British race technology ‘powers’ BBC’s Rickshaw Challenge

Known as ‘The Rickshaw Challenge’, the 2018 funds-raising bash for BBC’s annual Children in Need appeal, which started on November 9th, featured an all new pedal-powered rickshaw that Iain Robertson confirms was built by McLaren.

Since the Rickshaw Challenge commenced in 2011, as part of the much-vaunted, Sir Terry Wogan fronted charity gigs, it has become one of the most visible, hard-hitting and worthy fund-raisers in the UK. In many ways, it is also one of the greatest displays of youthful endeavour, which not only grabs at your purse-strings but also at your heart-strings.
The event places young people in the television firing-line, by making them work so hard that it might border on the realms of ‘slave labour’, were it not for the fact that each of six riders is a volunteer and each possesses a valid reason for wanting to complete the challenge. Their stories alone are immensely inspirational, not least for some of the conditions and health difficulties they have endured. For seven years, the route has coursed over hill and dale around the UK, often in grim seasonal weather conditions, on the roads of the UK. For 2018, the route was slightly different.

The start took place in Calais, northern France, at the entrance to the 31-miles long service tunnel that supports the Channel Tunnel. Not normally open to the public and surrounded by comprehensive security systems, it added even greater kudos and intrigue to the 2018 exercise. The safety tunnel features a gradual descent to the bottom of the English Channel, before demanding a long and arduous climb to the Folkestone exit. Around 423 miles would be covered over the eight days of the event. There is nothing ‘easy’ about this challenge and the BBC had altered the route significantly, to take in more of the west of England and the Welsh border country, before reaching its conclusion on the concourse outside BBC Media City, Salford Quays, Manchester (November 16th).

Since 2011, The One Show’s Rickshaw Challenge has raised well over £21million for BBC Children in Need, with every penny making a difference to the lives of children and young people across the UK, who need it most. The 2018 team of riders, supported as usual by The One Show’s main presenter, Matt Baker, himself no stranger to testing exercises, consisted of Abby (16) from London; Harry (17) from Plymouth; Kayla (16) from Derry/Londonderry; Kieran (18) from South Wales; Maisie (16) from Southampton and Phoebe (19) from Leicester. Naturally, the Rickshaw Challenge also has a support crew that includes a couple of engineers (to maintain the rickshaw and the bicycles of the crew ‘runners’), and both a medical and catering/comfort team for the participants.

While the original, weighty and quite basic rickshaw served well in its several variants, the amazing team of advanced engineers from McLaren Applied Technologies, in conjunction with their colleagues from McLaren Racing, contacted the BBC with a proposition at the end of 2017. The Woking, Surrey-based company has been a long-time contributor to the Children in Need appeal. However, as a major-league, engineering solutions provider, the staff put their heads together to design something not radically different but altogether more accessible and functional than the previous generation rickshaws.

Designers and engineers worked closely, in their own time, to create a pedal-powered vehicle that would put the riders’ needs first. Each design element is a manifestation of the team’s intent to build a better rickshaw. Inspired by the iconic rickshaw silhouette, the new design is focused on improving accessibility for the different statures of riders and their occasional passengers.

Rather than creating a lightweight, high-performance vehicle, although the use of lightweight alloy structures and carbon-fibre are prevalent and which might have been expected with McLaren’s background in motor racing, the new design features a rapidly reconfigurable seating system, which enables a wider range of riders to take part. Allied to the weight reduction programme, an innovative drivetrain system, complete with carbon-reinforced belt, instead of a chain, not only improved reliability but enhanced the ergonomic ease by which the rickshaw could be pedalled.

The amount of engineering know-how employed was phenomenal, not least in the ingenious ‘scissor-like’ mechanism that allowed the most height-challenged of the riders to take the controls of a rickshaw that had just been ‘driven’ by the tallest member of the team. It also incorporates integrated outrider braking mounts that improve safety overall.

As has become customary at the McLaren Technology Centre, its staff continues to support BBC Children in Need, not only by building the rickshaw but also with internal fundraising activities that take place alongside the challenge. Naturally, because inclusion has always been a central message to every Rickshaw Challenge, if you log onto the website (, you will discover that a number of enthusiastic individuals were also carrying out their own cycling challenges to raise funds for the charity. Viewers of the daily ‘One Show’ programme could follow Team Rickshaw’s progress on each day of the event. The full route, which included a real-time update of the rickshaw’s progress, was available at

Chief Operating Officer, McLaren Group, Jonathan Neale, said: “We are incredibly proud to have supported actively 2018’s BBC Children in Need Rickshaw Challenge, which laid the ground for our long-term support of this important charity. The team threw both heart and soul into building an accessible and well-engineered new rickshaw for an amazing and rewarding project. All of us at McLaren cheered on Team Rickshaw with every turn of the wheel.”

ISQA followed this year’s Rickshaw Challenge but applauds primarily the enterprise and engineering excellence of McLaren, a proud British manufacturer that has a far greater reach than most observers may be aware of.

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