Discovering Britain (and re-discovering my passion for cycling) on ‘The British Cycle Quest’
In late 2016 after a sixteen-year hiatus I bought two bicycles (Road & MTB) and almost immediately stumbled across two things that really spurred me on and encouraged me to get out on my bike. One was the Fat Lad At The Back brand that sold me some functional clothing that wasn’t skin tight and comfortably accommodated the weight I had gained during my absence from the saddle, and the other was ‘The British Cycle Quest’- a challenge devised and administered by Cycling UK.
I will summarise my first two years on the BCQ and hopefully give you a feel for why I believe this to be one of the hidden gems of Cycling UK’s work.
What is the BCQ?
It's probably the most common question I’m asked when I mention it to people, and the nearest short answer I can give is ‘cycle touring combined with an element of orienteering’. Basically, Cycling UK have set up a scheme whereby every county / region in the country (including Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Shetlands, etc) has six checkpoints which need to be visited by bicycle, added to together this forms a complete list of 402 checkpoints.
Participants in the BCQ are required to visit each checkpoint and answer a question about that checkpoint, answers are then submitted on question cards which are submitted to Cycling UK for validation. Awards in the form of certificates are gained at 10 and 50 checkpoints, and Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum medals are awarded at 100, 200, 300 and 402 checkpoints respectively.
One of the attractions about the BCQ for me is its relaxed nature – there are no organised events, no specific routes to be ridden, and no time limits, all Questers need to do is submit at least one answer every five years to be listed on the active Questers list. The Questers that have completed all 402 checkpoints (around 20 to date) have generally taken around 8-10 years to complete the Quest, and many Quester will never complete the entire Quest but will always have it as an aspiration.
How do you get started?
Participation in the quest is essentially free as the question book can be downloaded from the Cycling UK BCQ page as a PDF. If you wish to submit answers for validation there is a small charge for question cards – each card can accommodate ten answers, and the full set can be purchased for around £15. Certificates are free and there is a small charge to cover the cost of medals when those are gained. But if you don’t want the awards then the Quest is free.
As there are six checkpoints in every county there is almost certainly going to be some that are local to anyone looking to start the Quest so getting started is easy. The majority of the checkpoints tend to be in places of historic interest such as monuments, listed buildings, churches, National Trust properties etc, and all are publicly assessible without having to pay any additional fee for entry.
In general a decent day tour of around 40-50 miles will likely be able to take in two or three checkpoints within the same county or in neighbouring counties, and in some places such as Greater London or the Isle of Wight all six can be covered in shorter distances, and because the rules of the BCQ allow you to drive or take public transport to the general area visiting checkpoints can often be combined with other activities such as visiting relatives or going on holiday etc so long as you take your bike to get to the checkpoint – I once even managed to combine going on a training course for work with a quick twenty mile ‘training ride’ in the evening to a local checkpoint.
The Quest has taken me to some great places in the last couple of years such as the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, the Hardy Monument in Dorset and Culver Down on the IOW both of which where at the top of ferocious climbs but with views of the surrounding country side that made the effort totally worthwhile. There have of course been the inevitably odd bad day, getting drenched in Surrey after the weather forecast got it completely wrong, and getting the front wheel of my bike wiped out by a supermarket home delivery van in Dorset were probably the only two which after more than thirty days spent questing isn’t a bad ratio.
The checkpoints for the Quest can (in my experience) be visited on any kind of bicycle as they are all in places where any skinny tyre road bike can go, and I’ve even visited checkpoints on a Brompton – most notably in London where I managed to visit all six in one day, combined with a bit of tourist sight seeing and tube riding so if you have a bike then you also have pretty much the minimum amount of equipment required to compete in the Quest.
In the space available on relatively short blog post I really can’t do the Quest justice, so I recommend visiting the BCQ page on the Cycling UK website (link below), downloading the question book and giving it a go – it won’t cost you a penny to try it out but I’m sure you’ll be hooked. If you’re interested in more information I have been keeping a detailed online journal of my questing adventures the link to which is also below.
Cycling UK BCQ page - https://www.cyclinguk.org/british-cycle-quest
My Questing diary – http://www.quest.nwarwick.co.uk
Neil Warwick is a FLampion organises FLAB Social rides in Berkshire. You can find out more about Neil's social rides here on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/groups/2101517010129959/