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Benefits of Joining a Bike Club

By Sheila Ascroft

Ottawa Bicycle Club's RLCT jerseyPerhaps you’ve seen them on a Sunday morning rolling along a rural road? A pack of cyclists all in the same brightly coloured jerseys, pedalling easy, chatting with each other, and thought, ‘I’d like to do that.’

Well you can. If you don’t yet belong to a bicycle club, maybe this is the year to reconsider. If you ride about 20 k/hr (12 mph) you are in the ballpark; if not, this gives you a speed to aim for this season.

A club can add so much to your cycling experience. I understand that newer cyclists often feel intimidated – the not-good-enough-syndrome—but clubs generally cater to the less swift and, with the club’s group rides, you’ll have a chance to become a better cyclist.

Even though I like to ride solo—it sounds less unsocial than ‘cycling by myself—I’m also a member of a cycle club and have been for two decades. Sometimes, I want to cycle with others. The annual membership fee is pretty minor compared to what you get in return. Obviously, club activities vary according its membership size and purpose, but I’ll use my own Ottawa Bicycle Club (OBC) as an example.

 Benefits of being a club member

1 – Each new member gets to take a group riding clinic before actually going on a club ride. While this isn’t mandatory; it is highly recommended. This clinic is an excellent introduction. An experienced instructor teaches safety and efficiency skills of riding in a pack, explains the rules of the road and requests that they are respected, shows how to keep your bike in top shape and what to carry on it, etc. You get to meet new cyclists just like yourself and friendships often follow.

2 – Members come out for the regular weekend rides (usually on Sunday mornings when traffic is the quietest, but also sometimes on Saturdays). Cycling groups are arranged according to ability. For example, our ‘Ramblers’ group is for cyclists whose average speed is 19-22 k/hr (12-13.5 mph) while ‘Touring 1’ speed is 23-26 k/hr (14-16 mph), and up it goes. The Ramblers’ rides are at least 50 km (30 mile) and the distance lengthens as the season progresses.  This is a great way to find out the best and safest routes in and beyond town, build your skills and endurance, and have fun at the same time.

3 – For the new members, the OBC offers a Tuesday evening ride. It’s a suppertime cycle of 50 km (30 mile) or so depending on when the sun sets. It helps develop pack riding skills and endurance and gives you the chance  to meet similarly skilled and like-minded people.

 4 – The OBC also offers several multi-day tours each season, with its most enduring being the 40-year-old Rideau Lakes Cycling Tour. It runs over two-days (Ottawa-Kingston-Ottawa) and varies from (200 km to 375 km (122-232 mile). With proper training and a few good friends, this is something to aspire to, even if it takes a year or two to be ready.

5 – Like most clubs, the OBC also offers a competitive racing program, which includes clinics on how to race and its own Grand Prix. If you’re like me and shudder at the thought of racing in a pack, you might consider trying a time trial. This involves you alone racing a set distance against the clock. The fastest person wins. Simple and fun and happens each week in summer!

6 – The club remains semi-active in winter with monthly socials that range from a speaker regaling members with a recent exotic cycle tour to demos of new equipment and bike fitting. It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with cycling friends when the snow is blowing outside.

7 – Since the OBC is fairly large (and very old!), it provides members with a regular newsletter, website, classified ads, and discounts at local bike shops.

8 – You get to wear the club’s colours! Wear that jersey proudly as you now represent the larger cycling community.

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