IT sprang from a simple, but gruelling, two-man effort to raise money for a cancer charity.

Thirty years later, founder Peter Smith-Nicholls has seen the Macmillan Dorset Bike Ride attract thousands of cyclists and raise £1.5million for charity.

He was a 24-year-old trainee operating theatre assistant, keen to raise money in memory of his father. His father, also called Peter, had died in Christchurch Hospital’s Macmillan Unit in 1975. (The Macmillan Unit is run by another, local charity, today named Macmillan Caring Locally, as opposed to the national Macmillan Cancer Support.)

In 1988, Peter and friend Peter Jameson, 25, cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End in under two weeks. Ian Coles, 18, was back-up driver and they raised £6,700, while Peter began to lay plans for a Dorset fundraiser.

“I dreamt up the idea on that bike ride,” he said.

“I suppose I didn’t think then that it would be kept going for 30 years. We took each year as it came and it’s gone from strength to strength.”

The first ride gave cyclists a choice of two routes – 29 miles or 56 miles, starting at Corfe Hills School. Forty-two people took part, raising £2,500.

“When we started, there weren’t many charity rides. Everybody knew about the London to Brighton one, which was 56 miles. That’s why I made our route 56 miles,” said Mr Smith-Nicholls.

Numbers grew quickly in the early years and a more permanent home was found at Broadstone First School in 1991, with 326 cyclists raising £16,200.

BP Exploration, which was laying an oil pipe in the area, offered to sponsor the event the following year, with 555 riders raising £27,006. A local company, GPT, sponsored the ride for two years after that and encouraged its staff to take part or volunteer.

For 1994, a 45-mile ride was introduced so cyclists could start in either Broadstone or Dorchester, encouraging more riders from the west of Dorset.

The Daily Echo was involved in supporting the Macmillan for East Dorset appeal, which in 1996 was aiming to raise £1million, and the backing helped bring more entrants into the ride.

Nicholas Young, chief executive of the renamed charity Macmillan Cancer Relief, brought his family to take part in the ride in 1997, with a new sponsor, Sigma Aldrich.

There was no sponsor the following year, but £33,307 was raised by 618 cyclists.

Numbers were falling at the turn of the century, indicating a new approach was needed. A new metric ride – offering a choice of 25, 50, 75 or 100 kilometres – helped numbers in 2001 and £37,305 was raised.

Another new direction was revealed at a launch party in 2004. The routes moved northwards and away from the A35, with distances of 15, 25, 40 or 60 miles. The Drax family allowed the 25-mile ride to pass through its Charborough Estate.

Sunseeker International came on board as a long-term sponsor the following year, joined the following year by the Primera bike store. A Macmillan Dorset Bike Ride jersey was introduced, sponsored by numerous companies over the years and adding a new source of income. Macmillan changed its name and brand, with the slogan “We are Macmillan Cancer Support”.

England cricket captain David Gower supported the ride in 2007, with 690 cyclists braving pouring rain and flooded roads to raise £56,533. The first 100-mile ride was introduced the following year, in addition to five other routes, with income rising to £83,122.

By 2009, keen support from the Daily Echo helped attract 975 cyclists. David Gower rode the route and raised more than £3,500, while Echo editor Neal Butterworth rode 38 miles.

In 2012, despite a drop in numbers after three successful years, the total raised for Macmillan passed £1m.

For 2018, the event’s Give 30 campaign was launched to encourage supporters to mark the 30th anniversary – by giving £30, buying the jersey, donating a £30 entry fee, or giving 30 minutes or 30 hours of voluntary time. A new 63-mile route has been added, along with the “best version” of the 100-mile trip, which will take riders back to places which the first ride and subsequent routes took them to.

“I think there’s a hard core of people who come back year after year. Perhaps they’ve been affected by cancer, whether it’s their family or themselves. I think hopefully they enjoy it as a good event and are just keen to keep coming back,” said Mr Smith-Nicholls.

“Having said that, we work very hard to keep getting new people. It’s only about one third to one quarter of people that come back.”

While Peter can’t take part on the day, he remains a keen cyclist and in recent years he has ridden the 100-mile route for himself the week before the event. He remains amazed at its success.

“I couldn’t have imagined raising that much when I first started,” he said.

“You look around Dorset and think ‘That’s who we’ve supported over the years’ and that’s good.”

n This year’s Macmillan Dorset Bike Ride for Macmillan Cancer Support is on Sunday, July 1. Details are at