A speed cycling record was broken on Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill on Thursday lunchtime. Professional bike rider Ben Moore ascended the 21.5% gradient in 22 seconds, shaving 3 seconds off the record for the 105ft climb.
The footage of the ride was recorded for a promotional video arranged by Shaftesbury Tourism. ThisIsAlfred was there.
Ben Moore loves Dorset. “I grew up in Poole and I recently moved to Gillingham,” he said. But Ben spends a great deal of time away from the county. “My main job is to race around the world, focusing on the urban downhill circuit,” he said.
Ben’s passion has become his profession, but in 10 years of riding for a living, he says that has never considered getting on his bike to be a chore. As part of his work, Ben regularly makes promotional videos. He approached Shaftesbury Tourism after he starred in a film to encourage people to visit Poole and Bournemouth.
“I race for Orange Factory. In between, we end up doing lots of the videos because we love it and it’s our passion. It’s nice to get out and see people and promote tourism in the area,” said Ben.
Chairman of Shaftesbury Tourism, Anne Giberson, saw the opportunity in a movie featuring Ben riding his bike around Shaftesbury’s beauty spots. “He is going to do a couple of stunts but the main idea is looking at cycling and everything around the area. We’re so fortunate that we’re going to do some aerial shots. We’re going to Compton Abbas and they’re going up in a plane. We’ve done a drone shot in Gillingham so we’re getting everything involved. What better than having a video which showcases Shaftesbury?” asked Anne.
The Shaftesbury Tourism team arranged for Ben to film in some town centre shops too, in order to promote local independents to potential visitors. “There’s Shaftesbury Wines, the butchers, the greengrocers, most probably the cafe down the bottom,” said Anne. “We are going to finish on Sunday when Rotary is doing their bike ride. We’re going to get Ben’s bike here with the winning line and, hopefully, the mayor will be in the shot and we’ll be able to fit it into the video.”
“We have got some marvellous shots of Shaftesbury and it’s just a different way of doing things. You get different people looking at it and saying ‘yes, this is the place to come’,” said Anne.
Ben is keen to promote the area’s potential for bike riding. “We just try and find the quiet lanes where there are not many cars. There are lots of bridleways that you can cycle on, so that’s the idea of this film – to show that, from a cycling perspective, you can come here, cycle, have a great time and not worry too much about the dangers of cars and other obstacles.”
Ben has suggested a cycling route around Shaftesbury. “My favourite is to do the loop under Shaftesbury and then come up Gold Hill, and then head up towards the back of the airfield, down Zigzag Hill. Then there’s a little town called Motcombe, which I only recently found. I love it. There’s country lanes, no cars and it’s beautiful scenery,” said Ben.
A crowd had formed on the hill and the people tucking into cream teas on the tables outside the Salt Cellar café were also taking a keen interest in the cameras and activity. As the cameramen set up, ready to shoot the uphill challenge, Ben revealed that he specialises in descending, rather than ascending, at speed.
“The majority of the races that we do are down. I don’t really race uphill. I’m not really built for it. Normally I am in the shanty towns in South America. They are really narrow, really steep and really fast,” says Ben.
He says that the toughest hill that he has ridden down is in Chile. “It’s one of the most dangerous tracks and you’re hitting about 70 kilometres an hour through something that’s just about an inch wider than the handlebars. So it’s a lot harder to do those.”
Ben broke away to talk with his manager – his brother Alex. The pair began checking how well inflated the bike tyres were by using a sensor attached to a smartphone. When you’re a professional rider and you need to set a record, you can’t just hop onto a bike and pedal.
“What we’re doing now is setting the tyre pressures. We’re setting the bike up very differently for every task. Alex is just changing the pressure on the front,” explained Ben, as he asked his brother to pump until his app registered tyre pressures of 26 and 29.
“It changes massively with the amount of friction that we can get on the ground. Going down the hill, we want maximum friction, and lots of grip, but now we’re coming up so I actually want to go up in pressure, so I can get up as quickly as possible, but without spinning the tyres,” Ben explained.
Ben revealed that the machine wasn’t the best model for the speed climb. “This bike is not really designed for what we’re using it for today. It’s an enduro bike, designed for jumps and big downhill tracks.”
At the top of the hill, the baker’s bike used in the iconic 1973 Hovis ad was on display for the occasion. That model wasn’t optimised for steep hills, either. Ben was full of admiration for delivery lad Carl Barlow’s on-camera cycling proficiency. “Full respect to him getting up the hill on a single speed with tiny wheels. I bet he felt the bumps a lot.”
Ben slowly meandered down the hill on his own bike. And then, as the two cameramen shouted ‘Go!’ rather than ‘Action’, Ben charged up the cobbles to cheers of encouragement. After passing the Gold Hill Museum entrance, he dismounted and crouched down, bent over double, at the side of St Peter’s Church for a few moments. It seemed like an eternity. Ben regained his composure and told me that he felt nauseous as he had ‘gone lactic’ and didn’t want to be ill in front of the crowds tucking into their cream teas. “I thought I was going to throw up,” he confided.
He checked the time and the onlookers erupted in applause at the news of a new record being set. 22 seconds! “I could do faster,” Ben continued. “A headwind came along the road at the start,” he said.
Perhaps this will give Ben an incentive to return and set an even tougher time challenge, breaking his brand-new record. The app Ben uses to record his time is favoured by competitive bike riders. It automatically notified previous record holder, Ian Nixon, that 3 seconds had been shaved off his time. I joked that Ben would not be popular with Ian.
“He’ll probably be chasing me around with a hammer,” Ben laughed. As long as Ben has his wheels, I think he would make a smooth and fast getaway.
As the crowds dispersed Anne said she was looking forward to seeing the video launch online. “We’re hoping mid-June,” Anne said.
You can watch Ben setting the new record here: