Joining a cycling club is a fantastic way to meet new people, and become both a speedier and better cyclist.
Cycling club culture might seem a little daunting to someone on the outside, looking in – but the truth is most clubs have a lovely, congregational and family feel from the inside – and they are almost always pleased to welcome new riders into the fold.
The average club will be filled with members of all abilities – from the super fast young racing types, to the brand new beginner half way to losing 20 stone, and the 70-something-year-old who used to race in every discipline – and though not that fast anymore – could teach you everything you need to know about training and riding.
Being part of the club will give you the opportunity to learn a lot about cycling disciplines, and group riding etiquette, and there will always be someone to cheer you up if you’re struggling on that monster hill.
Not only that, but a large cycling club is made up of a variety of individuals – students, CEOs, train drivers, pilots, police officers, decorators – the list goes on. Once you’re an established member of a cycling club, you’ll find your local contacts book will be supersized, and you’ll always have a friend by your side when you need one.
Cycling Club Format
Though cycling clubs will vary, the average club will meet once on a weekend for ‘long rides’ and then they will hold shorter, faster rides in the week – often with a weekly club time trial, racing session, and a conversational paced social ride as well.
The Saturday or Sunday rides are usually the place to start for a beginner – these will often have a series of groups, from beginners rides, often 30miles at the pace of the slowest rider, with a tea stop, to racers groups, often 17-18mph over a much longer ride.
Despite often having a fairly old fashioned ethos and structure, most clubs have a website, where each ride group will be introduced and explained, so you can get an idea which group you should join. Some club are much more modern, and have Facebook pages, and Twitter pages – where you can catch up on news about the club and its riders.
Once you’ve chosen a local club, and found their website (more on this at the end), the next step is to either email the club chairperson, and then go along to a ride, or simply go along and make yourself known. Usually, the club website will have a “Join Us” section which explains the desired protocol. If you want to keep riding with the club, you’ll need to become a member, but it’s normal to go on a few club rides first, to make sure it’s for you.
Advice from my own chairman, is not to email with long, worried questions – providing the life story of your riding past, in an attempt to establish if you are fit enough to go along. Simply ensuring you can ride the distance of a ride, introducing yourself, and then turning up to give it a go, is the best way to start.
Your first club ride
On your first ride, you need to make sure you know you can ride the mileage advertised. If, for example, the shortest ride is 30 miles, and that is still a struggle for you, build up slowly before going along – simply adding 5 miles to your weekend or longest ride each week.
Once you know the mileage is fine for you, select a group that you are confident you can ride with. If you do find the ride fast, a slower ride will always have a backmarker, and they will always look after you – but you will have more fun if you pick conservatively, and start with a group that you know you’ll ride easily with.
If you find the ride too easy, do not zoom of the front, or complain – ride with the group, and resolve to go with a faster set the following week – every good rider needs long, slow rides under their belt, anyway and becoming bolshie will do you no favours.
It is also a good idea that you take with you provisions you need for a ride – a spare tube or patch kit, tyre levers, pump, a drink and food if needed. Though the beauty of a group ride is that someone will always be there to lend you provisions, turning up without the kit required to look after yourself may not give the best first impression.
Finally, relax, and enjoy yourself – though the fast groups will be riding to train, the whole ethos of a cycling club is to enjoy riding together, and to create a community that celebrates the joy of cycling. Get chatting to your ride buddies, and you’ll get to hear about the variety of riders and rides available, hopefully picking up some useful advice along the way.
How to find your local club
The best way to find a club is either to google your town name, and “cycling club”, or to use the British Cycling club finder.
It is likely there will be several clubs nearby – some may have a greater emphasis on racing, whilst others might be more focused on the social aspect.
The Reading CTC is a good place to start if you’re looking for organised rides suitable for all abilities, whilst if you’re looking to join a club that welcomes beginners, but offers a pathway towards racing, time trialling or events, the Reading Cycling Club offer slower, tea-stop riders, and also cater for racers and organise a weekly club time trial.