Katie Quinn tells you what to expect when getting involved in your local cycling club... and why you should get involved!
Words - Katie Quinn
So you’re toying with the idea of joining a cycling club for the first time. There are over 210 registered cycling clubs in Australia and finally joining up can be an overwhelming experience, but honestly it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I never really had “cycling friends” (cue the violins). It wasn’t until I met a lady on the Great Vic suggested that I contact her cycling club that I actually took that next step. For me, I loved to get out occasionally on the bike but teeing up a time with friends that was mutually agreeable was virtually impossible and generally not worth the trouble. I Googled the website she suggested and followed the links.
Phone calls were made, a trial was arranged. The ride leader was told ahead of time that I would be turning up. I set my alarm for earlier than usual, way earlier... around 430. I managed to get completely lost on the way to the club but still made it in time for the 545 roll out. It was my first bunch ride and my first time on Beach Road. My initial club impressions were good. I felt safe, included, supported. We said our goodbyes and made plans for the following day. No more having to wait a month or two for the next ride.
I’m a proud member of the St Kilda Cycling Club so I’m obviously biased, bit if you’re still not sold on the idea then read on…
At any club you’ll be meeting men and women from all different walks of life, but despite their unusual appearance in tight clothing and clip-clop shoes they probably have more in common than you would think.
They’re not only mad about bikes, but also passionate about health and fitness, going new places, having adventures, travelling around… and they’re guaranteed to be motivated and positive folk. Probably the best group of friends you’ll ever make.
Starting out is easy. As long as you can ride a bike, and have an appropriate bike for the type of cycling you’re interested in then you’re most of the way there. A few other necessities are a helmet, lights, a puncture repair kit, drink bottles, shoes and cycling clothing.
There’s no need to go out and buy a super bike first up, although for most cyclists the urge to upgrade is very, very strong. At any cycling club event you’ll discover that there is a vast range of bicycles, and an expensive price tag doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be the first back for coffee.
Think you need to have all the gear to start, well think again. In my experience cycling clubs are very welcoming to newbies, they’ll probably spot you coming a mile off, and they’ll gladly advise you on all things Lycra fashion related. In case you can’t work out what to wear, check out the club kit. You’ll look fabulous, be comfortable, and be indoctrinated as one of the crew.
Where to start? Not quite sure what you like? There’s usually something to satisfy everyone’s cravings… road rides, track, cyclocross, mountain bike riding, racing… Your new mates at your club will be able to put you into contact with the best people in the business to get you started. Some clubs will host come and try days so you can literally try before you buy (and sell your soul for another bike).
DEVELOP YOUR RIDING
In the 18 months I’ve been with my club I’ve learnt a heck of a lot about riding and riding safely. This seems to be one of the major issues that holds people back with the I’m-not-good-enough notion.
When I started I needed a lot of encouragement. Best thing you can probably do is be super friendly and make sure you introduce yourself as the new kid in town. Skills take a while to develop. But once you’ve done a few rides you’ll start to pick them up.
Ask questions, listen to the answers. Some clubs will have development squads and pathways for cyclist looking to extend their abilities.
Most cycling clubs have regular rides that you can attend. There will probably be designated slower and faster days as well as recovery rides. My club also has women only rides, men can attend as long as they abide by the rules regarding speed and acceptable behaviour.
By asking the right questions you can find out how fast and how far the cyclists are planning on going, so you’ll be able to pick the rides that you’re ready for and ones to challenge where you’re at.
Never rolled a turn? Don’t know what that even means? Lights, reflective gear, safe stopping distances, calling of hazards, signalling… all these things are important to make sure that you return from your rides in one piece. Riding in a group is going to be a lot safer than hitting the roads solo, particularly at odd hours of the day.
Instant friends guys! There will be social festivities galore as your cycling club pals morph into the long lost family you never had. Weekends away and training camps have been the highlights for me. Then comes the racing.
Basically picture a carnival atmosphere that starts as the sun comes up, with cyclists and volunteers eager to see what the day’s competition will be like. Down at our crits the event is run like a well-oiled machine, with a coffee van and plenty of excitement for the spectators. It’s up to you how involved you choose to become, and how intertwined with a new social circle you wish to be, but the passion and enthusiasm is infectious.
LIFE OUTSIDE CYCLING
Cyclists are well known for being an obsessive bunch with strange rituals (leg shaving, rearranging café furniture, talking about riding all the time), but there’s no reason why this sport will have to tear you away from your old life.
Most cycling clubs will run family-friendly and social events, where you can introduce your loved ones to your new passion. You might only be able to make it to a ride every so often, but a good cycling club stays in touch via social media, newsletters and by post to keep you up to date with what’s happening.
You’re not likely to become Cadel Evans or Marianne Vos overnight, so if you’re doing something NQR expect to be told. Other riders will probably yell at you if you, but there’s a good chance the yelling is more due to the wind… don’t take it personally. Riders want to be heard, they also don’t fancy road rash.
I was ‘informed’ plenty of that I wasn’t rolling turns properly, basically at the wrong speed for the group (go-go-gadget-legs). I remember being told one morning that I couldn’t participate in the ride and would have to follow behind as I wasn’t wearing the right club kit (it had been ordered but hadn’t arrived yet). That was more of a safety issues but it’s not about what you say to the newbies, it’s how you say it.
Club members should be careful as it doesn’t take many harsh comments to turn scare someone away. There are times when it won’t be all sunshine, puppies and rainbows at your new club. For example, sometimes you will end up riding in unexpectedly poor weather… dirt in your eyes and soggy knicks make for unhappy riders.
SO WHAT NOW?
Get on Google, ask around, and make some calls. There are many club options available, particularly if you live in a capital city. Every club has a slightly different atmosphere and many specialise in a particular discipline.
The thing they have in common is that they will provide members with a non-intimidating, all-inclusive, friendly cycling environment for people of all ages and abilities. A good cycling club can add so much to your cycling experience. It’s the perfect way to improve your cycling skills while sharing the pain and passion for rolling on two wheels. If you’re thinking of joining then you should, you have nothing to loose... except your leg hair.