How to start a cycling club - and ten tips to make your club a success
Want to start your own cycling club? Tom Owen has been there to tell the tale
In 2013 I started a cycling club. We called it Big Boys Bicycle Club, which was a somewhat sniffy epithet bestowed upon us by a girlfriend of mine. “Have you been out with your big boy’s bicycle club?" she would ask. We capitalised some letters and dropped the apostrophe and a club was born.
Back then it was a club in name only. Five of us would ride together. We’d always ridden together before that, but putting a name on it seemed to formalise things. Now we have around 100 members.
We didn’t actually do the ‘admin’ bit of founding a club until much later. Registering first with Cycling Time Trials, the national body regulating time trials and hill climbs in the UK, and then shortly after that with British Cycling.
This lent things an air of authenticity - of properness - but in hindsight it benefited us barely at all. We can compete in races under the BBBC flag, which we wouldn’t have been able to do before, though, at present, only a handful of members race in British Cycling events. A handful of riders also take part in autumn hill climbs.
But this isn’t to say there aren’t benefits to registering a club. We have some kind of insurance through our British Cycling membership, which I don’t fully understand, but acts as a quietly reassuring presence. Sort of like the Bank of England. Fortunately, we’ve never had to find out exactly what we’re insured for, or against.
Should you start your own club? Sure. Why? That’s for you to answer. Maybe you already ride with a group of mates and make it an official 'thing', or perhaps there isn't a local club which appeals to you. Personally, we started BBBC because we didn’t like the look of any of the clubs that existed already, with their ‘you must ride this fast to come on our rides’ and their ‘we shall refer to both male and female riders with the pronoun “him" for ease of understanding', or the requirement that you buy their kit if you want to join, even if that kit looks horrendous, which it does.
The how is easier to explain. If I had to break it down into steps, those steps would look something like this.
Get some mates
Ideally mates who are going to cycle a lot with you. There’s nothing sadder than a one-rider club run.
Commit to do one ‘thing’ regularly
Whether this is an early-morning ride before work on a particular day of the week, or a monthly trip out into the lanes, having a thing that ‘always’ happens makes it easy for your existing members and new ones to focus.
For BBBC, it was a post-work lap session on a Wednesday night that provided the ‘spine’ of all our activities. It happens come rain or shine, usually in Regent's Park in London, but occasionally in Richmond Park, or even out in the lanes in mid-summer when the evenings are extra-long.
Sometimes there are 15 riders. Sometimes there is one. In 2016 we only missed one week, right in the depths of winter.
Excitingly, we also have a regular ride in Cambridge now, as the club expands to its second city in the UK. I should also take this opportunity to say hello to our semi-official Sydney crew, as well as our members resident in Cape Town and Canada.
Pick a name
Big Boys Bicycle Club is not exclusively for men, nor for large people, which means we spend a lot of time explaining the name. My advice is to choose something simple.
Get good kit
Every week new crimes against kit are perpetrated and, more often than not, it’s clubs who are the culprits. Club kit should look excellent and be of high quality - for too long the prevailing attitude was the opposite.
For many riders, the club jersey was the least-loved one in the drawer, worn only under sufferance. Club members refused to spend ‘good money’ on club kit, because it always looked the same and was generally a bit crap. This is all wrong.
Our first kit was terrible. The fabrics were average and the bib shorts were constructed in such a way as to physically cripple the wearer for several hours after use.
We were all very relieved when the decision was made to switch to Milltag, a specialist custom cycling kit company. Two years into working with them, I’m pleased to report their bibs pose no threat to anyone’s future ability to procreate.
Invest in good quality kit; your members (and their potential ancestors) will thank you for it.
Ride a lot
Once you have that sweet kit, you’re going to want to show it off. You’re much more likely to recruit new members at a sportive than a road race or a random ride in the lanes.
Not everyone is nice. In fact, all of us are sometimes not-nice. Try as hard as you can to be nice while you’re wearing your club’s kit and other nice people will gravitate to your club.
Decide what sort of club you’re going to be
Until you’re really, really big, you can’t be a hardcore race team and a sociable cycling club. The types of riders are too different, in both their outlook and what they want from a group ride.
If you want to ride with people you like, have fun and see a bit of the countryside, then a heads-down, arse-up interval session that gets you fit for crits isn’t going to suit you. Equally, if you’re primarily joining a club to get faster and fitter then an easy-going no-drop Sunday run to a cafe and back isn’t going to give you what you want.
Of course, with scale comes a bit more potential for members of different abilities to go on meaningful rides. While out riding recently, a couple of BBBCers and I were overtaken by not one, but two different groups of cyclists from the same club.
These were the fastest and second-fastest groups, with a third group from that club further behind still. Speed groups are a common feature of large club rides.
By all means try being all things to all men (and women) - but, ultimately, at the outset it's best to focus on being good at one particular thing.
Our number one recruitment source is referral. People who have fun riding with us bring other people and thus the club gets bigger. All the people in the club so far are nice, so it seems unlikely they will bring along friends who are complete arseholes.
The second biggest source is social media. People see our Instagram and then they come and ride with us. It works pretty well. So far, none of them have turned out to be bad eggs, which is good.
Running a club is an enormous amount of work. Delegation is key. Get someone to organise a club tour and someone else to do the kit orders.
Trying to do all of this yourself would be a Herculean and largely thankless task. It’s not that people aren’t grateful, it’s just that the admin side of a club is largely invisible to the majority of its members.
Fill out the forms
Once you know what kind of club you are, you might have to fill in some forms. Registering the club with British Cycling is a must if you want to do races under the name of your club.
It’s expensive and quite boring and if you can read to the bottom of this page without nodding off or gouging out your eyes with a tyre lever you have my profound admiration.
Once you’ve done your forms and established a club culture that you like, you’re basically there.
It will keep growing and growing like an unwieldy, many-headed monster and new problems will present themselves all the time, but if your foundations are strong your club will be a success. Good luck!