It's hard to find something original to write about in relation to cycling without repeating or re-wording things that have already been said on other blogs and journals. Perhaps paradoxically, I think there is something new to be found in something old; traditional cycling clubs. The reason nobody (or at least nobody I can see) is writing about club cycling is that, despite the current boom in cycling, traditional cycling club membership is said to be down. More people choose to participate instead in the ever growing number of sportifs on offer.
With the caveat that I've never done one, I think a significant attraction in sportif rides is the challenge; something to get fit for. I understand that. But my experience is that a club ride can be as challenging as you have the appetite for. You just need to find the right (or wrong!) ride.
Crucially though, a club ride has other things going for it that seem to be missing from sportif rides. First of all it's free. (Other than the cost of your cafe stop if you do a long ride and your yearly club subs if you find a club you like and want to join.) Next there is the the time honoured etiquette of group riding. By watching riders who know what they are doing and listening to their advice you get to learn how to ride confidently, predictably and safely in close proximity to others in the group, looking after yourself and those around you. And you learn to trust that others will do the same. You learn how vital pacing is and why half wheeling won't win you any friends.
Then there are the conversations. Either at the cafe or on the bike during a long ride conversation will cover all kinds of subjects. Interesting, informative, infuriating maybe and sometimes just bikie small talk. Perhaps this is no different to conversations riders might have on a sportif ride. But riding in a tight group and with the same people each week allows you to develop friendships which in turn lead to better conversations. And if you ride with a club that has some history, fascinating stories of local pro's and old races will crop up. Stories that you can't just find on any old blog. Being involved in these conversations, even if that just means listening, is a big part of why I like riding with a club.
Amateur cyclists of all stripes are influenced by what the pro's are doing; how they train, how they eat, which bikes they ride and how they are setup and what clothes they wear. Compact carbon frames, long socks, Oakley shades, high cadence and, dare I say it, wearing a helmet are all examples. There is an irony that although the pro's have spent their lives riding with cycling clubs, today's pro-wannabes rarely seem interested in joining them.