Wednesday 30 January 2008

Cycling Club Culture

It's great to be in a cycling club - joining others with whom you can share your passion for all things two-wheeled. It's a chance to spend pleasant days in the saddle, talk about the latest bike innovation and gear - even if you have no idea! It can even be a way of just making new friends - forget Facebook!

In London and the South-east area there are loads of cycling clubs to choose from - about 120. And near where I live I am particularly spoilt - Dulwich Paragon, De Laune, Brixton Cycles, Velo Club de Londres, Norwood Paragon, Anerley Bicycle Club, Catford CC, Addiscombe CC, London Dynamo - and that's before counting the triathlon clubs that have cycling sections.

At a personal level I like the whole concept of being in a club, but sometimes I find that I come unstuck when it comes to deciding which club I'm in.

Clubs can be odd places to be - or at least some of the people who belong to them are. For me, a club is certainly a handy place for hooking up with new folks, as mentioned above. However, given that I know lots of local riders who belong to other clubs - some of whom I've gotten quite friendly with over the season - I don't tend to confine my riding and bike talk to one given group of people in one club. I have latched onto other clubs' weekend rides on the odd occasion.

So if I'm having good times with folks from various clubs, which club am I meant to join if everyone is generally pleasant and the rides tend to run through the same common axis through the Kent lanes and Surrey hills?

The answer is, nowadays I just go where there happens to be a racing scene for women. At Addiscombe CC, my first club, I got involved in women's team racing. When that dried up I rode for Pearson Cycles, but unfortunately their women's team did not materialise. I have now moved to Agisko Viner, where they have quite a happening scene. While I am a first claim member at this club, I am still a second claim member at Addiscombe CC, and I also have second claim membership with Dulwich Paragon, the bike club in my immediate locality.

Now, I don't have a problem with that, however among other members - especially those who belong to the older clubs - the idea of moving clubs can be quite frowned upon.

To them, leaving a club almost seems like a way of saying "I didn't like it there" - "I fell out", "Your club's not very good". Folks infer negative connotations, and some take offence. In extreme cases some ex-members are even sent to Coventry by certain club committee members, and become persona non grata - "How dare they leave and go race for the rival club ??"

Why there should be this type of reaction, I don't know. If different clubs have different emphases on what they want to achieve then what's wrong with joining a club that has the same cycling and racing aspirations as yours?

I have managed to keep good relations with people from my previous clubs, and still bump into them at races. I even do the occasional training ride with them. Who knows, I might return to one of these clubs in the future.

A few weeks ago, talking to Matt Seaton, respected local racer and journalist for The Guardian I felt I had met a kindred spirit when he described how uncomfortable he felt when he had to break the news to Velo Club de Londres that he was moving to another club, and how he tries to manage racing for different clubs. He has since come to an arrangement where he races for Mosquito Bikes during the cyclocross season, and Rapha when he does road racing. Good idea. Fortunately the majority of club riders are pretty reasonable.

Let's be honest though, we're just cycling club tarts! (But I don't mind.)

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