Seeing the merits of an explore-from-your-door curiosity recognized and discussed over the last two years has been an exercise in abundance, and has resulted in the collective sharing of many fresh new routes and tours to try–and oh how we are hungry to try! Brother Cycles’ new ‘Big ‘Un’ route is one such circumstantial result.
Even before Covid, Brothers Will and James had been talking about hosting an event on their home turf in Kent, UK, so it was nice to see this idea and their carefully curated route, come to life this October. Brother Will (as I like to address him) rode the heck out of this loop over various national lockdowns, while also pushing through managing an independent bicycle brand through a global pandemic. He fine-tuned a thoughtful sequence of muddy Kentish bridleways, byways, and forest trails, ready for folks to shred together once we were able to gather again. The scouting became a welcomed escape during a time when the cycling community felt far away. Fast forward to late October 2021, and the Brother Cycles crew, shredders new and old, were ready for a challenge.
Unleashing the Big ‘Un
On a sunny Saturday morning in late October, people began spilling into Brogdale Farm, home to Brother Cycles HQ. We enlisted the help of local roasters Coldblow Coffee Co. and Gill’s Cafe to take care of us in the form of caffeine and wholesome baked goods to start the day. We set up a cozy base in a barn on site where riders could chill while everyone signed on and sipped hot drinks. In true Brother fashion, people rolled out as they pleased in a loosey-goosey morning ‘start’. I set off with the final group to leave (the party pace crew, obviously) and cruised down towards Faversham to start the day’s loop.
It wasn’t long before we hit gravel tracks and said goodbye to tarmac for most of the day. We flew along the North Downs Way, maneuvered gates in clustered groups, and darted across fields and bridleways in an enthusiastic surge. We had our first spicy climb up and over a small woodland, and it felt like no time before we were at The Goods Shed, a charming farmer’s market and food hall in Canterbury that has everything your heart and stomach could desire. After loitering here for a while, we were on our way for more offroading. Elham was the next logical food stop and the route’s exact halfway point. We did not get there effortlessly. After a short stint along a country lane, we were climbing out of Canterbury, skirting treelines, and traversing more bumpy fields. We weaved in and out of technical woodlands and challenged ourselves on rocky climbs and descents. We had one particularly rude lump before finally reaching Elham. There wasn’t much daylight left, and most of the climbing was condensed into the last half of the route–a comforting message to the legs! We offered each other words of encouragement over a late lunch, and bid farewell to a couple of folks who declared that they would meet us back at the cozy barn, tapping out due to fatigue or mechanicals.
There was a sprinkling of surrenderers throughout the day and no shame in doing so. Treading that line between being an exhausted zombie and being deliriously pumped up is my favourite kind of space. When relying on your fellow cyclists and friends to bring the hype, you take turns rising to the occasion and revelling in the hilarity. This type-two fun equilibrium is what memorable group rides are made of. With one of the larger climbs directly in front of us, we rallied towards dusk as the temperature began to drop. This was by far the harsher push of the day. We followed a jagged line of offroad climbs and descents of varying difficulty levels. During one particularly enchanting moment, the sun steeped us in its disappearing rays as we scaled the edge of an open hilltop and projected our shadows across the grassy crest. A keen photographer among us stopped and excitedly took what he deemed to be ‘the best photo he had ever taken’. Once we reached the 95-kilometre mark, we had a liberating 15-kilometre descent back to Brother HQ.
The barn at Brogdale was a sight for sore eyes, and everyone returning was met with a collective cheer and high fives all around. The music was bumping, the pizza was wood-fired, and the beer was as local as you could get. Mad Cat Brewery is literally on-site and sources some of its hops from just a few fields over, how cool is that? Mia Papa’s Kitchen, run by a friendly dude named Jools, was churning out delicious pizzas from a mobile pizza oven. It was a perfect end to a good and hard slog. We exchanged stories from the day and settled into our satisfaction. Later, we headed to the camping field for more late-night cheer cozied around a bonfire.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Brother Cycles events hold a special kind of chill that is achieved through a particular community ethos rooted in a love-of-the-ride spirit and merriment over competitiveness. Like all Brother events, it’s never just about the riding but about the vibes and the togetherness. It sounds fluffy, but goshdarnit–I mean it. Brother events attract some of the chillest, raddest, and baddest cyclists around. As popular as Brother events have become, they still hold the atmosphere of your neighbourhood backyard garden party, mixed with your local folk festival (but make it about cycling), and a dash of your crazy uncle’s family cookout.
I am pleased to say that the Big ‘Un will return again next year, and become a regular fixture of the Brother Cycles event rotation due to the good times had by all. Sign up for their newsletter to get a heads up about future events and tickets in 2022.
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