A Kingston Wheeler’s prize giving from the early sixties. Obviously a more formal affair back then.
At the end of last season I was fortunate enough to win a trophy at my club’s annual prize giving. I can only assume it was a lean year. On the bus home at the end of the evening I realised that the cup was in fact older than I was. And after finding my way around the hotchpotch of engravings I discovered the first winner was some lad called T.C. Sharpe way back in 1957. It may have been this, and the sense of history and legacy it conjured, or the several pints I’d consumed in celebration, but a lump formed in my throat. I felt a little emotional.
A few years previously I turned up to one of the Kingston Wheelers‘ regular Sunday club runs. I’d blotted out my fears at being out of place on my cumbersome hybrid with its flat bars and triple chainring. My intimidation mounted as the car park used as the meeting point started to fill with a cornucopia of expensive looking equipment. As the various groups filed out onto the road I latched on to the one billed as the slowest. No one laughed at my helmet with its attached visor, or my slightly baggy jersey, or my ugly commuter’s bike with its comfy padded saddle, and within the space of a morning and a few hills in the Surrey countryside I was ready to sign up and become a member.
For anyone new to cycling there are a thousand unanswered questions – hundreds alone concern the bicycle itself, and many more regarding kit, racing, routes, fitness, training, nutrition… it’s hard to pin point any one starting point, and impossible to define the end. Cycling is as much about the acquisition of knowledge as actually turning the pedals, and a cycling club is a mine of information waiting to be plundered. Years of experience is willingly shared, and answers to the most basic of questions eagerly offered. The joys of cycling are intertwined with the joys of learning.
For what a club can offer it asks very little in return. Membership fees are generally nominal, but what they rely on to survive is just a small level of commitment. The events we enjoy – the time trials and races, and even some sportives – are run by just a handful of volunteers.
In recognition of the importance of each club’s contribution, the Surrey League for example is incentivising club membership for individuals wanting to compete in their races, and for those clubs to affiliate with the league. This is because almost all events are organised by each affiliated club, and without those clubs no grassroots racing would exist. In effect, most of us who race will at some point during the course of the year give up our time to help run an event – we’ll stand around waving a flag on a roadside corner, or drive a lead car, or push off riders for a time trial – all in the knowledge that others will do the same for us when we’re competing.
The face of cycling clubs changes over the years – the Kingston Wheelers own history reveals traditions and pursuits no longer continued, and the very fabric itself evolves as membership numbers fluctuate and cycling fashions change. Several London clubs now have record levels of members – these are the ones that have moved with the times, adapted to the internet age, and tapped into the growing cycling scene. But I assume, that at the heart of each club no matter how large, is still a small core who hold the disparate elements together. Organising the finances, events, socials, kit… even someone to co-ordinate the awarding of trophies.
Understandably there are still some who choose to fly solo, but for such a small commitment, club membership has so much to offer in return.