THERE can have been few people more pleased by the sight of Volkswagen’s Van of the Year Transporter than the 55 cyclists on an annual four-day, 220-mile charity bike ride co-organised by former FT motoring editor John Griffiths.
This particular Transporter, a sleek, black, high-spec “Highline” Tdi 150PS short wheelbase version of the 2017 Business Van of the Year, was to be found at every mid-morning and every afternoon halt – as reliable as the Transporter itself .
It was there in a ‘St Bernard’ role – to dole out drinks, energy bars, bananas or whatever requested as the bikers flogged their 50-60 miles daily way along the crests and valleys of Wales between Brecon Beacons and the far west town of Tenby.
“By mid-afternoon you’re getting knackered”, said one of the group. “Then you come down round a corner and, thank the Lord, there’s the Volks waiting there like a bloody great black St Bernard. Rear doors open; big table set up, chairs stacked for any needy and more energy revival munchables than Sainsbury’s.
“How it gets four days’ worth of all that stuff in there for us lot remains a bike ride mystery.”
Paul Muirfield and Trish Campbell, the VW’s volunteer drivers, found using it no hardship. “Quiet, really comfortable, fast, great satnav, aircon, looks really great in black with the alloys – what wasn’t to like?” recalls Campbell.
The ride organisers, led by founder Gill Timmis, are fulsome in their gratitude to Volkswagen UK for lending “St Bernard” as a key support vehicle – and not only in respect of 2017.
“VW has been a consistent supporter of the ride for most of its just over 15 years”, says Griffiths. “Most of the rides have been in France, Belgium and Holland and VW, along with Mercedes-Benz with its trucks, has been our principal helper making the ride’s logistics possible.”
Such help has played a large part in making the rides’ financial record remarkable. First started after Timmis and Griffiths’ wife, Peggy, made a couple of pioneering rides first across Cuba and then India, they could teach Phil Hammond a thing or two about austerity: cheap hotels, recce and all other costs cut to the bone and everything done by volunteers. The riders themselves are just an extended circle of friends and friends of friends, many returning for punishment year after year
“St Bernard” might have wagged its tail when a short time ago, after final funds had been raked in, Timmis announced that this year’s ride had raised £48,000, lifting the overall total to £710,000.
The ride is now the single biggest funder of its long-standing charity, “Become”, the former Who Cares? Trust devoted to the welfare of children in local authority care. However Timmis chose to go to Buckingham Palace by car, not by bike, to collect a well-earned MBE .