In the ‘good old days’, i.e. any time before sportives existed, bike riders took a different route into road cycling through the cycling club structure, these days bike clubs are a secondary thought for most new riders, a place where it’s perceived that you’re not going to be fast/strong/committed enough to take part in club activities. In reality, this is very, very far from the truth, bike clubs are where you’ll benefit from experienced riders teaching you how to ride fast & safe in a group, among many other things. So read on and find out how to go about it, it’s quite simple.
The Sportive Rider
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with riding sportives, these mass participation rides have brought hundreds, if not thousands of new riders into the world of road cycling in Scotland. They provide many with a focus for their cycling year, training for an event & generally feeling part of something much bigger. They provide the same kind of feel that I imagine a marathon would, the challenge being to complete a long ride, on tortuous terrain within a target time. But what these riders don’t realise is, that by joining and riding with a club they could greatly enhance their riding experience, learn to save energy, combine into working groups and reduce that target time dramatically, with no additional effort. But sportive riders are unwilling to join clubs, or perhaps they simply don’t know they exist and are unaware of the benefits they can get from joining.
The reality is that anybody’s cycling enjoyment can be improved by acquiring ‘race skills’, these will allow you to ride faster, longer & harder than before by learning a few basics, then advancing on from that into a never-ending learning experience, the best & fastest way to go about this is to join a good club. Even if you don’t want to race, these skills will become invaluable in any sportive event, or even just on a group ride.
Bike clubs, past & present
As Iggy Pop asks about nightclubbing, “Isn’t it wild?”, bike clubbing doesn’t have to be wild at all, if you choose well and do a little research you’ll easily find one that suits you?
Clubs come in many forms, the type of club that has evolved usually depends on a very small number of individuals who take on the majority of the responsibilities in each club. You can also have some historical factors in there too, with a clubs identity based on what they did some time ago, so find out what suits you & get involved with one, it’s the best way to develop your skills.
A little history. Bike clubs used to be a secret society, you normally started riding your bike by yourself, to escape from various things on a Sunday, family, religion, football, socializing etc. So cycling had a high percentage of men, of which a high percentage couldn’t (or didn’t want to) play or support football and others escaping from Sunday school or going to church with families, some chose cycling because it allowed to not speak to anybody for long periods of time. So you get the idea, the idea that to be a cyclist ‘back in the day’ involved you being some kind of social outcast from the norms of Scottish society, which in central Scotland often involved football, religion, eating sausage rolls & smoking, you’ll find a lot of cyclists pre-sportive have this type of background. This permeated into your local bike club, a committee formed from normally geriatric cyclists, you can spot one of these, he has baggy knees from where the skin on his thigh muscles used to keep everything taught, he has a perma-tan from frequent visits to Majorca and he doesn’t like anything post index gearing. I’m not saying the social norms of our society were something to aspire to, I’m just giving you an insight to the suspicion any ‘new cyclist’ (often labelled a ‘Gringo’) would be subjected to on attempting to join a cycling club. There were of course a large number of ‘normal’ people in cycling clubs, but they generally kept their normality hidden from bike club culture & lived full meaningful lives outside cycling, unknown to their cycling peers. You accidentally stumbled across a group of club cyclists or witnessed a race held as far from population as possible and met somebody there who introduced you to a local club, that was your main route into the world of Scottish cycling if you didn’t have a neighbour or family member who was already involved.
You’ll be thankful to hear that the above is now becoming much rarer, you’ll be struggling to find an old school bike club these days. With the growing popularity of cycling and its acceptance as a viable way to commute, the successful GB cycling team, Wiggo, it being a healthy & not a particularly anti-social hobby, bike club members have responded to the old school cycling club and infiltrated it’s hierarchy, spreading into committees and replacing unwilling volunteers with enthusiastic ‘youngsters’ (anything younger than 50 is considered a youngster to the saggy knee brigade). You’ll find a progressive attitude in many bike clubs these days & there are some that deal exclusively with youth riders, having several trained coaches, if you’re looking at choosing a club for your offspring too.
Your new club
Any club that is registered to Scottish Cycling will be listed on their website, so start there. Fill in your postcode on the link below and set up a distance you would be willing to travel. Bear in mind that this will give you a rough location, as it is determined by the location of the club secretary’s house, so open up your search distance a little more than you would be willing to travel, in case the club secretary lives away from the main body of the club. You should get a link to each clubs website from the club finder link and you can review their activities.CLUB FINDER
Things to look for……
- Find a club with an internet presence, this can assure you that a committee has decided that the internet isn’t a bad thing and they’re willing to embrace it. This also allows you to peruse their activities before you take the leap and join in.
- If you want to race, make sure your chosen club participates in the type of racing you want to take part in, but don’t close yourself off to other types of competition.
- Choose a club that has regular rides reasonably close to where you live, i.e. within half an hours riding to the start or a short distance to drive if you intend to take the car.
- Check out their kit, you’ll be wearing this a lot, so make sure you’ll be ok wearing it in public.
- Make sure your new club will accommodate beginners, you’ll be astonished at the amount you can learn, so having a club willing to take the time to teach beginners group skills is going to be crucial to your choice.
- Get an idea of the size of club, unless it has a good progressive culture and lots of willing and experienced members, a very large club may not allow you to develop your skills as quickly, it may have a majority of riders who want to learn the skills you’re after, but lack that core of willing volunteers who have the task of teaching a vast number of new riders in their own time. Sometimes a small to medium club will provide more assistance and steepen the learning curve, but then this isn’t always true either, so do your research and let them know you want to develop group skills and see if they have any rides that would help with that.
Remember that those willing to help you in that club are volunteering their own free time, so treat everybody with the utmost respect and paying a small annual membership fee does not mean you own their time. They also pay that membership fee, so that doesn’t mean that they own your time either, it’s a friendly cooperative rather than a contract, people are giving you their goodwill, in return they see you progress within the club.
The level of a club cyclist
It’s often perceived by those outside the cycling club structure that club cyclists are elite level athletes. Once you join one you’ll find just how ridiculous this idea really is, there’s all shapes & sizes in bike club. No matter what your current level of fitness, you’ll also find fellow riders at your level, you don’t have to be ‘race fit’ to join a club. Plenty of experienced riders let their fitness slip to unbelievably low levels, so if you’re unfit you can still learn a lot from riding with these guys, that podgy creeper you’re chatting to may have won a few races when he was in his prime.
Go on, join a club
It’s really a case of getting out there and getting it done, now is the perfect time to get involved, it’s early in the year and there will be plenty others like yourself who are about to take the leap and looking to improve your bike skills, whether that’s on-bike skills, mechanical skills (as basic as fixing a puncture to full-scale bike strip and rebuild), help with your bike position, you’ll learn a lot from experienced riders and skills passed down through bike culture. You’ll learn week in week out in a bike club, while a sportive will teach you little in the way of skills, not only because it’s a one-off event, but due to there being no incentive and camaraderie from experienced riders to pass on knowledge and information during an event.
There’s no time like the present to dip your toe into the overshoe of cycling clubs, take the plunge and see if there are any suitable now, it’s not as wild an idea as you first thought.