WildFox Events is luring riders to the second annual Etape Royale with the help of a Victorian-era two wheeler.
The man behind Scotland’s only closed road cycle ‘sportive’ is going to extreme lengths to promote this year’s event – by riding across the UK on a penny farthing.
Eccentric David Fox-Pitt cuts a curious figure as he rolls through cities, towns and villages, peddling his wares that is the Etape Royale.
The 51-year-old even takes the Victorian-era bike on the sleeper train to London, where he drums up more publicity – and stops traffic – by cycling around Euston for the day.
So far, his quirky stunt has proved highly successful, with over 600 participants already signed up for the 100-mile circuit through the north-east of Scotland.
David said the inspiration for his quirky marketing campaign came after he completed last year’s inaugural Etape Royale on a penny farthing – along with Scots adventurer and record-breaking cyclist, Mark Beaumont.
“It just seemed like a natural, obvious thing to do,” he said. “Since Mark and I took part in the Etape, the penny farthing has become an icon for the event. It’s a trigger, if you like, for people to recognise the event. It’s a great publicity stunt. I wear an Etape logo on my shirt and I just cycle around on the penny, attracting lots of attention. I did think about attaching a sales flag to the bike, but then realised that could cause an accident.
“The response I receive is terrific – I get tooted-up by drivers, and people stop to speak to me and, as a result, more people sign up for the event. I do get some strange looks sometimes, especially when I take the penny farthing on the sleeper train to London, but that’s a good thing as it becomes a talking point and therefore generates more interest. The London trips are great. I arrive in London in the morning, attend my meetings, then ride around Euston before getting the sleeper back to Scotland in the evening. It’s great fun.”
The Quilter Cheviot Etape Royale, organised by David’s adventure challenge company WildFox Events, takes cyclists on a 102-mile closed road circular route through stunning Aberdeenshire and Moray, starting and finishing at Ballater.
The event takes place on September 18, and participants will ride through Tarland, Muir of Fowlis, Bridge of Alford and Rhynie before heading west into Moray, over the Lecht and through Corgarff.
A record number of participants are expected to get on their bikes for this year’s ride, which raises money for local charities and community projects along the route.
And David said support from local communities has been “overwhelming”, especially in Ballater, where more than 300 homes were devastated by severe flooding caused by Storm Frank in December.
He explained: “Last year’s Etape Royale attracted 1,000 cyclists. This year we’re expecting around double that amount. People pay £71 to register and we take ten per cent of that and give it to local communities. This seems to work really well and community groups all along the route get involved. We’re taking ownership of the event rather than have a big outside company come in and take a large portion of the profits.
“The support we’ve received from the local communities has been phenomenal.
We’ve got about £2,000 going into kids’ activities, we’ll be running mountain biking courses and, of course, the piece de resistance being Ballater, this stunning, stunning place where, six months ago, over 300 homes were under nine foot of water. But the message now is: Ballater is back in business. All the shops and businesses are gradually opening up and everything should be back to normal by the end of June.”
Sadly, for “health and safety reasons”, David and his penny farthing will not be featuring in September.
“I love riding the penny farthing,” said Fox-Pitt, whose cousin William Fox-Pitt is a Britain’s most successful eventing rider, and who is currently recovering after a nasty fall in October last year left him an induced coma.
Appropriately enough, the experience of being atop a high wheeler is much like being on four legs, says David. “It’s like being on a horse – you get a fantastic view. But doing the Etape on it again is not something I’m planning in the near future, for health and safety reasons, mainly. Last year I took a crash coming down the Lecht (my own fault – I should have got off the thing for that part), and it took my 13 hours to complete the course, which is not really meant for penny farthing bikes. That said, if I can do it on a penny farthing, anyone can do it on a normal bike.”
Since it was set up in 1996, WildFox Events – which runs a string of endurance events including the Loch Ness Marathon – has raised over £40 million for a variety of charities.
“We’re fortunate to have a chief sponsor, Quilter Cheviot,” added David. “We couldn’t do without them – the cost of road closures is very expensive. They’re also entering 200 people into the event. But the Etape Royale is not just about cycling. It’s about community spirit. It’s about fitness. It’s about challenging yourself, and it’s about this beautiful part of the world.”
What: The Quilter Cheviot Etape Royale
When: September 18