We spent a good afternoon at Enigma, warming up and hanging out at the factory, eating treats, sipping hot things, watching demos, learning how to anodise, and listening to stories from the industry.
When it was time to leave it was dark. Some riders had already peeled off for the night, but the majority of us had plans to hit up a local pub and accommodation, The Horseshoe Inn on Windmill Hill. We said our goodbyes and thank you’s, and rolled out onto the dark roads, lights on, for a quick zip to our final destination.
The Horseshoe Inn was a cosy little spot. Staff were very welcoming to our rather large group, as we filed in with our bikes which they graciously let us all keep in their function room, which would have been large enough for us all to campout in for the night. Once everyone was sorted with a room, some of us went straight for a pint, while others showered off the day. We drank and chatted and recapped the day’s ride. We basically had the place to ourselves. This charming and traditional Tudor-style inn was our home for the night, and we certainly felt at home.
We enjoyed a curry in the restaurant together, and had more merriment bar-side into the later side of the evening. New riders, clan members, and PCR riders slotted for 2020 bonded over shared experiences on the bike, comparing notes, sharing memories, and making new ones. Some riders bid us farewell and headed out into the night. Slowly but surely, we all retreated to our rooms for the night.
In the morning we all gathered over breakfast before our departure. Some riders dipped out early to make a swift dash back to London on the bike. Some of us had plans to make it to the seaside, others were keen for a train. After a few heartfelt goodbyes, a thinned-out group of us began a windy ride towards Eastbourne to reach the sea.
We were greeted with strong sun and strong wind, always a conflicting experience of enjoyment. We cracked on until we reached the water, whose waves were good and big that day. We cycled along the coast until we found a little café. A second breakfast was in order, in the form of coffee and cake, as we watched the waves.
It was here that we all went our separate ways. Matt, Toby, and a couple brave souls endeavoured to continue towards Brighton against the wind. Pete was off to visit family. One wild chap – clan member Jason Hayles, was off to battle the wind for the rest of the day, on his journey back to the Isle of Wight, from where he rode in the first place to get to this Gathering! We bid farewell to legends Neil Lauder and Will Murtaugh who turned around and headed for Kent with a splendid tailwind. I said goodbye to Ali Hutton, the female champ of PCR 2019, whose riding strength I can only hope to aspire to one day.
Cyclists are the best kind of people.
I was exhausted. Mostly from the anticipation and then rush of the Gathering. I was on a high from meeting so many genuine, friendly, and experienced riders that weekend, and picking up a few new riding buddies and friends! I opted for the warm embrace of a train from Eastbourne.
PCR 2020, which I have the absolute honour of being able to ride this year, is going to be epic. I can’t wait to see a lot of these riders again, and to meet the other new members of the Race Clan. Shout out to new friend and all around bada$$ Charlotte Barton @zerotosixteenhundred/ who I had the pleasure of meeting on the eve of the screening, and who is diving head first into endurance cycling with PCR 2020 as well!
Thank you to those of you who are reading these words. Whether you attended the Gathering or not, thank you for riding your bike, or supporting someone who does, and thank you for being part of a culture that brings people together in the best way possible (on bicycles, obviously). Thank you also to the entire Pan Celtic Race team for being completely brilliant humans in this world.
This Gathering truly was Special Edition (in gold text please!)
P.S. If you missed the tour of Enigma, and are keen to get your hands on a demo bike, get in touch with us at Cloud 9 Cycles and we can hook you up!
Cheers for now!