One Last Ride: Ben Ralston, An Inspiration
by Robert Thorpe & Ben Ralston
One Last Ride: Coping with Cancer
The not so obvious benefits of riding an E-Bike
By Ben Ralston & Robert Thorpe
Images by Graham Frostick (Ideal Imagery)
Ben Ralston is an old and dear friend. We used to go off mountain biking together, before families, on those things called overnight trips. He was 44 years of age when he was told that he had terminal cancer. He had only a short time left to live, and yet chose to do so much, creating memories for his family and 3 young children. Nobody in my life has ever shown more determination to fight anything, and nobody is mentally stronger than this Tiger of a man, who is the epitome of inspiration.
Ben was, as mentioned, the father of three children, aged between 7 and 14 years – William being the oldest, then Charlotte aged 12, and finally little Tilly aged 7 years. Albeit sad and feeling unbelievably low about my old friends diagnosis, when talking together I told him that I wasn’t going to wrap him up in cotton wool. Instead, I told him that I wanted to help him to relax and to think of other things. We agreed that it is unfortunately inevitable and that being positive is now important. Meeting up with Ben for short hikes over the last few months, we’ve used it as simply an opportunity to take him away from being that man with terminal cancer. We simply chat as we’ve always done, and the C word is not mentioned unless Ben talks about it. It’s hopefully created short moments of mental freedom for Ben, allowing him to feel like his old self for just a short time. Yes, cancer is a bastard, it truly is. It takes away more than your health – but it also causes people to dig into their souls and for their character and strength to shine out.
On these earlier walks, we talked about biking and maybe riding together again. Ben stated though, that it would have to be on the road, as he was now struggling to go on a mountain bike, due to energy levels with his cancer treatment. We’d ridden together previously on both road and mtb – me always being drafted by this superb athlete. I went away from this chat, and decided to talk with another good friend, Sanjai at Chevin Cycles; and together we quietly arranged for Ben to take a couple of Orbea Rise electric mountain bikes out into the wooded trails with his son, William – for one last ride… but hopefully more, if fate and cancer allowed.
Unfortunately, despite his willpower and determination, Ben finally went to sleep and lost his battle on 24th April this year. The account below was written by my friend, as he wanted his story to help and to inspire others – I’ll let you be the judge…
Chevin Cycles & Orbea U.K. – Creating Smiles
On the day agreed, we arrived at the Chevin Cycles store at Otley, ready to set Ben and William off. We’d also organised a professional photographer – another close friend of both Ben and I – who’d take photos and capture the experience for William, so that he’d always have something visual to remember riding with his dad. And then, we left them riding – father and son, exploring the wooded hillside together in the Chevin Country Park, coming back a few hours later, with wide smiles, bloodied knees and muddied bikes and clothing – but obviously so very happy. Lauren, I take my responsibility for the muddied state of William and his clothing – but those smiles!
As I was driving home, after a very special day, I received a message from Ben, and so I called him back… and this is what he said:
‘Rob, I can’t thank you enough for today. I want to write something about it, for you to publish. Hopefully it will help others in similar situations as me. It was a very special day, and I really need to thank you. It wasn’t just a few hours on a mtb today. It was 2 hours when I could forget about the inevitable, and I could just enjoy riding a mountainbike in the woods with William [my son]. That was something really special, and it’s something that I know William will remember for the rest of his life.’
Age is a Privilege
Age is a privilege that we maybe don’t always understand. Time is the most precious gift we have, and success in life should simply be measured in happiness – our own and that we can bring to others. We maybe can’t change the world that we live in, but we can change small worlds – and we can smile each and every day that we feel the warm sun on our face. Time is the most precious gift that we have and that we can give.
If we take anything from Ben’s day back on a bike, it’s this – let’s all “be more Ben!”
Anyway, here’s the verdict on his ride, in Ben’s own words. He’s a truly remarkable, inspirational and amazing guy – even though he probably won’t thank me for saying so. He’s not just a friend, he’s like a younger brother to me, and I and the world will miss this amazing man more than words can say. I hope that you too, find his words inspiring. These were written in autumn 2022, and we waited for the best time to publish them – for you to be able to get outside in spring and to renew your life in the wonderfully beautiful world in which we live.
Riding with Will – Memory Making on an Orbea Rise E-Bike
“So you like cycling? You enjoy the physical challenge it presents and the feeling of satisfaction when you complete that climb, when you produce those watts or finish your distance goals. With this mindset, how do you rationalise riding on an e-bike which does all the hard work for you – that was certainly my mindset 15 months ago.
Well 15 months ago, aged 44, my circumstances fundamentally changed. Albeit having been active outdoors since, well forever, and seeming to live a reasonably healthy life, I was diagnosed with incurable stage 4 bowel cancer. I have spent most of the last 15 months on chemotherapy, which has undoubtedly prolonged my life, but at the same time has robbed me of energy, and those crucial red blood cells. I have seen a gradual decline in my speed and endurance; but beyond the physical limitations that cancer has brought to me, it has also given me a very different perspective on life. I don’t simply pay lip service to the concept of living in the moment, and I have come to realise that putting off challenges, adventures and fun because there is an important work deadline is mindless.
When you come to terms with the prospect that you are measuring your remaining life in months not years, you quickly understand that you need to make everyday count. So when a close friend offered me the opportunity to try out a top of the range Orbea Rise H30 e-mountain bike with my 14 year old son Will, I took no time in discarding my prejudices against e-bikes and grasped the opportunity. I was once an avid mountain bike, but as you’d understand, chemo and tough rides in the hills aren’t great bed fellows. The opportunity to get out once more and to ride with my son, Will – well, you can imagine.
Ian from Chevin Cycles at Otley took fantastic care of us; first of all explaining the features and controls of these highly sophisticated machines, then taking his time in making sure the bikes were adjusted to fit us. We set off up the short but steep (12.3%) road climb to ride on The Chevin, and I was still in the old mindset and put my bike into trail mode to offer me some assistance. The 14 year old wizz kid however, was not limited by 30+ years of riding and immediately flipped his into boost mode and whizzed passed me. I am happy to accept that inexperience can be an advantage when adapting to new technology, and I followed his example and thoroughly enjoyed almost effortlessly riding up the steepest segment and taking 30 seconds off my previous Strava PB.
It was when we hit the trails proper however, that the Orbea Rise really came into its own. With my medical position being such that it is, having the opportunity to flick switches and get such assistance is literally amazing. Back into trail mode, it gives just enough assistance to get you through the mud and over small rises without leaving you gasping for breath. This allows you to hit the descents without first having to pause to regain your composure. It took me a few minutes to remember to take advantage of the dropper seat post, a technology that was new to me too. However, once I’d got the hang of it, this really allows you to move your weight around the bike much more freely and easily. At the bottom of the first descent, I engaged boost mode again and was able to ride up an uneven and slippery incline that would have proved impassable for me on a conventional bike. Will was able to enjoy the boost mode even more, with approximately 40kg less body weight than his dad, he once again overtook the old man, smiling widely through the mud which by now he was nicely covered in.
It was as we were riding up the bridleway towards York Gate, a climb I am very familiar with, that it occurred to me when I had done this climb previously, it normally takes twice as long, and I usually arrive at the top hot, sweaty, and out of breath. That is what an e-bike gives you; you still get all the fun, exhilaration and mud of mountain biking, but you get up the climbs much faster and more easily, which gives you more time for more of the fun stuff. In fact, you end up more muddy because you don’t worry about the soft ground or mud slowing you down. The bike even made the ride back down the road fun, as on trail mode I managed to hit 45mph whilst freewheeling!
If you’re worried that you’ll miss out on exercise using an e-bike, don’t; over the 1-hour 23 minutes moving time, I had an average heart rate of 157bpm and burnt an estimated 1356kcal. Best of all, I had a marvellous time, getting drenched in mud and watching my amazing son, Will, explore the trails with a sense of youthful freedom that was a joy to witness. Despite everything, here I was, riding a mountain bike with him and sharing a simply wonderful time.
So the verdict: I am converted, and I would definitely buy an e-mountain bike, and Will is even more enthusiastic than me – I don’t think he will ride a conventional bike again. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to Sanjai and Ian at Chevin Cycles, and to Rob for arranging the demo bikes. It was not only great fun and a fantastic memory for Will, of spending time together, doing something that we both thoroughly enjoyed – it was also 2 hours of escapism for me, when I didn’t think about cancer once. I just smiled for those 2 hours and rode the hills, trying to lead the way and guiding my son, Will – who unfortunately found the boost on the Orbea Rise much to easily. I know that he’ll never forget the ride, and yes, it will live me too, as long as I’m able.
Success in Life is simply Happiness
Ben and I continue to meet up and, up until Easter (this year – 2023), to try and walk together before having lunch. Unfortunately, this week, we enjoyed our last lunch together and shared a hug and a few tears. Ben is now struggling to even walk and spoke fondly over lunch of this ‘last ride’ with Will, his son.
Cancer is a bastard. A total bastard; so yes, ‘Fuck you Cancer!’ However, over recent months, I’ve seen my wonderful, and quite inspiring friend fight it with every sinew and with the greatest of mental strength, like no other. I’ve seen him struggle when walking small slopes, and we’ve stopped at my insistence to ‘enjoy the view,” because Ben simply doesn’t have an off-switch. He’s a fighter, and I’ve seen the power – pardon the pun – of an E-bike, and it’s literally life-changing.
Be More ‘Ben’
We can never know the heart-ache, the tragedy and the sorrow in others lives. However, we can #BeMoreBen and keep doing whatever we can in each and every 86400 second block that we are given every day. Let’s all make the most of life and of each other, because: it’s better to live one day as Tiger, than a thousand years as a Sheep. An electric bike, and especially an E-MTB allows you to continue to live life as a Tiger and for that reason alone, I damn well love them and will always love the Orbea Rise bike, for what it gave Ben – one last ride.
It’s time to rest now Ben. Sleep well my friend. Your name means ‘Mountain’ and was well chosen. I and the world will miss you my friend.
Ben finally went to sleep on 24th April this year and was an inspiration to so many.
You can help to change more lives, by simply clicking the link below and donating to cancer research. 1 in 2 of us will experience cancer in our lifetime, and every penny donated will go to valuable research, to find news ways to tackle this disease.
The word ‘inspiring’ is frequently over-used. However, Ben is a truly amazing and inspirational person. He wanted this account to hopefully help others, and it does in so many ways. Thank you old friend <3