Mark Thomas

In early 2013 my friend Alex called me one evening and broadly asked the question “how are you getting to Download this year…?”

To my nonplussed and stuttering response, he explained about the fledgling idea of the Heavy Metal Truants and that he would love, if I would be one of the riders, telling me about the three charities we would be raising money for and that it could be “a lot of fun”.

Thinking about that now, and about we are five rides deep into this, how it has grown into an absolute juggernaut, the huge amounts of monies we have raised, the truly great friends I have made, the baking sun, whipping wind, heavy rains and stinging hail (all in the afternoon of day 2 of the first ride!) and the sense of pride of not only being a committee member but simply to be able to say I am a Heavy Metal Truant….well, it is incredible to see how far we have come, and truly a privilege to have been involved from year one and now be immersed in the whole organisation as a committee member.

What keeps me coming back? If I think about that, all the possible answers are really simple.

We raise money for three of the most amazing charities that do such incredible, inspiring and vital work to help children who desperately need it. Over the years these charities have become so much more than letterheads or logos on shirts to me, as I‘ve been lucky enough to see deeper into what they do and how much more they are desperate to do for those kids that need it most. I want to be part of that fundraising and I want that fundraising to grow and grow, year on year

I get to see all my brothers and sisters, old and new, and help write another chapter of this story, which I know will include….team photos at the top of the ride, the rude street sign, the Great Train Robbers bridge….quietly chanting to myself that ‘spinners are winners’ through the grittier parts of the day as we point uphill again….the ritual of Lee our Medic strapping my knees up early day 2….the medicinal qualities of Trooper ale and carb heavy foods…..belly laughs….followed by belly laughs….the giving of the tassels and the Paul Stanley gloves of shame to totally deserving characters and the Stasi like snitching that has grown to accompany it…high fiving the wonderful lady that waits to cheer us as we pass on the third morning EVERY YEAR…having another photo with my buddy Andy Hunns at the Church Cross….and the feeling of pure pride and elation as we lift our bikes above our heads at the finish line at Download and scream out – ‘cos we’ve bloody well done it. Again.

I have a full set of five badges, signifying I’ve done  them all – one of only seven people to be able to say that! It would be horrific to have a gap in that collection (right, Whitestone?)

Oh, and I now have a tonne of lycra, which would just gather dust if I didn’t ride with the black peloton, right?

I’m lucky enough to have never been directly touched by some of the terrible illness, conditions and situations that the charities we ride for are battling to help kids through. And I’m lucky enough and privileged to be able to play a small part in a growing machine that can help that fight.

Wouldn’t miss that for the world. Just try and stop me.

Steve Pennington

Back in 1984 I started working for Andy & Rod and worked for them for nearly 6 years. We’ve always remained in touch and back in 2009 Rod told me that I had to join him on a charity bike ride which turned out to Egypt in 2010. Sort of difficult to say no to Rod and I’ve done all the overseas rides except Cuba.

When Rod & Alex started the Heavy Metal Truants, they want a few, shall we say, experienced hands to help along the way and I was delighted to be invited. In truth, I think they looked at me and decided I’d make them both look like good cyclists!! Again, how could I refuse Lord Rod?!!

I take a great pride in being an ever-present Heavy Metal Truant and at 62, I’m delighted I can still complete this very challenging ride. In the end though, you just have to think about what you’re doing for those fantastic charities we support and that’s why I keep coming back for more. It is a challenge with a very long middle day and some serious hills. A tendency to think it’s all over when you reach Leicester and “only” another 30 miles the next morning. However, Leicestershire has some serious hills and that 30-mile slog is no picnic.

I think the worst moments for me are leading up to the ride and wondering if I’ve done enough training plus, once you get to know the route, thinking of the next bloody hill that’s just around the corner. Especially that long difficult hill just before lunch on the Thursday!! However, I always head straight to the bar when I reach Leicester and have one (or maybe three!!) pints of Guinness as my reward before sinking into a hot bath.

The really good feeling is the last slow cycle up to Donnington and riding in to what is usually a fantastic reception. Knowing you’ve achieved something special, always with some new faces plus lots old friends resulting in a very, very special camaraderie. But the real buzz – knowing you’ve done something to help those less fortunate than you. That’s what really keeps us peddling!!

Andy Hunns

I got involved via Howard Johnson who rode on the Truants rides and he introduced me to Rod, who I had known, albeit just to say hello to. Once Rod knew I was interested in the first Heavy Metal Truants ride, then I was effectively in!

From that day onward I have loved every minute of the Heavy Metal Truants crusades each year and now as a proud committee member and finisher of all 5 rides thus far, the sense of brotherhood and achievement these rides create never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve lost quite few people to cancer in my life and one little boy in particular who was incredibly close and anything we can do to beat this disease then you can sign me up now. Any children’s charities deserve all the help we can give, so if riding a bike every year to a heavy metal festival with 50 odd cray lunatics is the help we give then that is good enough for me.

The worst part of the five years was definitely the weather on year one. It was like Thor wasn’t happy with us so he sent down a bombardment of rain and hail and winds that really tested our resolve, but we got through it and I genuinely think that set the bar for these rides, because the weather has no place in our thoughts, just raising the money and helping the kids. The best part I’ve kind of touched on, it’s the brotherhood, the spirit and the camaraderie that this ride gives you that really makes it what it is, and of course watching someone each day get the tassels and the gloves of shame!

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