For many, joining a cycling club can be a daunting prospect. Will they be too fast? Will they ride off without me? Will I be able to ride in a big group? Will they judge my bike and lack of cycle chic?
For any budding cyclist, joining a club is one of the most helpful and rewarding things that you can do. They come in all different flavours, from all-out racing clubs to laid back pub riders and everything in between. The choice of different clubs available to you will be a reflection of the local cycling population, so living in or near cities can offer quite a spectrum to choose from.
So what makes being part of a club so great?
Firstly, meeting like minded cyclists in your neighbourhood means you’ll have more people to ride out with, and never be short of things to talk about. There is so much to learn when you’re new to the world of two wheels – or even if you are well acquainted with it – and chatting to your new friends whilst in the saddle is a great way to get started. Whether it’s nutrition, what type of lycra to wear and when, where the best sportives are or the latest cycling gadget, there’ll be a plethora of advice to take in.
Depending on the nature of the club, there’ll be plenty of events to get involved with. This can vary from a hill climb, road race or sportive through to a fish and chip ride or charity balls! There’s nothing to stop you being a member of more than one club either, so why not choose one for the competitive racing side of cycling and another more relaxed club just for fun?
If you’re new to an area, or even if you’ve lived there for quite some time, riding out with a club will show you new roads you never knew existed. Rather than just trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible like when driving or on your commute, riding with a club allows you to explore the back roads and seek out the more challenging hills and descents that you simply don’t notice when motor powered! Similarly, if you travel with work and have the time to get out on your bike, contacting a local club and tagging along as an honorary member for the evening is a great way not only of being guided around the region but also getting some insider knowledge from the locals.
Don’t forget the support you’ll gain by cycling with others. Whether you are a complete cycling novice starting to use cleats and clipless pedals or a keen racer, expect encouragement and praise for every improvement.
Ready to start looking for a club?
The only way you’re going to find the right club for you is to try them all. Be a promiscuous cyclist and spend some time getting a feel for the vibe of each available option before committing your membership (and your cycling soul) to one club. Most clubs are happy to let newcomers ‘try before you buy‘ with a couple of rides.
Club shopping in Bristol – a personal experience
When I moved to Bristol last June, I knew that the way to get to know the best routes and make friends in the city would be to find a cycling club. After a quick google search, it quickly became evident that there were more than a handful to choose from. In keeping with my over-organised nature, I started to plot the dates and times of each club ride so I could try out a taste of each as soon as possible. As well as looking online, I sought advice in local bike shops who threw up some alternative ideas of smaller unofficial clubs or weekly rides.
The first club I tried was North Bristol CC. My new housemate had been a loyal member for the last couple of years and had spoken good things about them. The day before the club ride I had ridden with a few select members over the bridge into Wales and had a cracking ride, full of banter and baked goods (what more could you want really?!) and a good challenging, but not overboard, pace. So I was anticipating good things on the club run.
Perhaps I was expecting too much, as I ended up cutting the ride short in frustration and turning to ride home solo rather than carry on. One thing I cannot stand is men with inflated egos trying to impress and rather killing the essence of group riding. Rather than sticking together for mutual benefit, we soon ended up as a long string of riders split up in ones or twos along the main road, angering the growing train of motorists struggling to pass. Not my cup of tea, I thought, next please.
Bristol Road Club was a much larger enterprise, with fifty or so riders turning up early on a Saturday morning. Split into three groups according to ability, we headed South for Cheddar, seeking a well known climb through the spectacular gorge. Chatting to the riders on our way out, it soon became evident that this was a very welcoming and inclusive group of riders. Having ridden in an informal club before, group riding was no problem, however BRC seemed to be formed of many skilled riders who took group riding to the next level, with manoeuvres and tactics to make the peleton as safe and efficient as possible. Always keen to learn and improve my bike skills, I eagerly took on the advice and could already feel my riding getting better even after just a single sixty mile ride.
The next one to try was not so much a club, but an organised regular ride. Le Sportif do a ‘Fast Tuesdays‘ ride and a ‘Women’s Fast Wednesdays‘ every week, and not being able to make the Wednesday, I thought I’d join the men. Turning up at Mud Dock, I suddenly realised what I was letting myself in for – these guys looked fast. Only one way to find out, so we headed out of the city and into the lanes. I was quite chuffed that I’d managed to hang on as long as eight miles, perhaps the Women’s ride next time hey? Or see if I can notch it up to ten, then twelve, and so on…
Das Rad Klub was the quirkiest of them all. I turned up for the ‘Full Moon Ride’, a monthly ride at 8pm on a Sunday (forget the Sunday evening blues) in full Castelli on my racing bike not knowing what to expect. Let’s just say I would have fitted in much better on a fixie with ripped jeans and a backpack… but this social ride was very enjoyable, trying to keep up with these city slickers, bunny hopping up onto curbs and swiftly navigating the subways. Deceptively a number of these laid back riders also race crits, hill climbs and cyclocross for the racing team of the same name.
The last major club to try was Bristol South. A large and long standing club since 1893, they certainly seemed to have plenty going on in terms of organised rides and a huge deal of member involvement and socials. Bristol South is well known as a competitive club, featuring heavily in local TTs and hill climbs.
It was the weekly club ride out East to Chippenham, a manageable 45 mile route. The vast majority of the riders were great and again very welcoming, and I was delighted and rather surprised to see the group of twenty or so riders led by the young Christina. However it can only take one person to ruin a ride, and for me there was just one chap who made me feel very unsafe, riding three abreast and cutting between riders so suddenly as to nearly cause a crash. All of this put me quite on edge after the safe and smooth experience that I’d had with Bristol Road Club, so naturally I was a little put off. Having since done an organised TT with the club, and a few club runs, getting to know many more of their members, I will be giving them a second chance.
It was much more recently that I discovered Audax Club Bristol, upon recommendation from a friend at DRK and from my old friend and inspiration Mad Jack. Also known as ACB, this is a super-friendly mixed group with a penchant for long distance, self supported cycling: Audax. I got to know a few members before joining them for one of their weekly wednesday night rides, looping over to Bath and back with a pub stop (top marks from me), then stepping up to ride my first 300km ride with them this year. It’s invaluable to learn from people with so much experience in this rather badass discipline, and these guys really are some of the friendliest.
Bristol clubs; final verdict
So my verdict? Impossible to choose just one. In terms of furthering my bike skills and club riding, Bristol Road Club stood out for me, with Bristol South hosting an array of different events throughout the year. And for social riding? The younger vibe at Das Rad Klub on early morning Tuesday Klub and the new Saturday Klub rides wins hands down. Throw ACB into the mix for longer epic rides and there really will be something for everyone.
As long as I continue to enjoy riding all different cycling disciplines and styles, I’m going to carry on being the most promiscuous club cyclist you’ll find.