Cyclist, biker, potterer, commuter… Bicycle riders come in all shapes and sizes and whichever role you most happily identify with, there’s an enjoyable form of cycling for you. Whether it’s gently rolling along specially constructed cycle paths or blasting your way down steep descents, with so many varieties of this multifaceted pastime, cycling can be whatever you want it to be. That’s what I love about it.
But what if you want to make the switch from potterer to lady-in-lycra and upgrade your passion from casual to more serious? Perhaps the fabulous Breeze rides have ignited a new passion or your ride to work has inspired you to build up some fitness and learn more about the sport? Whatever the incentive for delving deeper into the mysterious world of padded shorts and energy gels, after the welcoming camaraderie of Breeze rides or if you’ve only ever ridden to the office, it can be hard to figure out the next step.
So that’s where your local cycling club comes in.
Before I actually joined a cycling club, I had lots of preconceptions that were entirely shattered once I joined the wonderful Mid Devon CC when I relocated from London. Suffice to say that contrary to what you might think, cycling clubs are usually very welcoming and you needn’t feel awkward or shy. Their whole reason for existing is for people like you and me - people who love cycling.
When you join a club, you immediately gain access to a network of friends, advisors, training partners and coaches, all united by the same passion as you. And the benefits don’t end there - along with from the emotional boost of surrounding yourself with people who share your enthusiasm, inspiring, supporting and motivating you, come the physical benefits of committing to a regular schedule of rides. As well as the increased fitness you’ll gain from staying on pace throughout a Sunday morning ride, you’ll develop group riding skills and improve your bike handling.
Have I convinced you yet? Here’s how to choose a cycling club, and what to expect on your first outing.
Just as there’s more than one kind of cyclist, there’s more than one kind of club, and more than one kind of rider will make up its ranks. Take a while to research the clubs near you, being realistic about your needs and desires. Most clubs have at least one ‘club run’ per week – an organised group ride, often on a Sunday morning. These generally form the basis of their activities so take a look at where and when they meet and go for a club that suits.
It’s worth assessing the speeds of the groups on their club runs to figure out where you’ll fit in. In many cases, all members meet at the same time on a Sunday morning and then split into groups according to fitness. Look for a club with more than one group so you can move up as your speed increases.
Research done, it’s time to get out and ride. The aforementioned ‘club runs’ often last for several hours, often with a coffee stop in the middle, depending on the club. It can be worth upping your miles and getting in a few longer rides before you head out with the club. Aim for at least an hour and a half at a good pace, pause for a cuppa and then continue for a further hour and a half.
Practice over, it’s time to take the leap and head off with the cycling club. There’s no need to join up immediately; it’s perfectly acceptable to go on a couple of rides to find out if the club life is for you.
Don’t worry too much if the speeds of the club are slightly too fast at first, just ride for as long as you can at the pace of the group before peeling off and going home when you reach your limit. Stick at it and before you know it, you’ll be able to complete the whole thing and move up to a faster group.
So at the appointed time, just show up with a spare tube, tools, a drink, money for the coffee stop and possibly some gels or emergency rations. But most importantly of all, take your bike and the smile that accompanies it. Have fun!
Juliet Elliott is part of the fabric of the women's cycling world. She's a sponsored cyclist, former pro snowboarder and model, as well as boasting a dark past playing the guitar and singing backing vocals and playing guitar in bands. These days she frequently vies for awards for her blogging. She's the Founder and Editor of women’s action, art and adventure magazine, Coven Magazine, she contributes to national and international publications, makes regular appearances on the telly and is an outspoken advocate for women in sport.
Photos 2 & 3 by Ashley Kent
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