I had been toying with the idea of joining a cycling club for some time, well actually if I’m honest I’d wanted to join one ever since I decided to take up cycling about 6 months ago.
The reasons I hadn’t really progressed from the ‘thinking about it’ stage were numerous.
Cycling is a very graceful sport and I’m sure that for those who have been doing it for years and are accustomed to its many idiosyncrasy’s the whole activity, from preparing the bike and rider through to completing the actual ride seem very natural. To the Novice or beginner (especially those who may be at a point in their life referred to as ‘mid’) it is not.
When I first decided I was going to buy myself a bike, I promptly took myself to the shop to look at the different colours available and a number of things dawned on me. The first was the slightly awkward realisation that this was not going to be a sport I could undertake in jeans and a T-shirt and I was going to have to don some VERY tight fitting clothing that I may not have suited some 20 years ago let alone now.
After this epiphany had sunk in I gathered up a selection of garments in varying sizes and took myself into the changing room to see how they looked. It was at this point I became aware that the changing room had been designed by a sadist , as the room required to contort yourself into any of this ‘clothing’ should be at least that of the average sized bedroom and not of a tiny beach hut fitted with such a high wattage bulb that its only purpose could be to cause increased sweating and induce panic.
After quickly rejecting certain sizes for reasons that will remain private (think ‘Borat’) I settled on some clothing that although tight allowed me to retain some of my dignity. Upon leaving the tin sweat box to show the adviser what I had chosen she told me I should probably go for the smaller size. I thanked her sincerely for her help and kept the size I had chosen!
Choosing my bike was actually easy as I had seen the colour I liked and wasn’t too concerned if it was fitted with a Campag Dura Glide or a SRAM L Tap groupset, although I have to say I was a bit shocked that it didn’t come with pedals. I mean what use is a bike without pedals? Anyway I chose a set of pedals I liked and continued putting ticks in boxes, selecting all sorts of specification from handlebars to stems and bar tape to tyres not really knowing what was what but eagerly listening to all of the advice that was being offered and desperately trying to absorb it all! I was really starting to get into it!
Next up was the bike fit, now, the last time I bought a bike was when I was still at school and although that was a long time ago and my memory sometimes lets me down I’m convinced a bike fit merely involved putting the seat as high as possible whilst maintaining the ability to touch the ground! This I can assure you is no longer the case. A bike fit now requires an expert and various measuring implements and even worse, it involves dressing up in the gear that I had purchased previously but had been trying so hard to forget.
Sat astride my steed dressed in my Super Hero’s costume and feeling rather silly I was instructed to ride, which I did and I carried on riding whilst my bike guru watched from a distance with chin in hand scribbling down notes on a piece of paper. After what seemed like an eternity (about 10 minutes) and with me trying not to show how unfit I was he told me to stop whilst he made some adjustments, (I was relieved, as at this point I think I had hit what athletes call ‘The Wall’. After a few short minutes of fettling he instructed me to get back on and continue riding, oh joy I thought as I pedalled away without actually going anywhere! We repeated this exercise quite a few times of which I’m sure the last few times were simply for his amusement, (I began to think perhaps my bike Guru had a part time job designing changing rooms!). Finally, he was happy that the bike was adjusted to its optimal settings and I could go and get changed.
My first ride followed a few days later after careful route planning and timings had been considered and committed to memory. The main aim of the maiden ride was to get out of the house and away down the road without anyone seeing me!
The first part of the plan went beautifully and I was soon gliding off down the road thinking what a great cyclist I was going to make. However, the second part of the plan, namely the route planning didn’t go as well.
Now, I had planned a nice route taking in some local scenery on quiet roads which would cover about 30 miles or so. The thing I hadn’t planned for, which in my defence as a car driver I think is excusable, was gradient!
It was to become (excuse the pun) a very STEEP learning curve. The lessons I learnt that day are these;
Having picked myself up out of the hedge that very kindly broke my fall and saved any damage to my bike I turned around and headed for home, slightly crest fallen and wondering if I should
have chosen a more sedentary sport like crochet or cross stitch.
If it hadn’t been for all of the money I had spent and all of the people I had told about my new hobby I may well have stopped right there and then. However, with a big point to prove to myself and a very real need to have an activity in my life I decide to persevere and for that I am very grateful.
Over the next few months of perseverance I became more comfortable in my new outfit and my mode of transport felt more normal, I increased my distances slowly and had managed to climb some hills that previously I would have found un passable.
I occasionally passed other cyclists and waved or nodded as they went by but I had yet to ride with anyone else. I didn’t know anyone else that rode locally and my hope that I would meet someone to ride with when out and about never really materialised.
I had travelled up to spend weekends with very good friends of mine and had been out riding whilst there, which cemented in my mind that riding with like minded friendly people was exactly what I wanted to be doing, unfortunately the 400 mile round journey to Staffordshire meant that these rides would not be possible every week or even every month for that matter.
I had witnessed cycling clubs thundering along the road in their chain gangs shouting instructions down the group and each taking their turns at the front. I had spent countless evenings reading instructional pages on the web about cycling in a pace line and the Do’s & Don’ts , how one sudden un choreographed move could bring the whole group crashing to the ground.
I had also heard some horror stories about cycling clubs and rites of passage where new members would be left for dust whilst the seasoned pros raced off, or people being dropped on climbs and mocked for being the slowest people on the ride.
I have to say that none of this appealed to me in the slightest, I’m not overly competitive (except with myself) and I just wanted to ride with a group of people that were in it for the great sense of accomplishment and enjoyment that cycling can offer.
I didn’t want to get shouted at or do hill repeats over and over again, I didn’t want to go out on my weekend off to do repetitive drills I just wanted to ride for miles on my bike through some stunning areas of our countryside with people that wanted to do the same.
I had researched various clubs and looked at their activities on Strava and the more I looked the more I worried myself about being the slowest or not being able to complete the ride or not having the right gear.
After much deliberation I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was going to ride on my own over winter and then have another look when the weather got better. Perhaps by then I would be good enough to join one of these elite clubs. In reality I was procrastinating and the likely hood was I would probably never join a club and my cycling would plateau until I got frustrated with the whole thing and hung up my cleats for good.
It was during a chance meeting at a petrol station one afternoon that fate started to play its part, I met a friend that I had not seen for some time on his bike in the freezing cold and lashing rain sporting a very smart looking super hero outfit emblazoned with ‘Bruton Cycling Club’. He started to tell me all about it and how it was open to people of all abilities and that the rides varied in speed, distance and difficulty depending on which group was going out. He assured me that there would be coffee and cake involved and that I wouldn’t be left in the middle of the Somerset levels all alone, waiting for the locals to hunt me down!
This reassurance was all I needed to sign up and agree to meet him at the ‘Bean Shot’ coffee house in Bruton on Saturday morning at 0830. Although still nervous about the whole group ride thing and how competitive people might be I prepared my bike and packed the car the night before and set off in the morning to the meeting place. Shortly after arriving I was joined by Paul who quickly went and ordered the first coffees of the day. Before long more people turned up for their pre ride fuelling and I was introduced to them all as they walked through the door. There was a bubbly friendly atmosphere and jokes were being made, of which I am glad to say I wasn’t at the brunt of any of them, I was feeling very comfortable and not at all like the newbie.
Soon enough it became time to get off and my nerves picked up again, would I be able to keep up, would my legs refuse to pedal up hills would they storm off and leave me? It very quickly became apparent that none of this was going to happen. There was friendly chatter among the group as we set off and everyone stuck together as we headed out of town. The first few climbs went OK and everyone found there place in the group with the position changing frequently as did the conversations. Directions were clear and I learnt a few new hand gestures (no 2 or 1 fingered ones I hasten to add) to mark various obstacles along the way.
Before long (about 18 miles) we made our coffee stop where we were greeted by a friendly elf (which I’m assuming is because its nearly Christmas and not the fact we were on the Somerset Levels) and refuelled on coffee and bacon sandwiches. The return journey went just as smoothly, My chain came off at one point and instead of riding off and leaving me to catch up, everyone stopped and waited for me to get it back on again. The final 4 miles were tough on my legs and I was beginning to feel my lack of experience but I was never out of sight of any other rider and the whole group arrived back at the meeting point together.
There were all levels of experience and ability in our group today some slower than others (namely me) but the stand out thing for me was that I didn’t feel slower. No one made note of it, people rode with me when they could have left me standing but they didn’t. And the reason they didn’t, because they get it! They get what it’s all about, to encourage cycling for recreation, health and joy as well as a sport.
I am glad I had reservations about joining a cycling club because I honestly believe they are not all like BCC. I think it is good to look around and take your time to choose who you want to ride with. If I had chosen a club that weren’t as inclusive It may well have damaged my confidence and not given me the encouragement I needed to ride further, more often and with more people which is what I so wanted to find.
As it happens, as a direct result of today’s ride and conversations I now have a new goal, to ride 100 miles in one day by summer next year, as well as numerous offers of other cycling trips in the UK and Europe. Today has been a good day and I am very pleased to say, cycling has turned out to be exactly what I hoped it would be and more.
‘FOR THE PEOPLE, FOR THE ROAD’
Cycling is partly the activity of riding a bicycle, but only partly. The rest is discovery!
Until next time ‘Keep the rubber side down’