Shangri-La Hotel bicycle team sets off on a charity ride across China
The Shangri-La Hotel bicycle team is undertaking a 2,000-kilometre charity ride across China, team leader Nick Smith tells Mark Graham
When the going gets tough for a bunch of cyclists undertaking a marathon ride around southern and eastern China, they will not lack the inspiration to keep their wheels turning.
Money raised by the Shangri-La Hotel bicycle team's 2,000-kilometre mega-pedal from Shenzhen to Shanghai - called Ride for Hope - will improve the lives of some of the mainland's poorest people.
The team of six cyclists set off at the weekend on a three-week adventure that will see them pass through four provinces and 22 cities, staying at the hotel chain's properties along the way. The first leg, from the Futian Shangri-La Shenzhen to the Shangri-La Shenzhen, featured a ride along the coast, with an informal peloton of well-wishers joining the official riders.
Team leader and Futian hotel resident manager Nick Smith came up with the idea of this charity bike ride and chose as the main beneficiary poor villagers in Guangxi province who urgently need to build water-storage cellars.
Smith, 38, put together an accomplished cycling team that includes: Carl Wu, a young cycling enthusiast from Shenzhen; Li Xiaobao, who once cycled 2,600 kilometres from Yunnan to Lhasa in Tibet; Lu Yushui, a cycling enthusiast dedicated to helping children in Guangxi; Lu Baokang, who finished 10th among 500 cyclists at a recent race in Beihai city; and Shenzhen-based freelance writer Thomas Bird.
An SUV will trail the team to provide mechanical support and medical assistance.
"I originally thought of a Hong Kong to Harbin ride, but thought I would try the tame version first," says Smith, whose team has been training for three months in preparation for the 100-kilometre daily legs.
"We are all experienced and have cycled a fair bit. One of the guys, Li Xiaobao, is a man of steel. I went out riding with him last week and he was out of his saddle most of the time, which means he is a pretty strong lad.
"We will be aiming to average about 22 kilometres an hour; during our training rides we have not dropped below that. The goal is to ride within sight of each other. We agreed that it is marathon, not a sprint, and there is no point in showing off. I think among the people who join us for sections, though, there will be a few fast Charlies, so we will let them go off and burn their energy."
Smith, a Welshman and father of two young boys, was a semi-professional cyclist in his younger days, but had put in precious little tarmac time in recent years until a posting in Shanghai - and a friendship with a fellow cycling enthusiast - rekindled his love affair with the mainland's most popular form of transport.
A later move to the Futian hotel property saw cycling become part of a regular exercise regimen and, over time, the idea formed for an ambitious fundraising charity ride. The team will stop in Shenzhen, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou and Suzhou before a final ceremonial ride into the port city of Shanghai.
Shangri-La properties at each stop have agreed to underwrite the cost of accommodating the team, and are organising an event around each visit, which is hoped will swell the charity coffers. The goal was to raise 250,000 yuan (HK$316,000) but it is looking increasingly likely that a figure of 500,000 yuan or more will be reached. All the money will go directly to charities.
Poor folk in the southern province of Guanxi - the main beneficiaries - are former mountain dwellers who have moved down to live along a newly built road. This gives them easier access to modern-day facilities, but they desperately need water-storage cellars to replace their previous water source: mountain caves.
Water collected during the rainy season is sufficient for a year's consumption. Each water cellar costs 6,000 yuan and the target is to build 20 cellars.
"Their conditions really are diabolical," says Smith. "It will be very satisfying for us to be able to make a difference, to invest the money and make sure it goes to the right place. We want to do something that is meaningful, we don't just want to hand over a cheque and say we have done our job. We want something over a longer period of time."
The other two recipients of funding will be the Shenzhen Blue Ocean Conservation Association and the WILL Foundation, which supports orphan children.
Each of the 11 Shangri-La properties along the way is drumming up support - and funds - by asking the public to sign up to accompany the riders for a short leg, paying 200 yuan for the privilege. Donors are given a T-shirt, and it's expected that a sea of people in Ride for Hope garb will ride the final leg.
By then, the six riders will probably have become mini-celebrities, albeit weary ones. "We will have a couple of rest days" says Smith. "You can't do three weeks non-stop or your legs would fall off."