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. Here are some more reasons why you should join one, and some tips on finding the right club for your riding style.
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.
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.
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 UK also has a comprehensive listing of affiliated clubs and local groups
If you want something more informal than traditional cycling clubs, there are lots of cycling groups to be found on sites like MeetUp or on various social media platforms.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.