Should I join a cycling club?

Joining a cycle clubThis was a question I’d been asking for a few years. Me, procrastinate much? I’ve been a solo rider for five years now. Riding my bike has always been an escape, a time to forget life’s ills. Cycling has been my meditation.

Yet I’d been thinking about joining a cycling club yet never committing. Why? Firstly, I’m pretty anti-social, not in a throwing beer bottles at police English football hooligan kind of way, I just enjoy my own company, where I’m always right, funny and intelligent! Yet alongside this was also my fears of the unknown and my perception of cycling clubs in the UK being a bit cliquey and snobby.

Do cycling clubs have a bad reputation?

Snobby, cliques, judgemental, holier than thou, wanna be pro’s with the attitude but without the contracts, unwelcoming. This was the message I got reading some club websites or forums about joining a club. Some clubs demand you race, one was even expecting a minimum Cat 3 racing license – newbies need not apply!

It also doesn’t help the way a small minority of clubs ride. They’ll pass way too close at great speed as if we’re all in the Tour de France. This alone sets the tone. ‘Buzzing’ fellow cyclists is not cool, be you a group or a commuter. It’s the cyclist’s equivalent of a punishment pass from a car.

The Rules by the Velominati do not help either. No actually, that’s not the right. The Rules are just a bit of fun, it’s the people who follow them that give cyclists their unwelcoming reputation. This was partly why I rewrote The Rules a while back as an antidote to such snobbery.

Yet I’m intelligent enough to know such generalities cannot be believed and for every snob club there’s ten welcoming clubs. Yet still I dithered. Why? Ultimately it was all about me and my fears. You know the sort. I’m not fast enough, I wear the wrong clothes, they will laugh at my bike, etc.

So it was I dallied on the fringes. Until recently that is, when I finally took the plunge and joined a local club for a few rides. I say recently, it’s probably been a year since I was first invited for a ride with a certain reader of this blog (hello Alex!). And you know what, I really enjoyed my introduction to club cycling. Who’d have thought?!

My first ride with a cycling club

London Phoenix cycling clubI wasn’t nervous, I was excited. Sure, I took a look at myself from the outside and wondered what they’d think of my 13 year old bike, or my very dirty, very old, giant water bottles or my unshaven legs or my minimal group riding skills. The list goes on.

Yet these things matter not. Just go! Do it. Go, don’t dither or be put off like I was. Most clubs allow you to tag along for a few rides to see if you’ll enjoy it before you become a member.

My chosen club was London Phoenix. They differ a little from other clubs in so much as they are a self-organised internet based club. They have lots of bike rides, weekends, early or late, plus a few mid-week rides as well as more self-organised and exotic trips to Europe and the like.

Best of all the club members are normal, friendly, of mixed abilities, with riders of all sorts. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting but it was nice to meet a group of like-minded people.

My legs were also a little relieved. One of the reasons I wanted to join a club was to go for some social rides and let my legs relax a little. I chose a social Saturday morning run for my first ride, where the pace is moderate and the people chatty.

We covered a modest 40 miles in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Rather than thinking about every bend and hill, I was so busy chatting the miles flew by and before I knew it we were done.

Group riding itself is so much fun especially when the pace picks up, whether being pulled along by the group, shielded from the wind, or taking a turn on the front, helping to drag others along. It is certainly a very different experience to riding solo.

What to expect on your first club ride

Cycling clubs in LondonIt’s likely on your first club ride you won’t have had much experience riding in a group. Fear not, everyone has to start somewhere. Here are some tips for your first club run.

  • How fast do I need to be to join a cycling club? This is perhaps the biggest question for cyclists considering joining a club. Will I be able to keep up? Will I be dropped? Most clubs have rides of varying length and speed. Contact the club or read their website to find out what rides are on and how fast they will be. The social ride I joined averaged about 18 mph, which is moderately quick. Fear not though – remember your speed will be boosted by about 2 mph drafting in a group. The weekday ride averaged about 21 mph with some efforts well above this. Other clubs take it easier, and as I highlight below, I personally avoided anything too slow.

  • Choose the slower ride. I consider myself to be a fairly strong rider but still decided to join the club’s slower social ride to begin with. This has two benefits. One, you can test your legs at a reasonable pace but more importantly, you can get to the know the group a little. Most cycling clubs have introductory days for new members or a ‘no leave behind’ policy where they make sure all cyclists finish together.

  • Tell the group leader and anyone who will listen about your experience or lack of experience riding in a group. This will help them help you.

  • Mixed abilities, mixed gear. I was glad to see a broad mix of riders and bikes congregating at the meeting point. Sure, there was some pretty nice gear on show, raising my bike envy hormone (that’s a thing right?) and once riding I could see there were some very strong riders in the bunch, yet this was not a group of Chris Froome skeletor replicas riding £10,000 super bikes.

  • Club cyclists are just people on bikes, just like you and me. Quelle surprise! They lead normal lives, have babies, move house, take their kids to the pool in the evenings. You know, regular people for whom cycling is fun, challenging and an escape.

  • Group riding is fun and scary. I’m not going to pretend group riding is not scary for a first timer. I’ve ridden in groups sporadically at sportives, or laps around the local cycle park, yet there were still moments when I perceived a much greater risk than if I was riding solo. Some of this is about confidence and getting used to riding close to other riders. It’s a trust thing, other riders are your eyes when your vision of the road ahead is limited. Communication and knowing how other riders ride will help group riding become more of a norm. I wrote some group riding tips a while back which you can read but I would say for your first ride simply hang at the back of the group where you can can watch, learn and slow down as and when you need to.

  • Hand signals. Not the ones we might expect from angry drivers but friendly signals to point out potholes and obstructions in the road. I know a few of these but getting into the habit of pointing to stuff on the road is one that will take time. Don’t worry if you don’t know the signals, watch and learn as other riders point out obstacles in the road. Focus on riding in the group, the others will look after themselves. Here’s a handy little guide to the most common cycling hand signals.

  • New routes. Even though I was riding familiar roads I barely recognised the route as we tackled many of the lanes backwards and in a different order to which I tackle them. Riding with a group will give you new roads to ride without worrying about navigation.

  • Chit chat. This one’s new for me. I’m not a big talker at the best of times but enjoyed chatting to like minded people, be it a little bike racing, upcoming bike adventures, general conversations about life or more esoteric talk of bird song and human fear. Most enjoyable. You’ll also have that moment when you’re trying to a hold a conversation whilst riding uphill. Let the battle commence!

  • Varied pace. I’m used to chugging along at a fairly metronomic pace. This becomes difficult to maintain in a group, especially at corners and hills where the group concertinas as they slow and speed up. This can make for a challenging chase or two and can be a little tiring if you are not used to it. Most groups will regroup at hill tops so take everything at your own pace.

  • The thrill of the chase. Group rides tend to speed up towards the end of the route as legs with abundant energy answer the call of coffee / home / your better half. This is where stronger riders lead out and push on, raising your heart beat to the point where your inner-chimp will beat its chest and do its best to hang on to the tail of the group. It can be both a joy and chore to cling to a wheel.

  • Drafting and speed. If you’ve never been pulled along the road as part of cycling group you are missing one of cycling’s great joys. Pedalling becomes easier and your average speed rises miraculously as if you’re floating. Watch out Strava segments!

  • Kilometres not miles. Cycling clubs have a continental approach to measuring distance which means you’ll need to bring your calculator as every one talks in weedy kilometres not good old imperial miles. I will continue to confuse them as much they do me!

  • Car drivers. Most have no idea how to overtake a group of cyclists and others are unable to resist the urge to wind down the window and shout something unintelligible when they see a cycling group. Human kind really does disappoint at times.

  • The miles (sorry, kilometres!) and time will fly by. You’ll cover more miles than you imagine. Group riding is a great way to tackle longer rides as you draft, chatting away distracts you physically and mentally too, the miles ticking by without you really noticing (although your legs begin to notice near the end!)

The verdict

London Pheonix cyclists

Coffee and cycling. Sign me up

I’m converted and I’ve applied to join the club proper. It really was great to get out and ride in the group. The fact that the miles flew by was brilliant and listening to the talk of all the other riders’ upcoming adventures, be it LEJOG, cyclo-cross, racing, or monster sportives in Europe really did get me excited for some new challenges and cycling adventures. Where do I sign?

Tips for finding and choosing a cycle club

There’s a wide variety of clubs out there, from the hardcore racing clubs to the more inclusive clubs where all abilities are welcome. I recommend doing a little research first. A club’s website will give you a pretty good idea of their philosophy and culture. Looking for cycling clubs in London I came across a wide array of clubs.

Sure some of the websites scared me with big long lists of ‘Rules of the road’ or talk of all club members being racers. I also baulked at talk of slow introductory rides as I’m a rider who likes to ride at a certain pace. What I’m trying to say, badly, is that we’re all different riders and I believe there’s a club out there for every type of rider.

Think about your criteria for a club. What are you looking for? A fast club? A club that will help you get into racing? A social club with lots of coffee stops? An adventure club who take part in lots of tours or sportives? Social rides? A little bit of everything?

After much deliberation I had many years ago taken a keen interest in London Phoenix. Why this club? I like the fact they were a self-organised club without too much structure or rules. There seemed to be a wide range of rides catering for a mixture of abilities. They are also very welcoming of new riders. Their geography suited me too, with many of their rides starting not too far from me. Oh and the kit’s not bad either – a very important consideration!

So give it a go. You may be thrilled by the speed of the pack or enjoy the camaradrie of the group. Or you may not. There’s only one way to find out…

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Images courtesy of London Phoenix cycling club and cycling tips (lead image, edited by me)

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24 thoughts on “Should I join a cycling club?

  1. I am not much of a joiner either…but I must admit that I really love being in a cycling club. I put myself in the C group, and have really enjoyed the different rides we have taken together.
    Maybe next year I will buy the correct kit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The variety is great. I love a solo ride but they can get a little boring even if you mix up the routes. Riding with the club brings new challenges and pleasures – like sticking to the wheel in front and the post-ride coffee of course. Very rewarding.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Taking a turn at the front can challenge you as much as taking a turn at the back. I would never have completed my “epic” ride last year without my time in the group.
      I’ve still got to clip in faster and not burn myself out at the beginning…but those are learning points as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really well put together article, thanks.
    I tried London Phoenix in 2012 after a bit of research and a good riding holiday in Holland, not long after I had started road riding in earnest, but still remember with anger the disparaging comment one guy made about the newness of my tyres! Not a great experience.
    After a break when I had decided Club Riding was not for me, I gave it another go with Islington CC and really enjoyed going out on some great rides and riding in a group. Nice people, all good but I became frustrated with the stop start and unambitiousness of B rides, meanwhile the A’ guys rode off in their own self selected clique. Didn’t rejoin this year.
    So Club riding is great, but as your standard, and perhaps your kit, improves, particularly if you are competitive and want to do better, it can be hard to find the right balance between Club rides and challenging rides that leave you exilerated and happy.
    However, after many solo rides improving my riding I would like to try some company again, so thanks to your article, and now I am much faster, I think I will give London Phoenix another go.
    Will shave off any residual knobbles on my tyres 1st though!
    John

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey John, that’s a shame your first ride with the Phoenix didn’t work out, I’ve found them very welcoming and have seen them encourage other riders who may fall foul of “What a proper cyclist” should look like – there was a guy tagging along with us recently with a backpack for example. Give them another go, you shouldn’t need to shave legs or tyres! Drop me an email and I’ll be happy to hook with you on a Phoenix ride.

      You make an excellent point re: speed of club rides, it’s all about finding the club that matches your speed, that’s what I like about LP, they have a couple of speeds and I know larger clubs who have up to five groups each ride at varying pace.

      Like

  3. As a solo rider myself, I totally understand your hesitancy. I haven’t joined up with a club yet for the same reasons you listed. But after reading your article, I am tempted. Let’s see. I may need to do a few more solo rides to give myself some ‘thinking’ time and then see which way I want to jump.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Go for it Vinay. I was guilty of over thinking things and wish I had gone along a lot earlier. For me it’s not an either/or question as I still love going on solo rides, only now I have variety and can mix these up with group rides. Good luck, let us know how you get on.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Picking the right club is the key to it all. I was put off by joining the wrong one, they advertised a social riding club but I am afraid it wasn’t. First, they had in the past produced a couple of pro riders and had a stable of cat 2-3 riders (that should have warned me had I known what the hell it all meant), but they claimed it was a club for all.

    Thursday was the social ride, which I attended, at the pace of the slowest rider but not if a couple of the fast boys arrive who have a day of work, then its 20mph until at one point one of the older established members stopped the group and read the riot act to them as a couple of the females had gone home, unable to keep up and the rest like me knackered and wondering what the hell I had got myself into.

    Sunday rides were group rides but much the same thing would happen, making them a nightmare. It reached a point where some met in secret and you were invited to join them if you were good enough.

    I eventually joined the right club, sensible riding paces and distance, with the sole aim of all the groups meeting at the designated pub at about the same time for a beer.

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  5. Very nice read. I am a 76 year old rider in Chicago and have been single cycling my whole life. About half the time I ride with my dog in her basket on the front. Wonderful company on the ride. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds great. I’ve dabbled in and out of the local club, and you’ve summed it all up beautifully here.

    It’s true that to find yourself rattling along as part of a big group is an awesome experience. I tend to ride fairly sociably with a varying group of non-club cyclists at the moment, but I see myself getting back into it when i’m a bit older and family stuff is less constrictive.

    I don’t miss the Sunday club run regardless of the weather (and even if Saturday was sunny and blue skies) commitment though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the beauties of my club is not having to, or not feeling like you have to, turn up each week. I go weeks without a club rise or just turn up to different rides during the week or Sat or Sun. Definitely a big plus having lots of rides to go to. Not that it helps greatly with family commitments!There must be a market for a cycling parent club, kids on trailer on the back of bike!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your post has inspired me, I’ve tentatively considered joining a club, but always been concerned that I will feel intimidated as a female rider. I assume clubs are male dominant, but reading your post has made me think that this doesn’t matter it’s just about finding the club that suits me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear SH, there’s definitely a club out there for you. There’s a few female only clubs dotted around. Try the British Cycling club search too, which has lots of advanced filters to search for female friendly cycling clubs.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Glad you finally made it out on a ride.

    For me joining a cycling club was one of the best cycling decisions I have made. I think it has improved my cycling, but more than that I have met a load of new people to ride with. Its great having the option of a club ride without feeling obliged to have to turn up. As your article says there are a variety of rides and a range of standards.

    As a fairly recent Phoenix member myself I am happy you have enjoyed the rides. For anyone thinking of joining a club I would highly recommend it. There are plenty out there with something to suit everyone.

    On a final note – John sorry for your experience – perhaps try a Sat morning ride again – let me know and I will make sure no-one makes any comments about tyres :).
    Alex (LP)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Alex. It’s good to see this post inspiring others to join clubs. I went back to thank somebody who had recommended me to join a cycling club and after a few exchanges on Google Plus, we realised we’d already ridden together and he (Dave Holmes) was a member of LP! Small world. Looks like LP was my destiny!

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  9. I think the club makes a big difference. There are a few near me but I chose the newest, not just because it was closest but because it was very much a social club with no racing affiliations. Sure, we have members who race but they do it under the auspices of other clubs where they’re also members. The pace groups inevitably get a bit ragged down at the lower speeds as inexperience and a wider range of ability naturally means more stops, but it’s rewarding to realise you’re capable of riding with the faster groups and stretching yourself longer and faster.

    I found that solo cycling without a goal (i.e. to get somewhere) very much meant that about 2 hours or 30 miles was my limit. Part of that was because without a set start time I’d inevitably fanny about a bit before I got going, often not leaving until after 9am. With the club you have to be there before the start (or face a well deserved ribbing!) and that means earlier starts. With a 7am start in summer I might have done 25 miles before I would’ve managed to drag myself out on my own, and 70 or 80 miles is common for me nowadays.

    There’s little chance I would have attempted things like the Dunwich Dynamo or 100 mile sportives without the confidence, strength, stamina and group riding skills that club riding has given me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So glad that you tried group riding and enjoyed it!!! I also love being solo, as you do, but, I have really enjoyed the group rides that I have been part of over the years as well.

    I love your writing!! Very witty, but also very helpful to those wanting to try this as well.

    Have you ever done a Granfondo?

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you JustAGirl! I’ve not tried a Granfondo yet, you? I’m not a huge fan of organised events, I’d much prefer to go ride the roads on my own (what a surprise!) although closed roads are amazing. As chance would have it I’m riding in RideLondon this weekend on closed roads in central London. Can’t wait. Where would you recommend riding?

      Like

  11. Glad to see you’re enjoying your club experience! I, too, love riding with the group sometimes, and forging my own way other times. I’m not part of a cycling club, but my local bike shop runs a great midweek ride with three different speeds offered, and a “no drop” policy on all but the fastest ride…and even then they are very up front about that fact. But all three rides go more or less the same route, so even if you get dropped from the “hot group”, you can fall in easily with the “medium group”. It’s a blast, the people are fun, and the shop owners are great. I just love being on a bike, and it’s even better in a community of people that have that same love.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: TrainerRoad review – will it make me faster? | The Human Cyclist

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