Way back in August 2012 a friend roped me into doing a sprint triathlon that coming October, so I dusted off the trainers, swimming trunks and set about training after several years of doing not much. Initially I thought the running would be the bit I enjoyed but, I was surprised to find it was the bike legs I looked forward to most, despite doing the training (and race) on my commuter hybrid. The race came and went and I set a respectable time and fancied doing more, but the thought of running through the winter didn't exactly motivate me!
Then the lightbulb moment - why not join a cycling club. It was the bike part and training that I enjoyed and I'd always followed the Tour de France since a child. Maybe I could even race? But which club? Does Bedford even have cycling clubs and how do I find and join them?
Where would we be these days without Google - a quick search led me to Bedfordshire Road Cycling Club and iCycle. Both clubs had their merits but iCycle just looked more what I was after and no doubt the fresh web based approach appealed. Added to that, iCycle offered a 2 week trial - what better way to try this club cycling thing out, without committing for a year of membership.
November 2012, I took the plunge and joined on the 2 week trial and the next Sunday ventured to the Rowing Club to join my first Sunday Club Ride. Until this point the Triathlon cycle leg was the furthest I had cycled in one go (24km), so I went for the shorter of the two rides on offer. I could not have been more welcomed and looked after on that ride and I can honesty say that the first ride with the club was all I needed to decide to join properly once the trial was up.
Before I knew it, I was hooked. The friendliness of those in the club coupled with the excellent club rides meant that by Christmas, I had a new road bike and Father Christmas was being harassed into providing the necessary gear. The club forum came into its own on Boxing Day, when someone posted about a Time Trial in Old Warden and 60mins later I was lining up on the start for my 1st competitive outing. It didn't exactly go to plan with me taking the only left turn that you're not supposed to take and ending up back at the start after 10 minutes!
This theme continued when I ventured to the infamous Hog Hill for my first circuit race. It turns out that there are no announcements over the tannoy at cycle races like I have been used to in other sports, meaning I emerged from the bathroom to see the rest of the field lined up on the start line. 500m behind before I'd completed a lap meant it was a long hour but there it was, first race completed.
At this point, being member of a friendly club with a varied selection of members helped significantly as those with some experience of racing suggested some other venues for me to try. They also provided some tips on training, as the fleeting moments when I was in the bunch at Hog Hill showed where I needed some improvement.
ICycle also introduced me to the world of pain that is spinning. Mick's classes are not your usual gym style sessions, these are specific for cycling and aimed to really improve strength, cadence climbing and endurance, sometimes all within one session! However, there is always a bit of banter and great camaraderie and another advert of what iCycle can offer. There is no better way to improve than a weekly session of spin.
The club rides continued interspersed with racing and some sportive style events throughout the spring and early summer. One highlight was the Wiggle No Excuses sportive in March. The weather was filthy, the route shortened but with a huge iCycle turnout, we splashed our way around the course, with most, if not all, achieving their goals and setting some good times.
Then came the annual voting for the iCycle committee. I had seen, throughout my first 6months with the club, how much some members put in to make the club what it is and I felt I should try to do the same. With time being limited by racing, family and work, leading rides or training sessions would be few and far between, but with the Road Race Coordinator committee position vacant, I threw my hat in and was voted onto the committee. Hence, why you see me trying to cajole and harass some of you into racing - the best advice I can give to those thinking about racing is just get out there and try.
To say I have done a bit ofracing this year would be an understatement, as 2013 closed, I had 21 races under my belt, far more than I ever imagined I'd try in the first year. It also shows how being a member of a decent club with varied activities and membership can drive you on, as my targets kept getting revised as the year went by. Sadly, the first win escaped me, but a brace of second places and a move up to 3rd Cat was some consolation. I also survived my first proper crash, taking avoiding action and ending up in the hedge at MK Bowl, but thankfully missing the hidden post and getting away with only a few cuts and bruises.
With so many good memories throughout the year its hard to pick one that stood out. ICycle certainly spurred me on and I ended up, much to my workmates surprise and my families annoyance, taking the bike to Houston and Turkey. The terrain did differ somewhat but the searing heat was similar! However, the one event that stood out head and shoulders above the rest was Ride London 100. My first century, the experience of being part of the first Ride London, sprinting up The Mall with crowds cheering on each side and, of course, doing it all with iCycle friends is an experience that can't be matched.
My first year of cycling and iCycle was topped off at the Christmas Party where I was awarded Male Competitor of the Year and hopefully this is only the beginning. Now the new year is upon us, what will 2014 bring? The targets will be extended, challenges accepted and many club runs had, but I know one thing for sure, I'll do it with iCycle!
iCycle Christmas Party and Awards - December 2012
Footnote: My wife says don't bother...your family will never see you, the washing of kit is endless and a bike in the hall is a complete pain in the ass. Go to the pub instead, people are friendly there too!