Doing Things Right

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I’ve posted previously on how sports governing bodies can be stuck in a rut, with the need for funding becoming their guiding principle, rather than the actual needs of the sport they are attempting to support. It’s an annoying aspect of the drip-down funding structure, which feeds off the perceptions of some public servant somewhere in the financial hierarchy, with his idea of what a sport needs (it’s always a ‘him’). We can safely assume the closest this fella will have got to sport recently are some free Wimbledon tickets or a nice day out at the cricket. If we ignore that side of things & the resulting fallout to our governing bodies, it’s the clubs that are actually the trailblazers in cycle sport. I’m going to point out a couple of very different ones, but both appear to have chosen their own distinct path & followed through with great gusto & success, the clubs I’ll be mentioning are Stirling Bike Club & the Rigmar Racers (other clubs exist with similar ideals, but to me, these two are currently the most prominent in Scotland right now).

Stirling Bike Club

It would be easy for any club with a high membership to promote run-of-the-mill cycle events on the road, this is exactly what Stirling Bike Club don’t settle for. In the last year they’ve managed to run three closed-road events, a virtually unseen display in Scottish racing circles, a feat which takes an incredible amount of effort to put in place, alongside the well promoted but more ‘traditional’ events like the ‘Corrieri Classic 10’ & the ‘Battle of the Braes’.

Those who’ve been around a while are used to events being hidden away, keeping our sport in the backwater, but Stirling BC have woken up to the fact that cycling is now something that the general public would actually like to watch & local government will engage with. These events include ‘Up the Kirk’ hill-climb, ‘Crit on the Campus‘ & ‘Crit Under the Castle‘. All these events have their own mini web sites (linked), regularly updated twitter feeds & excellent promotion, singling out these events to me as being some of the best Scotland has ever had in promotion terms. The execution is also impressive, if it looks smooth-running from the outside, you can bet it’s highly stressful & very well-managed on the inside, what ‘the punters’ don’t see is what makes these events what they turn out to be.

The backbone of this club is in its membership, they have multiple club training rides for all abilities, chaingangs & club rides. But the jewel in the crown is their kids club, the Wallace Warriors, there’s a big waiting list to get into this club. This club really is a shining example of a multi-tiered cycling club catering for all.

Rigmar Racers

Predominantly a track team, which also has some very successful forays into road racing, Rigmar Racers is quickly making its mark as the go-to club for the aspirational Scottish track racer. The top-tier (or cloud, as they may refer to it as) of riders in this team are impressive, even having helped none other than Katie Archibald on her way, there’s already an obvious pedigree of national champions involved with the club. This domain had been held for decades by one very successful club, but they seem to have gone into a steep decline, possibly due to the reducing relevance of the venue that served track cycling so well since the 70’s, Meadowbank, without either of which we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Rigmar Racers have embraced the indoor velodrome opportunity fully, along with coaching, expert knowledge, equipment & expertise. They’ve grown in what looks like a very manageable fashion & have a host of young talented up-and-coming riders in their roster, plus 2014 Commonwealth games riders Alistair Rutherford & Callum Skinner. The front line coaching team consists of Allister Watson (reputedly the most dangerous rider ever to ride the Meadowbank boards, who’ll have a trick or two up his arm warmers), with Callum Watson & Commonwealth medallist Kate Cullen.

This team looks to be setting the benchmark at the performance end of Scottish cycle sport, which hopefully will spur on other individuals & teams to raise their game. From what we’ve seen so far, Rigmar Racers are adept at identifying & developing young promising riders from other sports & the youth ranks,then furnishing them with the skills & knowledge to allow them to progress the ladder. With some eventually using what they have learned to help them make it to international level competition. We’ll even see them entering a team at the forthcoming season of Revolution track meetings across the country, a very progressive approach. They also have a very good blog.

Rider Development

My opinion is that clubs large successful clubs find it difficult to also run an elite ‘team’ racing at a high level, this can challenge resources & often cause some unwanted disruption & arguments. So if a club like Stirling BC develops riders to a level where they are performing at national events, they should see that as another success, the club should quite rightly be very proud of that. Clubs can easily keep their ties to the top riders, while trying not to get upset if they move on to a team who specialise in supporting them at bigger events. We need that diversification to allow riders to progress, otherwise it’s easy to hold them back. A club can benefit massively from keeping that association, imagine if that rider does ‘make it’, would you rather be mentioned in interviews as a part of that development, or scrubbed from memory as the club that got upset when the rider wanted to race big events as part of a team. It’s not a kick in the teeth when a rider progresses, it shows how good a job you’ve done.

The Gist Of It

Plenty of clubs & teams are doing very good things, like those above, but plenty are unfortunately not. Some still refuse to accept that cycle sport is changing rapidly, refusing to utilise social media & relentlessly telling young talented riders that all they need to do is ‘get the miles in’, these clubs will eventually die. The relatively new clubs are the ones which are able to adopt a modern approach, all too often we see tradition stifle the old clubs, so it’s elsewhere we should be looking for innovation & development in Scottish cycle sport. The clubs I’ve identified do very different things, they both do these things very well. We require more of these, a diverse network of clubs & teams where riders can progress, or just enjoy riding their bikes. Who knows where it could lead, the future looks very bright if Stirling Bike Club & Rigmar Racers are where we’ll see Scottish cycling head in the future. Maybe Scottish Cycling can learn a thing or two from what’s going on in the progressive club scene.

Would you like to go large?

There’s been some debate on Twitter regarding the increased affiliation fees for clubs north of the border, compared to those in England. The main difference is that Scottish Cycling (SC) are affiliated to British Cycling (BC). BC arrange the race & rider insurances, so they control the sport if Scotland wishes to use the rider & race category, coaching, insurance, development, Go-Ride (etc) structure.

We can take a look to see how prices compare for the same product across the UK.

The Facts

Scottish Cycling Affiliations:

  • Small Club (less than 21 BC members): £75
  • Large Club (21 or more BC members): £140
  • Commercial Club (named after a business or website): £230
  • School/Youth Only Club: £30
  • Sponsor Fee (for first 4 club sponsors only): £65

British Cycling Affiliations:

  • Standard Club/Team: £88
  • Commercial Named Club/Team: £175
  • School Club (including liability insurance): £35
  • School Club (without liability insurance): £10
  • Sponsor Fee (for first 4 club sponsors only): £62

Welsh Cycling:

Same costs as British Cycling.

Going Large?

There does look to be a fair slice added to the costs for SC member clubs over BC member clubs, or Welsh clubs who have a similar setup to SC. But what do we get for the additional costs & are there situations where a club would be better off with the SC pricing structure?

Some examples…

Less than 21 BC member clubs:

  • Club with no sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 in Scotland, compared to £88 in BC areas. A saving of £13 in Scotland.
  • Club with 1 sponsor & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £65 = £140 in Scotland. £88 + £62 = £150 in BC areas. A saving of £10 in Scotland.
  • Club with 2 sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £130 = £205 in Scotland. £88 + £124 = £212 in BC areas. A saving of £8 in Scotland.
  • Club with 3 sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £195 = £270 in Scotland. £88 + £186 = £274 in BC areas. A saving of £4 in Scotland.
  • Club with 4 or more sponsors & less than 21 BC members would pay £75 + £260 = £335 in Scotland. £88 + £248 = £336 in BC areas. An additional cost of £1 in Scotland.

Clubs with 21 or more BC members:

  • Club with no sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 in Scotland, compared to £88 in BC areas. An additional cost of £52 in Scotland.
  • Club with 1 sponsor & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £65 = £205 in Scotland. £88 + £62 = £150 in BC areas. An additional cost of £55 in Scotland.
  • Club with 2 sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £130 = £270 in Scotland. £88 + £124 = £212 in BC areas. An additional cost of £58 in Scotland.
  • Club with 3 sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £195 = £335 in Scotland. £88 + £186 = £274 in BC areas. An additional cost of £61 in Scotland.
  • Club with 4 or more sponsors & 21 or more BC members would pay £140 + £260 = £400 in Scotland. £88 + £248 = £336 in BC areas. An additional cost of £64 in Scotland.

Event Levies

While we’re on the subject, there is also a premium charged in Scottish events in the form of levies. Most road races carry a £3.95 levie per rider in Scotland, while BC charge £3. This equates to an additional cost of £57 in a 60 rider event, or £76 in an 80 rider field. Quite what this additional cost is for is anybody’s guess, but it may have something to do with the money being distributed to the ‘Centres’. It all adds to the cost of running an event, which isn’t ideal for organisers & clubs wanting to promote races, especially when it’s very hard to see what additional service that cost provides.

The Jist Of It

If you are a small club, you’ll pay slightly less, or very close to what BC area clubs pay. But if you have more than 21 BC memberships in your club, then you’ll lose out considerably. It also costs more to run events in Scotland, not a good situation to be in when ‘participation’ is an often trumpeted word by SC, we pay a significantly higher percentage cost per rider for the same insurance cover.

This provides a disincentive for clubs to promote British Cycling membership to their riders, a very strange situation, surely it should be around the other way? So if you’re in a larger club, or you are interested in promoting BC membership to your club members who do not currently have it, along with the insurance & other benefits it carries, it’s worth dropping Scottish Cycling a line to see why this is. I really don’t understand it & hadn’t really realised until it was mentioned on Twitter. Perhaps somebody at SC can provide some explanation, but at first glance it looks like we’re going large but getting the same size fries & a big empty space at the top of our drink carton. Over to you SC…..

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Local Leagues (Entry League)

I wrote a blog titles ‘Out of Our League’ back in January, it deserves a rewrite & a bit more thought put into it, especially with the likelihood that things will change regarding how the Regions are set out in the future. Lets take a fresh look & see what we could end up with, it will take some upheavals & can’t be fully implemented in a year, but a plan is required in order to help road racing prosper again. I’ll do another blog for the advanced & elite leagues too, advanced could operate in year one & include 2/3 cat racing, with the elite league forming in year 2. The Elite league would be the only one that focussed on individual rankings, as it can’t be affected by riders moving up a category & out of the league.

So in 2015 we’d have  the following:

  • Regional Entry League : Club League Rankings Only. (Open to 4th category riders)
  • Regional Advanced League: Club League Rankings Only. (Open to 2nd & 3rd category riders)
  • National Elite League : Individual & Club/Team Rankings. (Open to Elite, 1st & 2nd category riders)

The initial two leagues should provide enough points to feed the Elite league with 2nd category riders for year two.

We can start out modestly, with maybe 4 to 6 races in each region, perhaps many of these races already exist, so just need combined into a league format by agreement with other clubs. The idea is that club based rankings will encourage clubs to ‘push’ new riders into taking part in a race, to stick a number on their back so that their club can gain league ranking points as their established racers move up categories, leaving a a void & points to be grabbed.

Pre-Requisites (Regional Entry League)

As far as I see it, we need to make this easy for organisers & riders, it’s vital to make the league races as simple as possible to run & make the races as simple as possible to enter.

  • Start the events from mid-March at the earliest, we don’t want to put new riders off by having their events cancelled due to ice & snow, let’s make this less likely. (It is Scotland, so this will reduce risk, road racing in February in Scotland, isn’t good for the sport’s development)
  • Keep bunches limited to 60 riders for safety reasons, we’re dealing with new riders here, not promoting events for licence dodgers & ‘ringers’.
  • League points to first 15 riders, with emphasis on a ‘win’ & top placings. Points allocated as follows, starting from first place. 25, 20, 18, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5. With 1 point allocated to each rider who finished the event, to promote participation for beginners, who’s initial aim is simply to finish, they can also aid their club’s points tally by scoring a point.
  • Under no circumstances will an individual rider ranking be listed, only club listings will be published. This will remove the ‘problem’ of riders upgrading but ‘hogging’ the points system, resulting in the strongest riders removing all these points from being allocated. It blighted the lower league of the Super6 series.
  • Clubs will have to run an event to gain league entry, if clubs are very small (not big & lazy), they can team together to run an event to gain entry, but they won’t get double the rider allocation, they’ll have to share that.

You need a league administrator, somebody who can work excel, & stick the results on something like this, a blog, it’s really easy & quick to do, if you can type, you can run a simple blog, no technical knowledge required.

League Structure (Regional Entry League)

This should involve between 6 & 12 different clubs, who can work together to promote a series of events for their riders. Where there’s geographical problems, there should be around 6 clubs who could travel to an event.

  • Six to twelve clubs form each league, minimum 30 riders in an event in order to help events at least break even. (see below)
  • Member clubs offered at least 5 places in each event. Spaces left after allocation are open to other league club members first, on a fair basis, any left after that are open to non-league riders.
  • Any riders who have gained enough points before the event to move into a category not included in the league event, will not start the event. This ensures all licence points awarded in the event will be allocated to eligible riders.

Event Costs

You can access a vast number of forms on the Scottish Cycling website, on the page linked HERE. You’ll see that a Regional C+ Event (an event open to 4th category riders with points for the first 10 riders) will cost £10 Registration fee, plus £12 Regional registration fee to get it on the calendar. The levies payable to SC are £3.95 per rider (there’s also £2.60 per rider listed for a Regional C League, but those events don’t carry BC points, so ‘pointless’ for our needs, unless SC know a ‘get around’). So for a field of 60 riders, we’re already at £22 + (60 X £3.95), that’s £259 so far. Add on HQ & changing room hire at between £50 to £100 (lets say £75), photo-finish at £100 per event, 4 NEG riders at approx £75 each, depending on where they’re coming from & you’re up to a bill so far of £734, with no prize money yet. That’s how much it costs to run an event these days with what riders have to expect, photo-finish for their placing (almost obligatory for league points) & NEG to keep things safe. So each rider’s paying out £12.90 of their entry fee just for the running of the event. I’ll list it below, along with the scary scenario of only 30 riders, then you’ll see why organisers panic if they’re getting a low number of entries near to closing date.

Example Costings for a 60 rider road race.

  • Event Registration £10
  • Regional Registration £12
  • Levies £237
  • HQ/Changing £75
  • Photo-finish £100
  • NEG X 4 £300
  • First Aid £40

TOTAL £774

Running costs per rider £12.90 (60 rider field) [This isn’t entry fee, this is how much of your entry fee can’t be considered for anything else by the organiser, he/she has plenty of good things they can spend this on apart from prize money]

So if you want any prize money, a £15 entry fee isn’t really a possibility these days, you’re going to have to pay a bit more if you want all that.

Example Costings for a 30 rider road race.

  • Event Registration £10
  • Regional Registration £12
  • Levies £118.50
  • HQ/Changing £75
  • Photo-finish £100
  • NEG X 4 £300
  • First Aid £40

TOTAL £655.50

Running costs per rider £21.85 (30 rider field)

As you can see, a 30 rider race with all this isn’t going to work, riders won’t want to pay upwards of £25 to race in a low-level event will they? Once you add in catering, petrol, signage, flags, numbers, prizes, etc, you’re looking at an expensive event. Realistically, photo-finish & NED are only likely to be at one event a weekend, if the regions are all running league events, you’ll not have access to these anyway, so under the next heading I’ll propose how we get round this.

Running Simple Events

As you can see above, we need a simple, cheap & easy to run event for the league races. I’d propose the following as one option, there’s probably plenty of others you can think of too to remove expense.

  • NEG? Reasonably short circuits (5km to 15km?), with 3 or 4 easy to marshal corners, removing the need for moto NEG riders policing the course. Get your O.S. maps out & start planning, you’ll surely come up with something locally, get creative.
  • Photo-finish? A home-made photo finish system also requires a bit of ingenuity, lots of clubs all over the UK are doing it already, I did it in the late 90’s with some basic equipment & placed 40 riders in a bunch sprint (after a while & some moaning, obviously). You’ll need the following, some still cameras that take multiple quick shots (most do this), 2 sets of step ladders, a couple of video cameras you can review on 2 laptops. The tallest stepladder has a guy/girl with a video camera, this faces the finish line looking at the riders bums as they cross the line, this way you get their numbers. Another video camera takes the riders as they cross the line from the front/side. Then you have various still cameras snapping away. Once the event finishes, run into a car & plug-in a video camera to each laptop, you can then review the footage, get the numbers first & work out placings from video & still. Only two people in the car & a bouncer outside to stop every rider asking where they finished.
  • Catering? Simple, tell riders to bring their own, removes a burden & frees up people to do other jobs for you, this will upset the old timers, but these races are not aimed at them, new riders don’t expect catering. If they’ve competed in sportives, running events, triathlons, they’ll expect to buy or bring their own.

Ok, so we’ve removed some expense & manpower, what do the costings look like now?

Example Costings for a 60 rider road race.

  • Event Registration £10
  • Regional Registration £12
  • Levies £237
  • HQ/Changing £75
  • Photo-finish n/a
  • NEG X 4 n/a
  • First Aid £40

TOTAL £374

Running costs per rider £6.23 (60 rider field)

Example Costings for a 30 rider road race.

  • Event Registration £10
  • Regional Registration £12
  • Levies £118.50
  • HQ/Changing £75
  • Photo-finish n/a
  • NEG X 4 n/a
  • First Aid £

TOTAL £215.50

Running costs per rider £8.52 (30 rider field)

As you can see, we’ve made a 30 rider field a viable option with some ingenuity & a £15 entry fee, which may even allow for some prizes & other expenses paid out, maybe some put aside for club race equipment (car signs, numbers, signs, flags etc). I’d keep using St Andrews Ambulance or similar for your first aid, as its good value & finding somebody willing to do that job is often tricky, especially as nobody will really want to do it, a lot less bother to get somebody else in to do it for you.

How Many People to run one of these?

We’re assuming your a club with at least 4 riders wanting to take part in the league, so we’re guessing there’s at least 15 to 20 of you in the club, that’s plenty to run an event, some much smaller clubs run great events with only a handful of members, they use & borrow resources very well, you can too.

Let’s consider you’ve found a decent circuit as above, with 4 corners that need marshalled. The minimum you’ll need at each corner is 2 marshalls, so we’ll stick with that, 8 marshalls in total. Sign on closes normally around 15 minutes before the start, so your two sign-on table people are also marshalls on the nearest corner to the HQ, still at 9 people so far, including you. You’ll need a race convoy, normally a commissaire won’t want the organiser driving in the convoy, so you’ll need two lead cars, two cars to drive commissaires & a first aid car, as it’s a simple event, I’d miss out a race service & broom wagon all together, unless a club offers to do neutral service. The league is based on club rankings, so you should have plenty of points scorers left if somebody punctures.

The people you need to take photo’s & video footage at the finish is probably the easiest thing to get volunteers for, they’ll only get ‘landed’ with being at the finish & seeing the action, so it’s a nice job. You should also be there will a phone that records your voice and you can say what you see, who’s crossing the line first, 2nd, 3rd etc.

  • Organiser: 1
  • Marshalls : 8
  • Lead car drivers & car : 2
  • Commissaire drivers & car : 2
  • First aid driver : 1
  • Camera/photo finish : 4

TOTAL : 18 people.

Can you get this small number of people together? If you can, you can run an event.

In Conclusion

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a plan to revive road racing in Scotland, it would involve some co-operation & talking, but surely even small to medium clubs can organise one event & gain entry to their regional league. There are great leagues starting up now, the South West Cycling Project & the WOSCA league have proved very popular & successful, they need minor alterations to form the basis for the first two regional leagues that can feed into a future national league, providing riders with higher category licences into the system & improve the standard, participation & competition in Scottish road racing. Can we do it? If so, please steal these ideas, or any elements of it you think might work for you.

My other ideas for a road race league, will promote club membership.

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Bikeclubbing, we’re bikeclubbing, oh isn’t it wild?

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.