THOUSANDS of hardy cyclists saddled up for a challenging bike ride from the country’s capital to the coast this weekend to raise funds for charity.

Now in its 18th year, the London to Southend bike ride attracted about 2,500 riders who each cycled either 52 or 65 miles.

Euan Scott-Batey, of Bike Events, which organised the ride, said: “The event has been a fantastic success.

“The number fluctuates a lot each year and it was perhaps a little lower than expected but we had a fantastic turn out on the day. About 600 cyclists came and signed up yesterday morning in London which is an incredible amount.

“It’s usually about 200. I think a lot of people wanted to wait and see what the weather was like.”

Organisers added the additional longer route to cater for those more keen and seasoned cyclists who were looking to challenge themselves further.

Starting off in Victoria Park, East London, the shorter 52-mile route took riders through Chigwell, Stapleford Abbots, and the Hanningfields, with the finishing line in Priory Park, Prittlewell.

The longer 65-mile route split and headed off to Shoebury before coming back to Prittlewell through Thorpe Bay and along the coast.

Mr Scott-Batey added: “We try to create rides that cater to every level and ability and the additional longer route helps us do that.

“The first people to cross the line did the 52-mile ride in about two hours and 15 minutes which is an incredible achievement.

“They must have been averaging 20mph and are probably the type who do 100 miles a week.

“Then you also get those who have maybe trained really hard to take part and want to challenge themselves and get a real sense of achievement out of it.”

The event has historically been in aid of the British Heart Foundation, and usually raises between £30,000 and £40,000 each year.

But for the first time, this year, cyclists were able to raise money for the charity of their choice.

Mr Scott-Batey said: “There were a lot raising money for Havens Hospices which is great because it’s local to the area.

“But there were also people raising for all kinds of charities including Scope and the Air Ambulance.”

One participant who was raising money for Havens was Southend Special Constable Rhys Jones of Essex Police.

He said: “It was really well-organised with a good mixture of cycling abilities.

“Overall my team averaged 11mph which we were pleased with. We also raised £675 for Havens who do amazing work. It was a really enjoyable day.”

Head to pages 18-19 to see more pictures from the event and visit to find out more about the charity bike rides