Like the bread and butter of the sport, local clubs have been a part of road cycling for decades, providing members with riding buddies, an often inexhaustible source of knowledge, and in many cases a support network.
Behind any successful cycling club, you’ll almost always find a very hard working individual, or even a group of them. Rides needs to be coordinated, ride leaders sought out and kept track of, annual events often require a massive amount of admin – without this, the club would cease to be.
We spoke to 47-year-old mum of three, Bee Gregorie, who founded Kent Velo Girls in 2008, to find out how much goes into running one of the largest women’s cycling clubs in the country, and what rewards she takes from it.
Kent Velo Girls, or KVG, has been hugely successful and grown quickly. Busy Bee, a former Nurse turned Sports Message Therapist AND Level 3 British Cycling Coach, explained: “I started the club, after getting dropped endlessly on mixed tri club rides - I just wanted some women to ride with. I thought a pool of 10 would be great! Now we have over 200 women (and 70 kids and Kent Velo Boys, as well). So I am never short of someone to ride with."
The clubs members are treated to multiple rides a week – this week the calendar shows 14 – with Beginner, Intermediate, Advance and Endurance rides to suit a wide range of abilities.
KVG’s policy is to never drop a rider, and Bee told me: “The atmosphere is much more inclusive and forgiving than a traditional club, women coming back from periods of not training for whatever reason, are looked after and encouraged, as well as newbies. For those wanting more challenging rides, competition is alive and kicking on some of the faster rides, but even on those rides, there is an inclusivity, and no riding so hard until someone is dropped."
Bee is the orchestrator of all things KVG, and told me: “I reckon I spend upwards of 10 hours a week on purely Kent Velo Girls stuff, some weeks much more, occasionally less."
Bee works with a group of ride leaders to ensure the weekly rides run smoothly, explaining: “I have set the framework for our weekly rides, and a band of great leaders have developed and come forward to run the kind of ride of their choice - we have everything from beginners and social to advanced and endurance rides. We have lots of intermediate rides - as that is how most of our ladies see themselves. There is some kind of organised cycling activity every day of the week, with up to 5 groups going out on some days."
In the winter there are turbo sessions, led by Bee herself, and she tends to lead the beginner rides: “I personally lead the easy ride on a Monday – I have done since the club started. This is important to me because it is the entry point for most people and I like to start them in their journey, helping them with group riding and building fitness to progress into the other club rides."
As well as regular rides, there are many club events that take place throughout the year. This summer promises a ‘stay at home training camp’ as well as a trip to Mallorca for 36 riders, a day to see the Tour de France with a 100 mile supported ride – to name just a few. The clubs annual sportive is this year being run by an event committee, as the club grows and more structure is needed.
The women’s only (there are Kent Velo Boys, to whom Bee’s husband belongs) stay at home training camp features three 60 milers, and 85 mile day, a day at Herne Hill Velodrome, and a Box Hill ride, as well as speakers on nutrition and injury prevention. This is open to non-members, and there are still full week and weekend spaces available.
KVG is live and kicking online, too – Bee writes a weekly newsletter and runs the Facebook and Twitter pages – she said: “We have a closed Facebook group of members, which is a great social forum, and gets used a lot. We also have a Strava Segement of the week competition – it has been remarkably successful, and overall has made the whole club fitter and faster!"
All of this might sound like a lot of work – and it is – but in Bee’s opinion, it’s worth it.
“The rewards are seeing women succeed at cycling – so many come along despondent at not being able to keep up on mixed rides and are so delighted to find a group that is happy to ride at 13mph. No one gets dropped, and that’s the key policy which gives a lot of people confidence to join."
Competition is there within the club for members who are looking for it – and Bee added: “Several have gone on from complete beginner up through to racing and time trailling." This year the club are looking at running their own Time Trials for members, too.
She added: “I look around the car park on a summers day, or in training camp - and see a sea of pink [the club's kit], women chattering excitedly about riding their bikes, and the adventures they will have, the doors that they have opened- it's just totally amazing to see what they can achieve. I feel so proud of all their achievements, and so delighted that they are all so supportive of one another, at whatever level they want to ride. If we could bottle it we might have a magic formula!"
Kent Velo Girls is an exceptional club, but there are hundreds out there, each managed with the help of dedicated members.
For those considering becoming part of a cycling club, Bee was hugely encouraging, explaining: “Women email me all the time saying that when they are fitter they might join. I always reply with a ‘join now’ answer, and let us help you get your fitness, and develop as a cyclist at the same time. It’s amazing how joining a group of like-minded people, getting some club kit and actually riding regularly and having fun (so you want to do it more!) makes you feel like a ‘real cyclist’ – and in no time at all you are riding like one too!"
Tempted? Read Adele Mitchell's account of her first road cycling club ride.