Two weeks ago today the Bikes to Billund team cycled into the LEGO House after successfully completing our challenge of riding to Denmark from the flagship LEGO store in Leicester Square, London, to raise money for Fairy Bricks.
Along the way our support team in the Fairy Bricks van donated tens of thousands of Euros worth of LEGO to hospitals in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
Find out how the idea came about and whether the ride went to plan after the break.
Like many crazy ideas, this one started out as a beer-fuelled conversation at Skaerbaek last year between myself and Kev Gascoigne, Chief Fairy at Fairy Bricks.
Kev asked if I'd like to do a sponsored cycle ride around the UK, visiting all the LEGO brand stores, to raise money for Fairy Bricks. I was certainly up for the ride but wasn't keen on the proposal given that it would involve a lot of riding in cities which is never much fun.
After a bit more thought he came up with another idea: cycling from London to The LEGO House, to arrive on the House's first anniversary. That sounded far more appealing! However it would require a lot of organisation and co-operation with LEGO and at that point I didn't think it would ever come to pass.
However, in the next few months Kev did what he does best: negotiated with LEGO and sounded out several others to see if they'd be interested in riding. By Christmas, the team had been assembled and it was all starting to fall into place.
Planning the route
So, the plan was for four of us -- me, Ed Diment, Director of Bright Bricks, James Pegrum, member of the Bricks to the Past building collective, and Ralph Doering, a German AFOL living in the UK, would ride to Denmark, while Kev and Andrew 'Fly' Tipping would follow in the Fairy Bricks van, to carry our stuff, to provide support if we needed it and also, most importantly, to donate LEGO to children's hospitals along the way.
Early in the new year we had a teleconference to kick off planning the ride and one of first things we discussed was how many days we'd need to cover the distance, which was just under 1000 Km. We agreed that we would leave on the Thursday before the first anniversary event at The LEGO House on the 27th September. That would give us 7 whole days and a morning, meaning we'd need to ride an average of 130Km / 80 miles a day.
I took responsibility for planning the route and after a few days came up with something using the excellent cycle route planing website cycle.travel.
It won't have escaped your notice, I am sure, that the UK is an island off of mainland Europe, so a sea crossing to the continent is required to get to Denmark. We opted to use the Harwich (conveniently about 130Km from London) to Hoek Van Holland overnight ferry which would take us to The Netherlands. From there it's 830 Km to Billund. Here's the first version of the route across the continent I planned.
Once we had agreed the route, I divided it into 130Km segments and identified the nearest towns which would allow Kev to find and book suitable hotels.
Kev sorted the accommodation and over the summer the four of us got out on our bikes as much as possible, while Kev was busy sorting things out with LEGO.
We didn't really discuss it as a group again until August, when we figured out what we'd need to take, who would bring what, and that sort of thing.
The 20th of September approached quickly and when the day arrived we all made our way to Leicester Square to be ready to set off from the brand store at 9am-ish.
Day 1: Leaving London
The store had yet to open to the public so we prepared for the ride and posed for a few photos inside. The LEGO bike was built by Gary Davis, who clad a conventional cycle with bricks to make it look like an up-scaled minifig bike. It was never the intention to ride it all the way but it would be used for publicity shots and so on.
(l to r: James, Ed, Lester, Ralph, me)
I rode it round the corner for this video.
At 08:50 we mounted our bikes and set off through the London rush-hour. It was my first time cycling in London and while it was slow going I was impressed by the new cycle 'super-highways' that meant we didn't need to ride on the roads very much.
We stopped off at James' parents house in Woodford, north-east of London, for a quick break then continued to Chelmsford, Colchester and Harwich.
It was an incredibly windy day, thanks to Storm Bronagh but thankfully it was a westerly tailwind which helped rather than hindered. In fact I recorded my fastest ever 40Km that day, in 1hr 30m.
We arrived in Harwich around 5pm so had time to recover in the local Morrisons cafe before we could board our ferry at 8:30.
Day 2-3 The Netherlands
The ferry docked at 08:00 local time / 07:00 UK time, We were subjected to loud Tannoy messages in our cabins reminding us to get up at 06:30 local / 05:30 UK time, which was unfortunate!
Storm Bronagh continued to batter northern Europe as we arrived in Holland although the forecasted rain did not accompany it.
The westerly wind helped us once again as we headed through delightful Dutch countryside to Den Haag (The Hague) where we met our first accompanying cyclist Lars, who lives in the city. After some brief sightseeing we continued to Rijnsburg to meet up with the van at Bert Giesen's house, who had offered us refreshments.
We hadn't eaten breakfast on the ferry so the excellent home-made cakes and stroopwafels were very welcome!
Here you can see Lars' heavy steel street bike, complete with front basket, second from left, that's typical of the cycles in the country.
We said goodbye to Lars, who headed home by train from there, and continued across Holland to the south of Amsterdam where we met up with the van at a hospital just as they were dropping off some LEGO.
After a lunch stop in KFC we rode the last 50km of the day to our hotel near Lelystad in the flat (and boring) Dutch province of Flevoland which was reclaimed from the sea in the 1950s and 1960s.
That evening we met Andre, who was going to ride with us to Emmen the next day, and his girlfriend Janet, for dinner. The forecasted rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, passed over while we were eating, thankfully.
The following day we continued our ride across the Netherlands to Emmen in the east of the country, with Andre on his mountain bike and in jeans.
Along the way we also met up with Lars again, and Rubens, who rode with us for 30Km or so.
We passed through the old town of Kampen which has impressive city gates...
...and a wonky tower on the former town hall.
The day's ride passed largely uneventfully and, other than one downpour, was mostly dry.
Day 4-5 Through Germany to Hamburg
Day four, Emmen to Bremen, would be our longest ride, at over 150Km, so we decided to try and set off early to get as far as possible before the forecasted rain arrived.
Unfortunately, things didn't go to plan. While Ed was getting our bikes out of the van at the hotel he locked his and Ralph's to a railing and lost the key! We spent 20 minutes looking before he took two pairs of pliers to it. Thankfully the lock was a cheap one so it took very little effort to break it.
As we rode our final 10Km in the Netherlands to the border with Germany our journey briefly became 'boots to Billund' where the block paved road across the fields was being repaired.
We crossed into Germany on a minor road. There was not much in the way of signage to suggest we'd done so, other than a plaque explaining that the stone pillar that marked the border was now on private land, so we couldn't pose for a photo by it.
The rain was forecast for the afternoon and as the weather first thing was not too bad some of us didn't wear our full waterproof gear, intending to put it on when we met the van at lunchtime. Unfortunately it arrived not long after we'd crossed into Germany and didn't stop for the rest of the day. Consequently we got absolutely soaked. We arrived at our lunchtime meeting place looking, and feeling, like drowned rats.
We dried off a bit and put on more appropriate clothing in the van before continuing for another four hours in the rain to Bremen after lunch. It was here that Ed found the key: down his bib-shorts!
The hotel that night was one of the better ones we stayed in. Thankfully it had radiators and a heated towel rail so we were able to wash and dry our kit overnight.
We had hoped that would be the last of the rain, but unfortunately the worst was yet to come. Day five, Bremen to Hamburg, started cold and dry but it wasn't long before we encountered more showers.
It was on this day that the low point of the whole trip occurred. The temperature dropped to about 6c and the rain turned to hail. It's bad enough cycling in the rain but it's unbearable in hail, for obvious reasons!
As we took shelter under trees Ralph shot this video:
Thankfully the rain stopped mid-afternoon so we managed to dry off a bit.
Through Germany we mainly rode on cycle paths that run alongside roads, some of which had been closed while they were being resurfaced. It was on one such stretch of road that Ed had an unfortunate incident.
We had noticed that on one unsurfaced road the rain had turned an orange-brown colour. We didn't think much of it at first, until one point where a road sweeper was coming towards us on the cycle path.
Myself, James and Ralph pulled over to the side to let it pass but Ed managed to find a section of dropped kerb onto the road so rode along it for a few hundred meters to avoid it. As the sweeper passed Ralph the driver spoke to him and said to keep off the road because it was covered in tarmac primer that would stick to our bikes. Sure enough, Ed's bike and clothing were covered in the tar-like stuff that could not be shifted by water alone.
His bike was still functioning, though, so we continued to Hamburg, where we crossed impressive bridge in the south of the city.
At the hotel, Ed stripped his bike down and spent an hour getting the worst of the tar off with a solvent-based cleaner we had in the van. His jacket, however, was a write-off.
While he was busy with that, Ralph and James headed to the Hamburg LEGO store. The staff there had heard about our ride and were hoping we'd stop by, so were very pleased to see them.
That night we met up with Andres from Zusammengebaut.com, and Jan, Pia and Martin who helped facilitate the LEGO drops to hospitals in the city.
Day 6-7 Into Denmark
The van had to set off early to make an appointment at a local hospital so rather than rush about in the morning getting our bikes out of it we took them to our rooms the night before.
We were just about to put them into the hotel's lift when Ralph noticed he had a puncture, the first on our trip. I cannot think of anywhere better to have to change an inner tube than in a warm, dry, carpeted hotel room!
Thankfully that was the only one any of us had on the journey.
It took absolutely ages to get out of Hamburg: it's a big city with lots of road crossings and traffic lights. When we finally made it to the northern outskirts we met up with Manuela, who, along with her husband Thomas, helps organise the Skaerbaek fan weekend.
The hot drinks and snacks she provided went down a treat!
This was the only sunny and entirely dry day we had on the whole trip, which also made it one of the most pleasant. It was also the first time since leaving the UK that we encountered hills.
One of the most interesting parts of the day's journey was crossing the Kiel canal at Rendsburg. We were expecting to be going over a bridge but it was actually a lift down to an underground passage underneath the canal and a lift back up again. The waterway is an important shortcut between the Baltic and North seas, used extensively in the world wars by the German navy. We arrived just in time to see a couple of cargo ships pass by.
After an overnight stop in Schleswig we continued north towards Denmark, passing through Flensburg before reaching the border mid-morning on day 7.
Our ride through the south of Jutland to our overnight stop 45Km south of Billund was uneventful, although the rain had returned.
That night in our hotel near Rodding we were joined by Caspar Bennedsen, who would be riding with us to Billund in the morning, and several others who had travelled from Skaerbaek to greet us, including Bert, Andre and Janet, and Dirk Frantzen. Unfortunately we had to be up before dawn to get to Billund on time, so we didn't have long to socialise.
Day 8 Arrival in Billund
Originally we had planned a leisurely start to the day, to arrive in Billund mid-morning. However, we were told that Kjeld Kirk Kristiensen wanted to meet us when we arrived and that he'd be at the LEGO House at 09:30. We therefore had to set off at 06:30 start to guarantee we covered the 45Km in time, allowing for any mishaps along the way.
As well as having Caspar join us for the ride we were honoured to have Jesper Vilstrup, General Manager of the LEGO House ride with us too.
The first part of the ride, along busy roads in the dark and drizzle, was horrendous but once dawn broke and we were back on cycle paths, we made good progress.
(l to r: Ralph, Jesper, James, me, Ed, Caspar)
30Km in we had our first mechanical breakdown of the trip! Caspar thought he had a puncture in his front wheel but it turned out that the tyre bead had popped out of the wheel rim. A quick deflation and re-inflation soon sorted that out, thankfully, so we were back on our way in no time.
Despite that minor setback we arrived on the outskirts of Billund at about 08:30. As we were passing this sign, the Fairy Bricks van pitched up, just in time for a group photo.
We arrived in the town with time to spare so we stopped in Lalandia near the LEGOLAND park for a quick coffee before setting off on the final 1Km to the House, with Jesper riding the LEGO bike, at 09:20.
It was slightly surreal arriving there: a red carpet had been laid outside and inside were were greeted by the applause of hundreds of AFOLs, there for the first anniversary celebrations. We cycled to the stage, dismounted our bikes and went onto it.
After a few questions from Jan Beyer about our journey and why we had made it, Kjeld joined us on stage for this great group photo. The model of the Fairy Bricks van had been given to him moments before by Kev, and he was thrilled with it.
So, after 7 days, we all made it in one piece!
Overall, we rode 989Km in a total moving time of 43 hours, which is an average speed of about 23Km/h.
My Garmin device, on which I navigated and recorded the ride, suggests that we climbed a total of 3400 metres but I find that hard to believe given the terrain was so flat. We certainly weren't troubled by anything more than a 2% hill climb.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was great fun, and a great bonding experience with my fellow riders. We had some rough times in bad weather, but also made some lasting memories.
Looking back, I do wonder if it was too easy given it was so flat and I had no trouble covering the distances day after day. I had no saddle sores and no aching muscles. Perhaps that was because I'd prepared for it over the summer, training in the hilly Hampshire countryside, so was ready for it. Perhaps we could have done it in fewer days... maybe next time!
So far we have raised over £7000. There's still time to donate if you'd like to and I'd really appreciate it if you did, so thank you in advance.
As a reminder, this is why Fairy Bricks is such a great cause and why I was proud to ride for them:
Many thanks to Kev, Fly, Ed, James and Ralph and everyone that rode with us or met us en route. You helped it be a wonderful and memorable experience. And, a very big thank you to everyone who has sponsored us!