Joining a cycling club is a fantastic idea - I can't advertise it enough.
Good cycling clubs are welcoming, friendly communities full of people from all walks of life, an at all levels of fitness and ability.
There's sometimes a concern that clubs will be standoffish, overly traditional and stuck in the age when women didn't ride bikes. This cobwebby image would no doubt put anyone off - but the number of Race Teams, Wanderers, Excelsiors, and Cycling Clubs stuck in this rut is minimal.
The good news is most such organisations don't have good websites, or indeed websites at all, and certainly aren't growing - so you're much more likely to find one of the infinite number of lovely, friendly groups.
Your average club will feature a selection of fast racers, some *ahem* MAMIL-ey types, some brand new 'just got my first road bike' riders, and a couple of inspirational older riders who are well past their prime, but make up for falling fitness with endless knowledge and skill.
Almost all clubs now have a decent number of women in their membership, and many now have women's only rides, too - and there are clubs run and attended only by women if you'd rather.
Joining a club doesn't need to be scary, either. Here are our tips...
Picking a Club
It does depend where you live, but many areas are served by more than one cycling club. British Cycling have a great tool for helping you find those near you.
The vast majority of clubs have websites, where you'll be able to find out what sort of focus they have. Most will cater for everybody - from beginner to racer, but some have a definite leaning.
If you're after friendship and coffee stops on every ride, choose a club that has a strong emphasis on leisure rides, but if you want to race, look out for one with mid-week chaingang sessions, weekly club 10 mile time trials. If you've got a special interest in Cyclocross or Track, then look out for those who offer rides in your chosen discipline.
Look for the Joining Instructions
Unless you already know one of the members, you'll probably be wanting to find out how you can go about going on a ride and perhaps joining.
Most clubs will have a protocol explained on the website, generally you'll need to email someone (such as the chairman), then join a Saturday or Sunday ride. You can ride a few times, then you will probably be asked to pay an annual membership fee and join - but this is usually not very expensive.
Chair-people are usually inundated with emails, every summer, from people who are concerned about joining a club ride because they're "not fit enough". Don't worry about this!
Provided you can ride the distance of the shortest ride (this will vary between clubs, but around 25-30 miles), you will be looked after. Joining the club will help you to get fitter - don't feel like you need to get fit to join (and please remember the chairperson has a day job too!).
Prepare Your Kit and Bike
Your ride is planned for this weekend -fantastic!
You really don't need to be nervous in any way - but it does make sense to ensure that you're not going to suffer a ride-halting mechanical on your first outing. Should this happen, a good club will ensure you're looked after - but it's really best avoided!
- Your gears and brakes are working - ideally not squeaking!
- Your bike is set up in a comfortable position - you don't want to be worrying about saddle angle mid-ride
- You've got a spare inner tube or patches, tyre levers, a mini pump or Co2, and a multi tool
- You are carrying enough food and drink for your ride
- You've got some cash. Anyone at my own club will laugh at this, as I'm often the one trying to pay for a flapjack and a coffee with a debit card - but usually club coffee stops are at cute cafes in the lanes, that quite often don't accept cards
- You're wearing kit that you're comfortable in and that is fit for the conditions on the weather forecast (no one will judge you for not having a rain jacket if you're hit by a random flash flood, just be sensible!)
Know (some of) The Lingo
A group ride means you'll be in a fairly tight knit bunch. You don't need to be right on someone's wheel (this isn't a race) but you do want to be fairly close.
Read up a little on group ride formations - but don't worry too much about this, as someone will explain to you how your ride works and you won't be expected to work together in a bunch - you'll just need to be able to ride in a safe and orderly manner - either in a single line or two abreast (which makes it easier for cars to pass you).
Riders will use calls and hand signals to tell those behind or infront when there is a car about to pass them, when the group is slowing, or when there is a hole or obstacle in the road.
Take a look at this piece which will teach you what each of the calls mean. No one should expect you to use them flawlessly on your first ride, but it will be a big plus if you can point the holes and pass on the calls.
Select a Group and Follow the Leader
So you've arrived at your first ride! It's a good idea to join a group a little lower than your ability level, so that you know you'll be comfortable. If you find the pace is too slow - deal with it. You won't make any friends from sitting on the front and making everyone else work harder than they want to!
If you find the ride is a bit too much of a challenge, just be honest - someone might want to drop back and take it easy with you.
Most club rides will have a 'leader' and someone 'back-marking'. The leader is responsible for the route, listen to their instructions, and of course have a laugh and join in when everyone rips into them for the mean hill or for taking a wrong turning.
The back-marker hovers around the back of the group, and will sprint on to the leader should anyone suffer a mechanical, or require the group to slow for any reason.
Finally - relax - spin the pedals, have fun, and remember this is a sociable outing, not an exam!
A group ride is not a race either, it's an opportunity for people with a shared love of cycling to come together and do the thing they love the most. Everyone there will remember their own 'first club ride' and they'll all want to welcome you into the fold.
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