I recently went on a ride with a friend whose cycling ability far exceeds mine. He’s called Henry and he’s a racing club cyclist. He often rides up to 100 miles at a time on the weekend, he’s raced in time trials, cycled at events in France, and is currently planning a bike tour of Europe. I invited him for a bike ride with me - despite the gulf between our abilities - because I thought it’d be a good way to catch up.
We cycled 10 miles across London and stopped midway to have a coffee and croissant. We went on a quieter route so we could cycle side-by-side and chat. We laughed when I blamed my bike - which is a lot heavier than his Brompton - for being the reason I couldn’t get up the hill (it definitely was). And we successfully navigated around the busy London traffic.
As a beginner, I obviously experienced many benefits of our ride, too. When my bike started squeaking (which would usually send me into a mild panic), he told me it was nothing to worry about. I didn’t have to work out the route we were going on because he knew the roads better than me, and I could quiz him while we were riding about the dos and don’ts of city cycling (“Are we actually allowed to cycle in bus lanes?” “Yep”).
Surprisingly, there wasn’t one point where I noticed how much more experienced he was than me. This was probably also largely down to the fact he didn’t bring along his super speedy road bike or come dressed head-to-toe in lycra (phew!), but also because he could appreciate the joy of a casual ride on the weekend away from time trials and speed and any challenge of the sort. It was a mutually-enjoyable ride. I say that with confidence, because I asked him.
“It was great to potter around London on our bikes, I really enjoyed our ride,” he told me (when I pressed him). “Contrary to the mega-mile club rides I do on my road bike, relaxed cafe trips like this are a great social event without the need to don the Lycra.”
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Our bike ride was a social event - it was an outing in itself, not just a means to get from A to B.
Since I started cycling, I’ve been consciously using my bike more to get me places - to meet my friends at brunch, to my friends for dinner in the evening and I have (once) attempted to cycle to work. But on that Sunday morning, the ride itself was the main event. It wasn’t about reaching the destination, but enjoying the ride for everything it was in its simplicity: a way for two friends to catch up who have a shared interest of cycling. And coffee.
After the ride, I felt so content. It motivated me to want to get out more with friends on my bike - and I know I’m not alone in this. Thomas Curran, an assistant professor in sport psychology at the University of Bath researches the motivation and emotion of sport psychology. He tells me cycling stands out among many other sports to be one that reaps the social benefits.
“There’s a number of different things people are willing to get off the sofa for and cycling seems to have captured a lot of people’s attention, a lot of people seem to be enthused by it,” he said. “One of the key reasons is that it offers an opportunity for people to share in an activity in a non-threatening way. You can have different skill levels and [if you’re in a cycling club] you can sit where you want from the fittest to plodding along at the back on a Saturday. There is always a range of ability in cycling and it’s in a safe space.”
For the first time, I pondered the idea of a cycling club (I’m still pondering, if you were wondering). I know for a fact friends for life are born from these cycling clubs and I’m intrigued to find out more about them. So help me out: Are you in a cycling club? Do you run one? What do you love about it? I’d love to hear from you - email me firstname.lastname@example.org.