Springwood Cycling Club (CC BY-SA 2.0 Blue Mountains City Library)
Clubs are the backbone of the cycling scene and community, and an invaluable source of knowledge and advice that can help you improve as a bike rider.
You don't have to sign up and join a club straight away to ride with one. Most clubs will let you come on a ride or two before requiring you to join, so you can find out of you enjoy their company. Contact the club secretary to find out exactly how this works for any particular club.
When you turn up, be prepared just as you would for a solo ride, with water, food, spare tubes and tools, and follow instructions from the rider leaders.
Here’s why you should club together.
Meet like-minded riders
Clubs have personalities so finding one that matches your interests is a great way to meet like-minded riders. Some clubs are just about riding; the Sunday club ride is the focus of the club’s activities. Others are centred on racing, while your local CTC group will likely be dedicated to pootling around the most obscure lanes the ride leader can find to connect pubs and cafes.
The larger the club, the more varied its activities are likely to be. For example, Chippenham Wheelers, one of the UK’s largest clubs, has five clubruns each weekend for different fitness levels, a Wednesday evening time trial every week during the summer, audax rides, training sessions at Castle Combe circuit and lots more.
New roads and routes
Fed up of repeating the same old rides every time? There are plenty of Google Maps-based routing sites and apps that can help you find a new ride, but that can be a bit hit-and-miss — I once ended up on a byway following a route generated by CycleStreets. That was kinda fun, but the 23mm tyres I was on weren’t really suitable for trail riding.
Club ride leaders are expected to keep a ride on suitable roads, which means knowing the back lanes and quieter B roads, so a clubrun is a great way to add to your repertoire of rides and get a feel for an area.
Every good clubrun includes a cafe stop. That makes social club rides a great way to find out who does the best lemon drizzle cake among the cafes within riding range.
Sure you can join British Cycling as a private member and rock up to the start of a Cat 4 race, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll almost certainly get blown out the back of the group quickly. If you do manage to hang on you’ll likely be a danger to yourself and others if you don’t know how to ride in a high-speed group.
A racing-orientated club will have coaches and training sessions that will help you get fit enough you don’t get spat off the back of every race, and build the skills to handle a bike and position yourself safely even though you’re almost touching shoulders with other riders.
You might like riding alone, and that’s fine, but club rides give you the chance to chat while you whizz along, and they’re one of those rare social situations where you won’t be considered odd for wittering on about bikes.
Being in a group is also invaluable if things go wrong. You should have spares, tools, food and drink with you anyway, but if you suffer a significant mechanical the chances are there’ll be someone in the group to fix it.
A well-run clubrun will usually have a ‘no rider left behind’ policy. Fitter riders might get a bit frisky on hills, but they’ll wait for the group to reassemble at the top. If you’ve over-reached a bit, and the ride turns out to be further than you can manage comfortably, you’ll get help in the form of a wheel to follow or even a helping hand up hills.
This usually doesn’t apply to chaingangs, though, but the incentive of not getting dropped is a great inspiration to dig deep into your reserves.
As mentioned above many clubs run training sessions. These can be a high-speed on-road ‘chain gang’; more structured sessions on an off-highway circuit; or a room full of turbo trainers at a gym or community centre.
Being able to tap into coaching expertise is a big advantage of a club, whether your aim is to get into racing, take it more seriously or just to move up from Silver to Gold standard in your favourite sportive.
Riding with a club is a good way to learn useful road skills. It’s a bit circular, as they’re mostly the skills you need to ride in a group, such as warning of hazards and following a wheel, but anything that teaches you finer bike control is a good thing.
Many bike shops offer discounts either to members of associated clubs or to members of the CTC or British Cycling, organisations that many club members also join. On line, Chain Reaction gives 10 percent off to British cycling members and Cotswold Outdoor has 15 percent off for CTC members.
Cycling clubs and riding groups
If you want something more informal than traditional cycling clubs, there are lots of cycling groups on MeetUp and of course you can also join Team road.cc, road.cc's very own cycling club which offers a full range of member benefits, discounts plus events.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.