The start of a cycling life

Godric Cycling Club Logo

Some 16 years ago I was offered a job with CTC, the national cyclist’s organisation in the UK. For me the move was never a doubt once the offer was made. Yes we had some real challenges, I was stepping out of a business career that saw us swap a settled lifestyle in Cardiff to a much lower paid job in one of the most expensive places in England. But no doubt whatsoever about the move to cycling on my part.

Not so my old boss. When the the Chair of CTC’s board phoned my corporate boss for a reference he unexpectedly got his ear bent for nearly 20 minutes about how I was throwing away my career for a whim. And he made it pretty clear that he blamed CTC for throwing temptation in my path. He made the same point very clearly to me. The CTC Chair was extremely rattled and spent much of the next two years worrying that I had taken the job on emotion and I might soon set off back to my corporate life.

But of course my old boss had no idea about my deep connection to cycling and the irresistible draw of a dream job. But then again nor do some of the people I work with today. Because in our world of common sense cycling in European cities it really isn’t essential to be passionate about the sport or pastime of cycling to know what a civilising effect it has on a city. I heard this best described in Copenhagen. The city cycling officer said “In Copenhagen you get up in the morning, you clean your teeth, maybe some breakfast then you bike to work. Nobody thinks about having a club for people who clean their teeth, it’s just what you do.”

Well in my childhood cycling to school was still quite normal. But being a “cyclist” wasn’t. My trip back to Bungay was a chance to celebrate that with the people who made my cycling life possible, the Godric Cycling Club. I went back as the guest speaker at their Annual Dinner and prize presentation. About 70 people took over the local golf club, many of whom I have known since childhood, either my parents friends or indeed my own schoolmates from the 1970s.

Godric Cycling Club Annual Dinner 2014

Time trial start mid sixtiesClose to my heart? My earliest memories are of being carted off to races at ungodly hours in the morning, waking up to ask if Mummy or Daddy had won. Even now my dad is the Chairman, my mum organised the dinner and there were enough relatives to have their own table, these really are my cycling roots. And the club itself has rocked from time to time, but when a glass of wine was raised to toast the founding members of sixty years ago it was brilliant to see several in the room.

Godric Cycling Club Dinner 2014

As an after dinner speaker the job is of course not to overstay your welcome, entertain with some travellers’ tales and in my case throw in some anecdotes about the quirks of cycling in Belgium then get out of the way so everybody can get round to collecting their winnings from the groaning table of prizes and on to the raffle.*

Godric Cycling Club Trophies

But as part of my speech I said roughly this:

I wasn’t such a great racing cyclist. I am proud that my name appears on at least one of these trophies, but my speeds were not exceptional. (“I’ll second that” agrees a voice in the room)

But this club gave me the opportunity to be what I am today. Firstly the club was always a supportive place to be, it let me go forward in another way. I got the chance to try out things that some young people never get to do. At 14 they let me be the club-room secretary, having the keys the club building, selling Mars bars and drinks or organising the table tennis tournaments in the winter.

At 16 I organised my first open race. It was probably so inconceivable at the time that nowhere in the rules of cycling did it set a minimum age for event organisers, so I just put my hand up to run one of our cyclo-cross events. These were chances you just cannot replicate.

And of course when I went on to university I got involved in running our cycling club, making friends for life but also filling my CV with more of those try-outs for real life that came with the territory. Discovering the stunning region in which we lived while the other students made it little further than the bar. Plan and lead group rides? Deal with bureaucracy? Plan cycle tours round France? But of course we did, it just was just the world I knew. And every one of those experiences enriched my CV and when at 23 I didn’t have a clue what to do I discovered that what I was really equipped for was something called management. I’ve been there ever since.

So now I have the unque honour of traveling Europe managing cycling programmes, talking about cycling, promoting cycling, meeting people who are battling to grow cycling in small groups in cities that often don’t really seem to care. Or put me in a Belgian cycling club where I don’t even speak the language. I know I am among friends. Because the Godric Cycling Club made that my world, a very comfortable place to be. I hope that all cycling clubs continue to give a next generation of young people that chance, the chance to grow up as individuals, not just as places where the only winners are the ones who go fast. That has made cycling so much more to me that brushing my teeth. Its what I do, it’s my people.

When I join a group of cyclists I do not despair.

Thank you Godric Cycling Club.

Godric Cycling Club Sunday Club Run

Related posts:

“I love club dinners”

“Cycling’s helpers” by David Horton on the ever excellent “Thinking about Cycling”

Press report in local media

* On the podium on the Champs Elysee after getting his trophy for his Tour de France win Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s first ever winner said “Are we going to do the raffle now?” Millions of spectators worldwide were completely baffled. About 30,000 club cyclists in the UK just collapsed with laughter, recognising just how many local cycling club dinners Brad must have attended during his career rise. One of us.

I love cycling club dinners

Stephen Coe, CTC board member for South West England casually asked me in December if I would be willing to be the guest at the Cycle Somerset annual dinner in January. He seemed awfully taken aback when I offered with enthusiasm.

Call me a bit of a sad case but I have been going to cycling club annual dinners since I was about eleven years old. Each year of my childhood my parents would get either excited or wound up like springs in early February because of the forthcoming club dinner, one of the social high spots of the year. Usually this involved one of them bringing home truckloads of trophies as well but what always struck my childish mind was how special and exotic it all seemed in a household where going to dinner wasn’t exactly common.

Then at some point when I felt bold enough I piped up and said “can I come to the club dinner” and to my amazement they said yes. No real idea when or where, just large numbers of adults having a good time talking bikes, races and riders. I felt wonderfully grown up but as I look back I sense that I was really part of the extended family of the Godric Cycling Club which I seemed to have known all my life.

I became a regular after that – hoping desperately that one day I might land one of the trophies as well. However I can confirm that my career in cycling has little to do with my speed on a bike and it took many years until I finally landed one – nearly 13 I think. However you could spot the future organiser and front man because it was at our club dinner that I did what I think must have been my first ever public speech in about 1978, aged about 17.

The guest of honour was cycling journalist Mick Gambling, well known on theUKcycling scene at the time, and I had to propose the vote of thanks. I don’t even remember how my jokes went the applause was addictive and I knew this was something I could do, somewhere I felt at home.

Since I became CTC Director in 1998 I have done many more dinners and had the pleasure of being Master of Ceremonies for the CTC National Dinner for the last few years. A lot of the speakers on the circuit charge, I guess it’s because it is an extension of their day job – the TV commentators, journalists and former riders. I guess I’m lucky that the day job pays, I can’t imagine having to turn people down who can’t pay, we are all family aren’t we?

And what of Cycle Somerset?

A lovely bunch who made us feel really at home in the Italian restaurant at the Somerset County Cricket Ground inTaunton. No trophies to present, this really is a friendly touring club who feature rides for riders of all abilities. The racing is left to the other clubs in the area, Cycle Somerset was formed to fill the gap.

One thing I have also noticed is that all the really vibrant clubs I have been to recently have started a ladies only section, there’s a real case for dedicated rides. Most of us would like to think we can keep the inner bloke in check when on a ride, but the evidence suggests otherwise, dedicated women’s rides are definitely a coming trend in group riding.

On Sunday after the dinner I was also invited to help launch the Taunton Bike Clubwhich caters for young riders of all ages and abilities. They are going to have multiple launches – this one was the touring launch and featured a Sunday ride to a café. Look like the next generation is in safe hands inTaunton, especially with pied piper Jonathon Sladden at the helm.

Taunton Bike Club Launch

Taunton Bike Club Launch 22nd January 2012

Thanks to CS for the invite, it was great to get another fix of cycling company. I have no idea if this tradition carries on outside theUK, I’ll have to use visits home to get a fix. However it will be quite a while before I can deliver an after dinner turn in French or Flemish.