You may have been cycling for some time now or you may be a complete beginner, but at some point for most of us, the time will come when we’ll yearn for the company of fellow cyclists, eager to be part of the traditional Sunday morning lycra brigades that appear up and down the country. This is the time to join a cycling club.
There’s a multitude of motives for joining a club; it could be so you can begin racing or time trialling, to improve fitness or maybe you’re just fed up of riding on your own and you and you need someone to talk to about bikes, as your nearest and dearest grow ever moretired of tales about your gear ratios.
But it’s not that simple. While a normal club website will encourage the arrival of new members with a ‘just turn up on the day’ attitude, making the step from solo road warrior – where you can go where you want, as fast as you want – to club rider, generally involves an extended build-up period of mental anguish.
“Will I be able to keep up?” is generally the question at the forefront of the prospective club rider’s mind. “Is my bike/clothing good enough?” and “What if I get group riding wrong?” are others that plague the consciousness as after all, a simple search of ‘cycling rules’ on the internet can strike fear into the heart, as the complexity and quantity of obscure cycling codes become abundantly clear.
It’s not that bad though. While there is a certain amount of etiquette to observe in a group ride, it’s primarily for safety. Follow ‘the rules’ too closely and you could find yourself lagging behind, having spent so much time measuring your sock height that you’ve forgotten to actually ride your bike.
The art and nuances of the group ride will come to you with time. You’ll soon realise the guy in front of you isn’t pointing at something interesting on the road, rather a pothole, while shouts of "car up/down" becomes quickly self-explanatory.
You’ll want to stay close to the rider in front of you, but the inherent fear of clipping their back wheel is an ever-present for the group rookie. Try not to focus on their wheel; otherwise it becomes a kind of siren song to an inevitable crash. Keep your head up and look forward. You’ll be able to see any perils in front of you and maybe just a bit of nice scenery.
Remember, if you don’t know something, ask. Senior members thrive on passing wisdom to the next generation. Oh, and take some money with you, because there will be cake. There’s always cake.
This article originally appeared in Cycling Weekly 05/12/2013