Joining a Cycling Club – things to remember

Do you regularly ride your bike alone but have been thinking of joining a cycling club?

Cycling alone is my favourite thing and the vast majority of my rides are solo. But with the arrival of little ones a few years ago I just couldn’t get out reliably at any scheduled times. Club cycling got abandoned.

The kids are a little older now and I’ve recently got a taste for group riding again. So I’ve just rejoined my local cycling club, hoping to get out for a club ride once or twice a month at first.

It’s funny though because I’m actually a bit nervous about joining again, despite being a committed club rider in the past. It’s occured to me that loads of people may have never ridden with a club and might be a bit intimidated by the prospect!

This post is about what to expect and things to remember (and forget!) about riding with a club.

What are other ‘club cyclists’ like?

You have this picture in your head don’t you? 

Tanned, muscular and aloof. Decked in head to toe Rapha. Frowning. Sat atop £8,000 worth of bike. Won’t even acknowledge your existence, let alone have a chat.

Rapha cycling club
“Rapha Cycle Club Tolyo” by G O L D T O P is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

To say that cyclists are all ‘this’ or ‘that’ is mega misleading and not actually helpful at all. There are certain stereotypes of cyclists that can ring true in certain circles: shaved legs, obsessed with weight, on drugs, no regard for safety etc. But the VAST majority of club riders do not tick these boxes. 

OK, so lots of roadies shave their legs but it is actually much less than you think. For example, at my local club I would guess that less than 50% of our male riders are into that. 

These stereotypes probably have more accuracy historically, and even as recently as 10 years ago I think they were more relevant. 

But cycling has had such an enormous resurgence in popularity since then that the demographic has changed. Cycling now attracts people from all backgrounds which is obviously a wonderful thing and a great improvement on where we were.

Cycling clubs are very inclusive places in my experience and the stereotypes of old just don’t apply anymore. On any given club ride you will find people from all walks of life. And the conversations you have are all the better for it!

Cycling club charity events
“VCU Cycling Club” by dtiet is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

And remember, if you encounter a bike rider who is a dick, they are invariably a dick off the bike too. It’s nothing to do with bikes or cycling clubs.

How fit do I need to be to join a cycling club?

The breadth of interest in cycling means that cycling clubs now cater for riders of all abilities. Road cycling clubs usually split down into groups of differing speeds:

Tempo – 19mph+

Intermediate – 17mph

Intermediate 2 – 16mph

Beginner – 15mph or below

The above is just an example of what clubs typically offer. The Secretary at your local club will have specific information of the groups, and are always happy to hear from prospective members.

If you select a ride that is a little quick for you and you get dropped then, congratulations! Getting dropped is part of cycling and happens to everyone, regardless of ability! This is to be expected on group rides, especially on climbs. Your group will wait for you at the top.

If you get dropped often and on the flat, there’s nothing wrong with asking to reduce the pace slightly. The aim of most club rides is to start and finish as a group at a nice social pace.

I don’t like how close other riders get

This is a fair one. Especially if you’re new to group riding. Getting comfortable around other riders takes a bit of getting used to. MTB or gravel groups generally do not ride in a close knit bunch, so this can be a good introduction into group riding. You will get plenty of space to pick your lines without worrying about what everyone else is doing.

There are lots more dedicated gravel/allroad/callitwhatyouwant clubs popping up. Lots of existing cycling clubs are also incorporating these mixed surface rides into their schedules. It’s great to have options like this so get amongst it!

Riding with a cycling club
Road groups tend to ride in a tight bunch – chilling at the back here

Road groups usually ride much closer together. It really does help everyone to ride much faster and further than than they would riding solo. But it can be unsettling to ride so close when you aren’t used to it. Thankfully, your club will have a way of easing you in to this.

Lots of clubs now put on weekly ‘skills’ rides that aim to be a more structured introduction to beginners. These are run by an experienced rider and are a much less daunting prospect if you’re really worried.

That said, any club ride is capable of teaching you the basics. If when you arrive you let the others know you haven’t done much group riding, you will be looked after very well. This can help you settle in as everyone will want to talk to you then!

Another approach that can help is just to stay at the back of the group initially (as I’m doing above). From there you can observe how everyone else is riding and moving about the bunch. Maybe you’ll then feel comfortable enough to get stuck in later on in the ride, once you get a feel for it.

Group riding on the road is very much like any other skill and so requires regular practice. I definitely have to concentrate harder if I haven’t ridden in a group for a while!

Will people laugh at my 30 year old bike?

Honestly, no one cares what bike you’re riding! I once turned up to a race training ride with a full on touring bike complete with pannier racks etc. It was the only serviceable option that night so I had to go with it. I got dropped after about 10 miles but that had more to do with my lack of fitness than anything bike related! 

Do not be thinking your vintage racer precludes you from joining a cycling club! Today’s road bikes are all very similar and it’s nice to see people turn up on something different. 

Springwood cycling club back in the day
“Springwood Cycling Club” by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

No, as long as it’s mechanically sound you can ride pretty much any bike. Now obviously don’t turn up to a mountain biking morning on a road bike with 23mm tyres, but you get the idea. 

Of course if you are so inclined you can join one of the ‘vintage’ cycling clubs that have enjoyed more popularity recently. You just might not get the range of riding possible at a more mainstream club.

A ton of other benefits

The cost of membership of a local club is likely to be pretty low (£20 – £30 ish). There is of course no obligation to turn up every week, and in fact some years I’ve only managed a handful of club rides.

Joining a cycling club gives you access to a pool of like-minded individuals. This is where the benefits of a cycling club really compound! It will link you to lots more people in your area who may be organising something different or introduce you to new routes/brands/ideas etc.

There’s no obligation either. Just turn up to the rides whenever you feel like it. It’s a very handy option to have if you’re used to riding alone and for such a low cost, there are very few downsides.

It really helps with motivation too, especially during the darker months. To have people to ride with is so much better than doing the dreaded turbo session in the garage.

There is also the fact that joining a club will improve your riding significantly. Joining a cycling club is part of the well worn path to increasing fitness and getting more out of your hobby.

In short, go ahead and join a cycling club. I promise it’ll be fun.

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