The organiser of an annual north-east cycling event says it has raised an estimated £2m for charity since it began.
When Neil Innes came up with the idea for Ride the North in 2011, he struggled to find 37 volunteers to sign up for the gruelling endurance test.
Now the event has grown so popular that places are expected to be decided by ballot in 2020 – with more than 800 experienced athletes and amateurs alike taking part every year.
Neil, of Aberdeen city centre, said the fundraiser has gained traction in the past decade due to word of mouth.
He added: “When I first planned the event I didn’t anticipate it would be done on an annual basis. I wanted the event to showcase what is great about the area we live in and its surroundings.
“But we live in a city where there are lots of companies with international links and word of the event seems to have spread internationally over the years.
“I know of two Dutch offshore workers who had a conversation about Ride the North at work, and the following year a group of people from the Netherlands came over to do it, for example. I’ve loved seeing people come here from other countries.”
The 170-mile tour, which incorporates coffee stops, lunches and some detours to take the more scenic routes, is intended to be achievable for those with limited cycling experience, but tough enough to work for more experienced cyclists.
The route takes cyclists to new villages and roads each year, but also includes old favourites.
Neil believes that part of Ride the North’s appeal comes from its reputation as a sociable event.
The 50-year-old said: “The event has a format that is sociable and non-competitive, rather than a group of people cycling as fast as they can and riding with their heads down.
“The north-east communities are so welcoming and friendly to participants.
“I’ve had people say to me ‘nobody ever stops here, and if you bring people here, we’ll look after them’ which is really nice.”
While Ride the North is not solely a charity event, Neil works closely with north-east organisations to allow participants to fundraise for their chosen causes.
Over the years Ride the North has gone from having one charity partner to 20, and has raised an estimated £2.1m for local causes since it began.
These include Sue Ryder, Maggie’s Centres, Home-Start, Outfit Moray, Alzheimer Scotland, Guide Dogs, SensationALL, Archie Foundation, Grampian Child Bereavement Network, Sandpiper Trust, Befriend a Child and Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland.
CLAN, Erskine Care Homes, Friends of Anchor, Charlie House, Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland, The Stroke Association, Kayleigh’s Wee Stars and Friends of Neuro Ward are also charity partners.
Neil said: “I believe cycling is as popular as ever but we need to get more young people involved. I think there is still a misconception that cycling is a sport for middle-aged men but we want to get away from that.
“Last year we had a rise in young participants and in 2016 a third of all participants were female. I have aspirations to make the event even bigger and bring more people to the area.”
Ride the North will take place on Friday August 28 and Saturday August 29 2020.
For more information and how to register, visit here.