The Hairy Handlebars get ready for 6,000 mile cycle across the globe
This year, two intrepid explorers will spend eight months cycling 6,000 miles across 21 Eurasian countries in a bid to raise £30,000 for charity.
Driven by a thirst for adventure, the self-styled Hairy Handlebars - George Cullen, 25, and Ben Cook, 24 – have set themselves an immense fundraising challenge: to pedal from London to Tokyo.
The pair will set off on their endurance journey in March and hope to reach Japan by October, before the end of the 2019 Rugby World cup, which is taking place across the east Asian island nation from September 20 to November 2.
George - a former Bishop’s Stortford College student who lives in The Stewarts, off Windhill – is Bishop’s Stortford Rugby Club’s fly-half having previously played professionally for London Scottish. He now works for a sports management consultancy and agency in London.
Ben, an alumnus of The Bishop’s Stortford High School, has just left the military and is living and working in London while he awaits the monumental challenge.
George and Ben decided to embark on the mammoth cycle ride just over a year ago.
“We came up with the idea around Christmas time last year, after a few too many drinks,” said George.
Initially fuelled by a desire to go and see the world, the duo wanted to raise money for a good cause, so they selected the Movember Foundation. The charity strives to make a difference for men’s health – in prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.
Each November, the charity encourages men to grow moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues. This prompted George and Ben to each grow a dashing handlebar moustache to help publicise their own feat, hence their team name, The Hairy Handlebars.
George said explained: “We both know people who have suffered from all of the issues. It’s very prominent, especially with mental health. We both know people who have suffered with it, or who are suffering with it.”
The more the pair raised awareness and funds for The Movember Foundation, the more they realised how widespread an issue depression is in men; in the UK 75% of suicides are men.
“In the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked to two people who have both said, ‘I had a mate who took their own life’,” said George.
The pair are also raising money for a smaller, lesser known charity – the Ian Williams Foundation - a charity that was set up by the family of a rugby player, who was a friend of George’s.
Ian Williams died suddenly from a cardiac arrest in February 2018, whilst training for Championship club Doncaster Knights. He was just 27.
The charity campaigns to make cardiac arrest screening available at all levels within rugby and raises awareness of the need for regular heart checks. It also works to destigmatise mental health issues in sport by supporting open conversations amongst athletes.
Whenever George and Ben receive a donation on their online sponsorship page, 90% goes directly to the Movember Foundation and 10% goes to the Ian Williams Foundation. So far, the pair have more than £7,000 of their whopping £30,000 goal.
Their most recent fundraiser, held at Epiphany in South Street, generated £1,400 towards their ambitious target.
During the evening, up-and-coming musician, Jack Cullen - George’s younger brother and Ben’s best friend - performed an intimate gig for around 80 supporters.
George and Ben also invited representatives from the Movember Foundation and the Ian Williams Foundation along to raise awareness for their respective causes.
While the duo both lead an active lifestyle, neither are experienced cyclists, but they have completed a practice challenge. Over three days, George and Ben cycled from London to Paris.
“We did an average of 95miles a day," said George . “It was nice actually because we’ll be cycling half that distance on average each day.”
The Hairy Handlebars will be pedalling across the globe unsupported as they are taking tents and all their equipment with them on their bikes as they ride from England to France, then Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and finally into Japan.
“All the visas will be absolutely fine, we can do most of them on the road,” said George.
The pair have both done a fair amount of research leading up to their endurance bike ride; they have pawed through a book by Tom Bruce, an adventurer who has ridden his bike around the world – and his account of the zealous hospitality of the Georgian people has intrigued George.
“Tom Bruce did the same route – he went through Georgia and every single night a different family would take him in, pour red wine down his throat and feed him until he felt sick,” he grinned.
Excitement is building for the trip – a large clock featured on the Hairy Handlebars’ website counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until their challenge begins.
But as the anticipation grows, so does the apprehension.
“A few weeks ago, someone said to me, ‘if you’re not nervous, it’s not really an adventure’,” said George.