Sociable cycling: Simon Shaw will cycle the CoBi, or conference bike, from London to Paris this month

By Bea Asprey

SIMON SHAW has brought a new meaning to the word ‘longevity’. He made his senior debut for Bristol 22 years ago, aged 17, but after seven years in the west country, 14 with London Wasps, and a further two seasons in Toulon, it’s looking likely that the big lock will finally close the door on his rugby career.

It’s been a successful career too. He’s won Heineken Cups and Premiership trophies, been to World Cups and toured with the Lions, so there is much to celebrate. But that won’t ease his fans’ heartache when he finally announces his departure from the game, such is his popularity. They have been willing Shaw to carry on, but now just months away from hitting 40, it seems only fair to give his body a break.

“I’m not a hundred percent about playing next year,” says Shaw. “It was only supposed to be a one-year deal at Toulon, and understandably, at the age of 39, they’ve not kept me on. So it comes down to whether I want to carry on elsewhere, and move my family. If the right offer came up, then maybe, but the answer’s probably no.”

It’s a decision Shaw will make over the coming weeks, possibly once he’s recovered from his latest charity expedition, a ‘bike’ ride from London to Paris, in an effort to raise money for both Restart, the RPA’s rugby players’ charity, and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

This is not just any bike ride, though. The vehicle that Shaw and other players will be piloting to the French capital is a seven-seater ‘cobi,’ or conference bike, so-called because you can have a conference while on the bike. One of only five situated in the UK, a cobi costs around £15,000 when new, although Shaw’s steed, a relative antique, is probably only worth around £5,000. There’s a drinks holder in the middle, apparently the perfect size for a pint glass or Corona bottle, and you can even pitch an umbrella to shade yourself from the midday sun.

Shaw himself will be the driver, steering the bike as you would a tractor, while the likes of Andy Gommarsall, Serge Betsen and Kenny Logan will join him on what promises to be a sociable journey. Good job too, because the days will be long. The aim is to reach Paris in three days, leaving London on 18 July and arriving in Paris on 22, in time to see the Tour de France enter the city, but with a bike that travels at a pedestrian speed at best, the team have been promised early mornings and late nights.

This is the second year in a row that Shaw has embarked on an expedition in aid of charity, and after his first experience, it’s a wonder this second attempt has come at all.

“I did a charity trek last year across Corsica,” explains Shaw. “It’s supposed to take two weeks, and we did it in six and a half days, each of which were 10 to twelve hours long. We trekked 30,000-odd meters – Everest is less than that at 18,000 metres! My knees were shocking afterwards and I couldn’t fit into my shoes for two weeks, and I said I was never trekking again!”

In addition, his relationship with cycling is sketchy, and he continues: “The last time I rode a bike I cycled for 50 miles on an ill-fitting bike, that collapsed underneath me! But when you’ve completed the trip it does give you a feeling of incredible satisfaction, so I decided I wanted to get back involved.”

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