Heavy Metal Truants: Meet the wholesome metalhead bicycle gang raising money for charity

As the Heavy Metal Truants prepare to set off on their annual cycle up to Download Festival, co-founder Alexander Milas explains how fundraising and metal goes hand-in-hand…

Heavy Metal Truants: Meet the wholesome metalhead bicycle gang raising money for charity
Jak Hutchcraft

Our lives are full of pilgrimages of different shapes, sizes and meanings. The daily commute to work, a walk to school, a trip to the big Tesco. In many ways life itself is a pilgrimage – you begin the epic journey at birth and travel valiantly through puberty, property, heartbreaks and hangovers until reaching the finish line wiser and wearier. One of the annual journeys that over 100,000 rockers make here in the UK is to a field in the East midlands with a group of giddy mates. Like all festival pilgrimages, the one to Download is one of new friendships and acute back pain from carrying too much booze.

But what if that journey could have a bigger purpose than just a pre-lash and physical exertion?

Alexander Milas had this very thought back in 2012 when he formed the fundraising bicycle gang, Heavy Metal Truants. The premise is simple: get a group of mates together, ride your bikes from London to Download Festival and raise money for charity in the process.

Alexander’s love for heavy music dates back to his early teenage years when his brother introduced him to AC/DC, Foreigner and Scorpions. “When I was growing up in the south of Italy, it wasn't always easy to get access to music,” he remembers. “In a way that kind of made me hungrier for it. The hook, line and sinker was when I saw a Number Of The Beast [Iron Maiden] shirt. I remember thinking to myself, 'That must be some kind of bad person because the image is so hideous!' I couldn't look away and it stuck in my mind. That was just the beginning of a long musical journey for me.”

He moved to London for higher education and began writing about the heavy music he’d become obsessed with. Alexander wrote features for us at Kerrang! and went on to become the editor of Metal Hammer. Through his journalism he met Maiden’s manager Rod Smallwood, who himself has a fundraising riding group called the Truants. Alexander took part in one of the Truants’ particularly difficult rides in 2012, through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It was there that he was inspired to start his own heavy metal version of the group when they got back to Britain. Later that year, Heavy Metal Truants was born. Now in its 10th year, they’ve raised over £1m for different charities.

Although the classic HMT ride from London’s Alexandra Palace to Castle Donington stretches almost 200 miles and takes two and a half days of riding, Alexander tells me that anyone can get involved in their mission. “It’s a great leveller. I think that's what's wonderful about Heavy Metal Truants. It's not just the physical grind that we do on the Download ride, we also have virtual ones which now also include walking and running challenges.”

In 2020 when Download was cancelled and the ride couldn’t take place due to the pandemic, Alexander and his crew still wanted to raise money somehow. They invented challenges that people could get involved in safely, one of which split the London to Download journey up into hour-long blasts over 10 days to fit with the governments allotted daily hour of exercise. To his surprise, that year they raised £205,000 for charity, making it the biggest year for them yet.

“We've had hundreds of people join us every year,” Alexander explains. “We've really had world famous artists and fans and industry people all cycling together and all sweating it out. I feel it's so emblematic of the highest ideals of music, you know? Just this idea that we're all united by a common cause.” Among their previous riders are members of Judas Priest, Trivium, Paradise Lost and Amon Amarth. They even have supporters that reach beyond the rock and metal worlds too, one of which is Brian Blessed who waved them off one year giving them the sage advice, “In life you must always choose the adventure.” This year they have K!’s very own Nick Ruskell joining their legendary team. “Things like these challenges create friendships for life,” Alexander smiles. “It's kind of like the spirit of the mosh-pit. If someone falls, you pick them back up.”

The charities they choose to donate to (Childline, Save The Children, Teenage Cancer Trust and Nordoff Robbins) also fit within this spirit. “They're all kids’ charities because as divided as the world can seem, these charities are something that everyone agrees on. Helping out kids and young people is something I think everyone agrees on. They are the future and they're the people we should be investing our time in.”

Many of the riders, Alexander explains, aren’t necessarily cycling enthusiasts – but that doesn’t matter. “You've never seen a more encouraging and positive group of people. Everyone has different abilities and it is 100 per cent not about showing off or being the first to the finish line. The point is that we do it together.”

But isn’t it daunting for new riders? “Yes, it's always going to be daunting," he admits. "If it was easy there wouldn't be a point, you know? The thing is: people keep on coming back because it's just got this incredible family feel. It is scary but that can be a good thing. The whole point of fundraising in this way is showing your commitment by doing something that's going to challenge you.”

The growth and longevity of Heavy Metal Truants is testament to the community within heavy music. If there’s one thing that moshers are good at, it’s mobilisation. Whether that’s packing out a gig venue, queueing outside a record shop for a new release, or trekking halfway across the country to go to camp in a muddy field for the weekend. Alexander and the Heavy Metal Truants have managed to harness this spirit and convert it into money for important causes and making a real difference in the world. The fact that the riders have a great time doing it and make friends for life are added bonuses.

“Most people are good but they're not the ones who make the headlines. Most people want to help, they just don't know how. We just want to make it easy for people to do something good in the world.”

If you want to learn more about Heavy Metal Truants and get involved in this year's fundraising challenges, head to this link.

Kerrang!’s own Nick Ruskell will be donning the Lycra and pedalling his wheels of steel to Download – you can sponsor him here.

Download Festival takes place at Donington Park on June 10-12. Get your tickets now.

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