A Truant Story


To be a Truant you have to be invited and approved by the Truant Committee, have your glass clinked and pay your own way and complete at least one full Truant Ride, or be carried off disabled or worse. There is no application process. There are currently 81 Truants and once a Truant always a Truant, and to be fined accordingly. However as the rides are limited to a maximum of 55 any Truant who misses two consecutive rides has to re-apply with any Rookies if they wish to ride again, if space is available. There are no age rules, however the average is middle and while there are no weight rules the average is heavier than you’d expect. Indeed the Moroccan ride might have been the heaviest bike ride per capita there ever was.

Truant’s come from all walks of professional life, albeit with a slight music industry or entrepreneurial bias due to the proclivity of such folk for clinking glasses with Rod: concert and media promoters; barristers, record company, radio and theatre executives; FTSE CEOs, accountants and merchandising swagmen; telecoms and waste disposal entrepreneurs; sports agents, wealth managers, rock and roll and heavy metal band managers and a counter-intelligence cop; guitarists, Washington lawyers, soldiers, solicitors; artists; night club and hotel owners; advertising execs; toy manufacturers; property developers; PRs; publishers; journalists; city slickers; bodyguards and even bank managers, an MP, a celebrity chef and a legendary ex-England rugby prop call themselves Truants.  All we really share is a dodgy sense of humour, a growing pain threshold, a fondness for sport, though not really cycling, and a love of doing a lot of good, while having a bit of fun.

It’s a cool thing to be!


Nov 1979. EMI Records, Manchester Square, London W1. Rod Smallwood signs Iron Maiden and Phil Rowley is their A&R numbers man.  They argue a lot, but get the job done.

30 years later. May 2009.  Sanctum Soho Hotel. London. Rod’s still with Maiden, Phil’s been many things including COO EMI Worldwide. They meet for an old-boys long lunch and Phil explains that one of those “many things” is that he’s now on the board of ChildLine, the children’s charity.   And thus, after the Sancerre has done its work, a blurrily benevolent Rod offers to raise some funds by organising a Charity Bike Ride.  Which is what friends do!

They clink glasses on the promise and there and then, the Truants are born.

Rod’s hangover offered every excuse for backing down the next morning, but nothing is more binding than a clinked glass.  A clink is a clink.  So he swallows the paracetamol and spins his globe, Blofeld style, and picks Egypt as a possible destination, rightly guessing that the Nile valley would generally be flattish, with possible mild undulations.  He then dials Classic Tours, the ride-organising non-profit organisation he respects from his previous bike rides in such diverse places as China and Periu and next up gets the music industry’s favourite charity, Nordoff Robins, to share the proceeds in  return for masterminding, with vital accuracy, the book-keeping that he rightly suspects might become substantial.

Rod has now learned how to get people to commit irrevocably to things they might later regret, and so the scene moves to a similar room in a very different place. It’s Durban, South Africa, June 20 2009, the early hours of the morning before the first Lions Test there.  Rod lines up Messrs Hole, Moore, Cooney and Allen, who agree to everything he says, and then, crucially, clink his glass.  A fine start to a recruiting drive that continues at Rosslyn Park Rugby Club and then in bar after bar, after drink upon drink, in country after country, as one by one the glasses are clinked and the unbreakable deal is made and another one joins the cause.  And somewhere along the line Rod remembers the Just William books of his youth and conjures a name and brand that add the bit of magic such things do.

The Truants are christened.

And now it’s Jan 21 2010 and thirty nine intrepid men and two fine women set off to cycle up the Nile from Aswan to Luxor, with a little help from a Nile steamer.  They are the only people on the boat, there is nothing to drink but beer and very few of them can cycle a lot or have managed to train, but they get through it and love it and themselves for doing so.  Fast friendships are formed over the 3 days and 100+ desert miles and innumerable temples and a remarkable £232,000 is raised to share between the two charities.

Such a thing cannot be allowed to be a one-off, it’s too much fun and too important to the charities, so all the admin is done, the funds are raised once more and in 2011 23 Truants head off on a much harder ride, one that would set the standard for the future and demand training and serious pain and effort on the roads, tracks and paths.  Cuba is still recovering, but the charities receive a further £172,000.

They get another top up, £20,000 in April 2012, thanks to Mike Hole and the Royal Mid-Surrey and the first ever Truants Charity Golf Day. The Truants have a second string to their bow and welcome a 3rd charity, The Teenage Cancer Trust, to share the spoils.

And in October 2012 the heaviest group of Truants yet, 41 in number, complete the third, Moroccan, challenge, breaking records by raising an almost round £300,090 so that each of the charities gets £100,030 each. This clinking of glasses is making a big difference to a lot of difficult lives.

And on May 17 2013, Mr Hole and the brave folk of the RMS allow the Truants back, lairy trousers and ropey swings notwithstanding, and the yield on the day rises to £30,000, taking the grand total passed on to Phil’s and the other good causes to a cool £754,250 in just over 3 years.  Cool but not ice cold. That left £245,750 to hit the magic million

£1 million is ice cold awesome and it’s blown away in Cambodia in January 2014. The largely experienced Truants on that ride employed a scorched Earth approach to fundraising and, with many personal bests reached especially among the Prefects, a new all time record of £372,000 was set, making it £124,000 to each Charity, and the total amount donated since January 2010 rocketed to £1,126,340.

The Third and Fourth Golf Days followed in 2014 and 2015, raising around £2040,000 and £2050,000 respectively. How can Mike Hole and his gang keep raising the ante here you may well ask? We will find out in 2016!

And now we get to the Heavy Metal Truants. Thinking his Truants were certainly Heavy enough but just not Metal enough, during the Marrakesh Ride Rod approaches Alex Milas, another Metal God and editor in chief of Metal Hammer and stalwart of Team Rock, to set up the Heavy Metal Truants offspring of our Truants. The idea was to get 40 or so Metal fans, musicians and business heads to ride the tough, mountainous 170 miles or so from Alexandra Palace , London, to Download Festival at Castle Donington near Leicester. 2013 was the ideal year to start as Maiden were headlining the event. This proved an immense success so was repeated in 2014 and 2015 and looks like being an annual event, so far raising, over the three rides, a wonderful £236,000 to add to the total to our kid’s charities.

As we approach our Nov 2015 Ride in Mexico, the funds raised so far since that first ride in Jan 2010 stand at £1,454, 438, with the Mexico target at an ambitious £500,000. The next target of £2,000,000 will therefore likely be hit in 2016 with the Golf and HMTs making this happen. That is 2 million ways to help kids less fortunate than ourselves.

More millions will follow as long as there are glasses to clink and foolish, brave, caring men and women to clink them and play Truant.   You can read about them all elsewhere on this site, along with the details of all the rides and riders.  Enjoy.