The fundraising feat was the idea of Lee Copeland, who alongside his riding buddy Geoff Coxon have raised over £3,000 for the Royal British Legion (RBL) by riding from London to Gibraltar.
Ex-serviceman Lee joined the army in 1990, undertaking nine years’ regular service and then in 1999 joined the Territorial Army serving for twenty-one years alongside his civilian job as a telecoms engineer. “Geoff has a son who has just left the army as a Warrant Officer and a daughter who is still serving, so when I suggested the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal he thought it was a great charity to raise money for,” Lee says. The RBL have suffered with poor funding over the last eighteen months as a direct result of the pandemic. “Not many poppies were sold last year and that directly affects the help the RBL can give our struggling brothers and sisters, those who continue to suffer as a result of their service.”
“We normally go to the Isle of Man every year for two weeks to watch the racing but obviously we couldn’t do that this year – and I still wanted a motorcycling holiday but with a difference, so that is how we came up with the thought of making it a charity fundraiser at the same time,” Lee explains. Having considered riding a moped around the UK, they realised that they couldn’t take a moped on a motorway, but that they could take a 125cc bike. “I hadn’t been to Gibraltar for a long time and suggested this to Geoff who told me that I must be out of my mind,” Lee laughs.
The fundraising pair came up with the name Tonic Team because a tonic is something that might not be good for you, but gives a sense of health and well-being. “The same can be said of riding motorcycles… it’s also the preferred mixer with our evening refreshments!”
Working out that they could get to Gibraltar within five to eight days, Lee set up a Facebook page to see if anybody fancied joining them on the trip. “Everybody thought it was a great idea but then as time got closer to departure people started dropping out, but it suited me that it was just the two of us because on a long distance trip sometimes people want to do their own thing.”
Part of the challenge was having a small 125cc bike. “I could jump on a big motorcycle and come into Santander and probably do it in one day,” Lee comments. “Bigger machines will average 85/90 miles an hour very easily and modern machines over 1000cc have got capabilities in excess of 180 miles an hour, so to roll along at 90 miles an hour is very easy.” Lee says that on the 125cc bikes they were averaging 30 miles plus an hour, and on good days 40 miles plus an hour. “Sometimes we were riding for six or seven hours a day and then at other times it was up to eight or nine hours and we covered between 180 and 280 miles each day.”
The Tonic Team left from Stockton-On-Tees on Friday 6th August and made their way down to Gosforth, before taking a ferry over to Portsmouth. “As we waited for the ferry a couple turned up on the same bikes as ours and said that they had been following our story and wanted to come and see us off,” Lee says. “They were envious that we were going on such a mammoth trip on our little bikes with such a small engine and wished us the best of luck.”
Arriving in Caen about 9 pm on Saturday, the Tonic Team pair started their European journey, stopping off each night and occasionally going via places of interest, including the village of Oradour-sur-Glane outside the town of Limoges which marks the worst Nazi massacre of civilians in France. “We went in and had a look at the buildings which we found very moving and sobering and a poignant stop-off point that was pertinent to our trip.” They carried on and crossed into Spain near Pamplona because Lee wanted to show Geoff the place where the famous Running of the Bulls was held. On to Burgos and then over to Salamanca, the pair headed down to Cadiz. Lee tells how it was along that part of their route that the Gibraltar Motorcycle Club (GMC) got in touch. “Twelve guys on motorbikes turned up to escort us on the last leg of our trip, and said that to their knowledge nobody had ever done this journey on a tiny bike.”
As they emerged from their hostel, it was evident that Geoff’s bike had a puncture. “One of the guys from Gibraltar MC took us to a garage where they repaired the wheel, but when Geoff came to pay, the garage said the MC guys had already paid and they said that we were their guests now as we had come a long way and this was just a little token from them.”
“Considering that these were not new bikes – mine is 15 years old and Geoff’s is 13 years old – they did us proud, and although there were a couple of times that I thought they weren’t going to make it, thankfully they did.”
The GMC took the Tonic Team on a scenic route around the coast until they could see the Rock appearing in the distance. “Nigel from the MC club is part of the Borders security team and he must have briefed the Spanish who were expecting us with a warm welcome, stamping our passports and shaking our hands as we went over the frontier.”
Lee and Geoff arrived on Friday afternoon about 2 pm and left on Monday 16th August just before the sun came up to make their return journey home. Lee says he was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people on the Rock. “The guys from the MC took us to the Club House for a few beers and a BBQ on the Friday evening and then let us use their workshops to do a few service jobs on the bikes.”
“I would like to thank all the people that helped us along the way, all the people that made donations to the charity and to those who may make further donations – it is a great cause and the RBL really need the funding at this time because of the pandemic,” Lee says.
There is still time to boost Lee and Geoff’s fundraising total.
Go to ‘Just Giving: Lee Copeland’ – Lee’s Tonic Team 125cc London to Gibraltar page