“It’s a team challenge, not an individual ride”: Guy Heywood talks African Cycle Challenges

Guy Heywood is a Transaid Ambassador and cycle challenge enthusiast, having completed five African challenges for Transaid so far. Here are some of the things he has learned in the saddle…

You’ll never forget your first cycle challenge

My first Transaid cycle challenge was in Madagascar in June of 2012. In a small team of 25 riders, we covered 450 km of on- and off-road riding, from the capital to the coast of this gem of an island. Unseasonably wet weather tried to dampen our spirits, but all of the team finished the ride with huge smiles on their faces. The challenge of the cycling quickly fades in my memory and I am left with many great memories of the funny moments, the excitement of cycling through groups of lemurs, and the real sense of achievement as a group. I like to think we are investing in memories in all of our life experiences. Transaid challenges certainly offer a memory rich experience.

You’ll have a few unexpected encounters along the way

So far, I have completed 5 ‘official’ challenges and several other individual challenges for Transaid. I have had the opportunity to ride with many like-minded and fascinating people in Madagascar, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia.  One of my favourite memories from is from Tanzania in 2015. After riding for several hours along a deserted sand track in Tanzania, I found a Maasai village chief, dressed in traditional red dress and with spear, who in perfect English asked me where I was going. Over the course of our conversation I discovered that he was educated in the UK, in Walsall. I also learnt he had several wives, 30 goats, many children, and a smart phone! We parted with a big hug and he pushed me and my bike for 200m up the track. It was a genuine money can’t buy memory.

Another favourite memory is cycling in Uganda, when we had a guide on a motorcycle as we rode through a game reserve. He said Uganda only had three white Rhinos left in the wild. As we turned a corner on the track, two – 66% of the population – were stretched out across our path. Naturally this was exciting and a little scary, until the guide mentioned with a mischievous smile that if they charged we didn’t need to outride them – we only had to outrun one of the other cyclists!

The last day is always unforgettable

The highlight of any cycle challenge is always the last day riding into the final hotel. The sense of achievement and camaraderie within the group is unforgettable, as is the pride in what we have done and in what the money we raised will do. Better still is the knowledge that we will soon be out of our cycle gear before the unofficial post-cycle celebrations start.

You don’t need to be an experienced cyclist to sign up

I am often asked if you need to be an experienced cyclist to take part. The honest answer is absolutely not. I had not ridden a bike for 20 years when I signed up for my first challenge. Most of the participants are newcomers to cycling. We cycle in 15 to 20 km sections, so every 45 minutes to 1 hour we stop under a tree for a break.

We’re all encouraged to stop when we want, take a drink, interact with the local people, and take pictures along the way. We have even run impromptu English lessons in the schools we pass!

Nobody leaves a stop until all are rested and ready. More experienced cyclists ride alongside others to help them along, as needed. It’s a team challenge, not an individual bike ride.

Anyone can take part (but it pays to train beforehand!)

I always say that if you do a little training before the event, you can cycle along with a smile on your face. If you arrive without having done any cycling – which has happened before several times – then you can expect some days to be a challenge. No matter how you’re feeling, you will have somebody geeing you along. Cycle challenges are not a race. They are a team challenge and nobody finishes until the whole team is finished. This makes for a great experience for all participants, irrespective of their cycling ability.

Anybody can ride 20km if the scenery is great, local people are encouraging you along, your new ‘adventure buddies’ are helping, and every pedal stroke raises money to save lives in the country you’re riding through.

Finding the time to train is easier than you’d expect

All of us are too busy to commit to a week-long event in Africa, right? How will I find the time off work? How will I train to get ready? I’m not a cyclist, this is not for me! All of these are thoughts I had before I signed up for my first challenge.

One way to stop these thoughts holding you back from a real adventure is to commit first, then figure out how afterwards.

Once you have the ride in your diary in 1 year or a few months’ time, you start to find ways to train. Ride to the pub, then ride to work once a week, take the stairs instead of the lift, watch a football game on a bike in your hotel gym. The event gives you an excuse to tell the voice saying it’s too cold to ride: ‘I need to ride a little now, to make sure I’m smiling when I’m in Africa with Transaid’.

I find that commitments keep me honest about training, eating well, keeping fit in mind and body. This is another major benefit of signing up to a cycle challenge – it becomes a New Year’s resolution you will keep because it has a life-changing purpose.

Sign up today, and the rest will follow

I would advise anybody thinking of joining a Transaid cycle challenge to sign up immediately. If you have doubts about training, fitness, or timing, sign up regardless. These barriers will disappear as you will find a way to be ready and complete the challenge.

I remember once finding a huge carpet I liked when on a business trip to the USA. My head said: “it’s nice, but too big to carry to the hotel. How will you pack it for home, how will you get it onto the airplane?” Many people would have walked away.

I still have the carpet at home in the UK. I bought it and decided I would figure the rest out afterwards. Today, it is still a tale my colleagues tell in my old company as they recount seeing me proudly walking out of the mall with a 14 foot rolled carpet over my shoulder.

Commit now – you’ll find a way to make it happen. You’ll also have fun along the way, meet like-minded friends for life, and make memories to last a lifetime.


In 2020 Transaid is running two cycle challenges: one in the UK and one in Malawi.