I thought about joining a cycling club for months before taking the plunge. Having spent a summer of doing 30-40 mile rides on my mountain bike, I had a road bike on order and knew I wanted to get more out of cycling. But I was also scared of looking like a complete idiot, I couldn’t bear the thought of wobbling everywhere or struggling with unclipping. So I spent ages riding alone until I felt ready to show my face.
My first introduction to the club was the Saturday social ride, a very relaxed run of about 15 miles with the obligatory café stop. Members lead and accompany the ride and it’s a great way to find out more about the club ethos. Many of the Saturday social riders don’t bother to become full club members, they just enjoy going out for a leisurely ride and a coffee – it’s a lovely atmosphere and nobody was bothered in the slightest by tricky cleat moments (of which I had several, despite all the practice!).
After a few Saturday rides, I then went along to the club’s Windsor ride, a non-hilly ride held once a month and open to non-members who are thinking about joining. Riding into a car park full of 60+ cyclists was slightly intimidating, but it was reassuring to recognise a few faces, to be welcomed and helped to find a suitable group to ride with.
On that first ride I learnt so much about using my gears for more efficient riding just by riding in company. The company was great, it didn’t matter that I’d never met any of my fellow riders before – on a bike conversation just seems to flow and you can eat up the miles without even realising the physical effort. I had a blast that day and didn’t hesitate to pay my subs.
Joining the club did everything I hoped for. I was training for my first century ride, so weekly rides of 50 miles was just what I needed. Hours in the saddle was important, but so was feeling okay about riding in close proximity to other cyclists – l learnt new skills, understood the etiquette of group riding and grew in speed, stamina and confidence. Just as importantly, I have made a huge amount of friends. The diversity of the club is immense. From the father who rides with his teenage son to a very healthy number of cyclists in their sixties (some of whom are far fitter than me), the club spans all ages. Shape is also well covered, from super-fit triathletes and the whippets that make up the fast group to those who are cycling to lose weight. And jobs range from postman, council worker, teacher, solicitor right up to the highest corporate echelon of Chief Exec. But none of this matters. Dressed in lycra and club jerseys we’re all the same, out there together doing something we love and club rides transcend any and all demographics.
Are you thinking of joining a club?
Riding with a club can give you greater motivation to get out and ride more for longer than if you’re planning a solo ride. You’re much more likely to get out of bed at an ungodly hour to ride with friends – even if the weather looks grim. And it’s so much more pleasant to ride with others if you’re doing long distance – you’ll cover the ground quicker and probably discover umpteen new routes in the process.
- Check out the club’s website to see if it sounds like what you’re looking for. Some clubs will be more about social riding, others may be more focused on race training and competition. You can find clubs in your area through the British Cycling.
- Find out if you can go along as a guest. Most are happy for people to try out a few rides before committing to joining.
- Clubs tend to split riders into groups according to ability, from fast to slow based on an average speed. If in doubt, it’s probably wiser to ride with a slower group to get a feel for the pace, rather than thinking you’re Chris Froome and then holding back the group because you can’t keep up.
- If you struggle on your first ride, don’t just give up – riding with a club is the perfect way to improve your fitness and build stamina, within just a few weeks it’ll probably feel very different.
- Worried you’ll be dropped? Whilst some clubs will be a bit cut-throat about dropping slower riders, most will be mindful that we all have off days, some of us may not be natural hill climbers and not everyone is a downhill speed merchant. Each group will usually have a ride leader up front, supported by a sweeper at the back who will make sure no one is left behind. In my own experience we ride as a group, tackle hills at our own individual pace and always ensure that we regroup. If one of the group has a puncture or mechanical problem, we wait and lend a hand if needed. And yes, the camaraderie gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside!
- Be prepared with spare inner tube, pump etc. It’s always better if you have everything you need than to rely on others.
- Take money. There will be cake. There will be coffee. Café stops are an integral part of the ride!
- Watch, listen and learn. You’ll probably meet a wide variety of cyclists, from those just starting out to those who have spent their lives riding and have encyclopedic knowledge of every single component on a bike. I have yet to meet anyone who feels the need to ‘teach’ me about cycling, but I have ridden with people who are happy to share knowledge and advice – from suggesting a different gear to be more energy efficient to discussing different tyre brands or cautionary tales of using CO2 canisters in the cold.
Needless to say, all the above comes with a word of warning – club rides can become addictive! After months of religiously attending every Sunday ride I’m currently juggling my own selfish desires with my children’s football commitments – cue one very moody madam when I don’t get my fix!
Guest Blogger, Rachel