Club rides are good
I get it – there’s a certain thrill to be had from being head-down, riding as fast as you can go in a tight pack. Road bikes are sleek speed machines, and for a short while, you become an inextricable component of something bigger, while you focus on keeping the gap between your front wheel and that of the rider ahead of you to no more than 15cm. Then there is the inevitable friendly competition once the group hits that big climb, to see who will be first to the top and remain in a state to complete the rest of the ride. And don’t forget about the comradery and banter at the café stop.
Club rides are bad
Have you ever crested a hill, to be met with a view so fantastic that it takes your breath away? Have you ever simply wanted to stop, and linger for a while, absorbing that view? Well, on a club ride, you can’t do that, as it would break up the pace, and besides, with a rider drafting close behind, you simply cannot risk stopping.
I’ve absolutely nothing against club rides. They can be great fun, and if you can go on a club ride, I’d probably encourage you to do so. The danger of club rides is that, to many people, they become the centre of the cycling universe. The reality is that there’s far more to cycling than what you’ll experience on a club ride.
Hang on – what do you mean by a club ride?
For clarity, “club ride” in this post refers to road cycling clubs, on ultralight speed machines made from pure unobtanium. On most club rides, the focus is on must-go-faster. Of course, there are different types of cycling clubs, focusing on social rides, but “club ride” is a colloquialism commonly used to refer to roadies going head-down, as fast as possible.
Most of my riding is done all on my own. I’m not anti-social, it just makes life easier. When riding solo, you don’t have to either break your legs, trying to keep up with others, or you get frustrated waiting for others to keep up. When riding solo, you can stop whenever you want to, and you can change the route on the fly. You can stop for lunch for as long, or as short as you please.
I do cycle with others, on more social rides. In fact, my Travelling Ouballie rides are multi-day rides, with wild camping thrown in, and are open invitation. However, there are Ts & Cs attached – I make it clear it’s a leisurely cycle tour. If you’re looking for a race-pace ride, these are not for you!
Cycling as transport
Many club cyclists see going as fast as possible as the ultimate aim of cycling. Using a bicycle to actually go places (other than a club-run cake stop) doesn’t factor in their thinking. I know one roadie who can maintain a blistering average speed of over 20mph, over surprisingly hilly terrain, but the longest ride he’s ever done on his life was just over 30 miles. By contrast, if I cycled into the city of Plymouth, and back home again, I’ll have exceeded 30 miles. Especially in urban areas, cycling is often a faster for of transport than driving as, and as a bonus, it’s literally door to door!
In London, PedalMe offers pedal-powered taxi and delivery services and similar services are cropping up elsewhere in the UK, too. They use trailers on their cargo bikes and have impressive carrying capacity. There are a growing number of plumbers, gardeners, and more, who made the switch to cargo bikes. You can do it too: simply switch to doing your grocery shopping by bicycle! Here’s a top tip: register for one of those scan-as-you-shop handsets, then put your panniers inside the shopping trolley, and simply fill them up as you shop. That way, you’ll know when your panniers are full.
Cycle commuting is simply brilliant. When it becomes a habit, and just something that you do, you’ll start cycle commuting almost regardless of the weather. That means you’ll get your daily exercise in, twice every day, without cutting into your other time, and as a bonus, you’ll save a load of money. Win – win!
Ernest Hemingway wrote “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” There simply is no better way to explore than by going cycle touring. The bicycle allows you to cover far more distance than you can on foot, while allowing you to see, hear, feel and small far more than you can when travelling in motorised transport. Importantly, you can stop pretty much whenever you want, even if only to smell a flower growing by the roadside.
Cycling for leisure
Sometimes it’s great to go for a bike ride just because you can. No destination to reach, nothing to deliver or move. Just you, turning the pedals at your own pace, enjoying the freedom of it all. There are valid reasons why people say riding a bike is the closest you can get to flying.
As you can see, there’s SO much more to cycling than just club rides. By all means, go on club rides if you want. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all there is to cycling, or worse yet, see other forms of cycling as somehow less valid.