He has been known to sleep in ditches! - Meet Mike Henley


Q. When and what caused you to start cycling?

A. I grew up at a time when all children cycled!  I regularly cycled to school (2 miles each way) from the age of 12.  Age 18 I spent one year living with parents 30 miles from university, and cycled that a few times a week.  My first "serious distance" ride aged 19 was Dudley to Dawlish (~200 miles).

Q. Some would describe your riding as extreme, as not many of us would entertain sleeping in ditches! Can you tell us about the events you do?

A. As you can probably guess, I figured that long distance cycling was in my DNA from early on.  I joined Audax UK when I was about 20, but it was a much smaller organisation than now, and there weren't enough rides local to me, and my financial priorities weren't in favour of distant travel to events.  Family priorities pushed extreme cycling on the back burner for about 20 years.  Aged about 40 I found myself doing a solo self-organised LeJoG over 7 days, but I'd never forgotten Audax, and still had the dream of doing LeJog to their silver or gold standard (which had by then been replaced), so a couple of years later I did LeJoG again, this time within the new magic 93h20m (15km/h), which would have put me in the old silver category.  That was all done with hotels and B&Bs - at that stage I'd never have considered sleeping in a ditch!

That same year I started doing calendar Audax events, and that's when I discovered that doing LeJoG solo and in sub four days was not the norm.  I found quickly that I preferred the longer events - I have a phrase "since you sacrifice your weekend for a 400k, you might as well do a 600k".  But even then I was using very basic sleeping arrangements provided by organisers, no ditches.  It was the first "no sleep" 600k that I did that started to push the bar.  When you've done this successfully once, it changes your whole mind-set as to how you ride!  My first planned "rough sleep" ride was a 1300k in north Scotland - I carried a bivy bag for that one.  My first proper sleep in a ditch was on PBP 2015 - I arrived at my intended sleep stop too early, so pushed on, but some hours later I was falling asleep on the bike.  I'd seen others sleeping at the side of the road, so I found a spot, and did the same.  I've never looked back!

I've also tried the even more extreme distances like TAWR (in Ireland) and some long distance gravel events, but these haven't given me the same level of enjoyment as many of the Audax events.

Q. I assume that this is the type of cycling you like best, or do you enjoy other types of riding?

A. I find long distance TTs (12h & 24h) really rewarding (if not enjoyable at the time!).  They are a true test of endurance.  They are so unlike other TTs, the 24hr especially, where there is a real camaraderie with racers, supporters and event helpers.  There is some Audax history mixed up in the 24hr TT, and that was the motivation for my first 24hr - the very first UK PBP qualification criteria was 600k in a 24hr TT.

Q. Do you do any other sports?

A. Long distance hiking (usually involving wild camping - hmm..there's a theme here).  This is something that I've managed to do with my sons, and is now their passion.  I've even managed to drag my wife Vicki on one of these.

Q. How often do you ride?

A. Not as often as I used to!  For many years I did a 20 mile each way commute every day, all weathers.  Over the last few years I've worked from home more, so (before the lock down) I was commuting about two days a week, with at least one more ride at the weekend when the weather is nice.  During lock down I have really curtailed my cycling, mainly due to the incident (see below).  During a normal summer I will be doing 1500+ miles per month.

Q. Outside of sport what are your other interests?

A. I have a strong interest in renewable technology - solar PV, wind, battery storage, EVs.  I enjoy choral singing, and sing Tenor in Bray church choir.

Q. What is your most memorable ride?

A. PBP 2015 - this ride is like no other.  There is pre-qualification, qualifying, and then multiple time limits to choose from - all creating an air of mystique.  Then the ride itself has an atmosphere that has to be seen to be believed: closed roads and motorcycle outriders (for the first 20k)  - all along the route families cheering riders on, little villages setting up their own refreshment marques and beds for tired riders.  I clearly enthused enough that David and Sarah were on-board for 2019.

Q. Why did you join MDCC?

A. In order to enter in a 24hr TT you have to be a member of a CTT affiliated club.  Howe Lane was part of my commute, I'd seen the TTs over the years and found that they were run by MDCC.  I turned up for the last 10 of a season, decided you were a nice, friendly bunch, and joined for the next season - which was the year I did my first 24hr TT.

Q. Does anyone else in the family cycle?

A. My youngest son has done some good cycling in one of his university years, right now he has moved onto weights and running, but he'll be back!

Q. With the type of events you do, what do you look for in a bike?

A Durability, reliability, simplicity and aero.  Over the years I have slowly become a convert of ever more expensive kit - I used to be of the misconception that Dura Ace was overpriced and little better than a couple of levels down in the Shimano range, then I purchased a bike that was a bit of a bargain and had Dura Ace, and I'm a changed man, I am now very picky about the components that matter.  The bike I use for most of the long distance stuff is my 7 year old re-branded Ridley Helium with hub dynamo and some aero bags.

Q. Do you have any cycling events planned for 2021?

A. Along with a small group of other MDCC members, my cancelled 2020 300k ride around a Swedish lake has been moved to June 2021, so that is the first cycling event in my calendar.  2021 is also a London Edinburgh London year (happens every four years) - I haven't decided yet whether I will ride or volunteer as a helper, but I will be involved.

Q. You had a nasty incident this year on the bike. Can you tell us a bit about it and the repercussions?

A. At the end of January whilst cycling home I was deliberately pushed off my bike by a motorcyclist.  I was unlucky that a 2m deep drainage ditch edged the road at that point.  I basically fell the full depth of the ditch, and I think the first point of contact was my right shoulder.  Thankfully I didn't hit my head, face or back in any meaningful way.  To cut a long story short, one week later the orthopaedics team at Wexham told me my arm was so badly damaged the only way to achieve any useful outcome was major surgery to reset with a metal plate and screws.  It is now two months since my splint came off.  I now have a reasonable level of strength in some planes of movement, but I am still very weak in other planes, and I am slowly coming to accept that I will never get back the level of flexibility that I had.  I was told a few days ago (mid-May) that police are now closing this case because they have failed to obtain any evidence that could tie an individual to this crime, but they have arrested someone for similar crimes in the same area (for which they have CCTV evidence), and when pressed with my assault responded "no comment".  So we can assume that this is the individual, and hopefully will be serving time for the other crime.

Q. These are peculiar times. How have you coped with the restrictions?

A. If I'm honest, I haven't been coping brilliantly.  My uncle was a victim of CV-19 soon after lockdown (he was 79 but fit and healthy), and that changed my attitude to the virus - maybe your outcome is related to genetics.  But due to the incident, I feel like I've been in lock-down since the end of January - I haven't seen my work colleagues face to face since then.  Our customers have found ways to continue working, so my workload has not changed. My exercise regime has become very sporadic, and I've been eating and drinking far too much.  Partly due to the incident, I've been focused on staying hiking fit, with the plan that I'll be walking Wainwright's Coast to Coast (190 miles in about 9 days) with my younger son again (we did it 7 years ago) as soon as enough restrictions have been removed .  The few times I have been out on my bike it has been to test my arm.  My arm has held up well, and I have really loved it.  Hopefully I'll get my head back into the right place soon to get into a routine of at least three days per week on the bike.