My home has a rich history of cycling culture. There are cycle clubs still going here, nigh on a hundred years old. My Dad used to tell me tales from the 1950s of cycle tours and time trails, almost everyone would have had a locally built, custom bike. Roads would have been almost traffic free. I think of it as a golden age of cycling.
I live in The Pennines, the backbone of England. Here we have hills and rain. We have old derelict mills and some remaining cobbled streets (cycling on them is not so much fun).
I started cycling about two years ago for commuting and fell in love with my bicycle. It didn’t take long for me to realize the hills that I had dreaded were not so bad after all (tho quite how I managed on my Sturmy Archer 3 speed as a child remains a bit of a mystery), However, there’s not much to be done about the rain.
I wanted to be out riding all the time and reading over cycling blogs from all over the world, I hoped to find a cycling community of like minded pedal pushers, getting together for evening saunters & picnics. I soon realized that these lovely cycling communities tend to be based in cities. The great city of Manchester is about twenty five miles south of where I live and it has a vibrant cycling culture with all kinds of things going on most evenings (bike festivals with treasure hunts, bike polo, brunches, roller racing and of course rides), but it’s just a bit too far and public transport with a bike is not an option.
Out of the city, many cycling groups are the kind that do 70 miles on a carbon forked roadie before breakfast and I think I understand why. To get on your bicycle and get anywhere, you’re going to have to tackle hills, lots of them, many of them very steep and long. There is no way around it. I wonder if that mental hurdle that hills bring to people mean that the majority of those who do hop on their bikes are the competitive kind that love the challenge it brings. I do see other cyclists taking it easy and getting up the hills at a relaxed sweat-free pace, but they are always riding alone and there’s not very many us.
I was lucky to stumble upon a website a few months ago of people who cycled at a relaxed pace, on and off road doing usually 20-40 mile rides with lots of cafe stops. To be honest, my first ride out with them was a bit of a revelation with a huge learning curve. I had always pushed up those hills with the mentality that it was going to be hard and I just had to keep pushing. These experienced cyclists made their way slowly up hill, for some reason it had never occurred to me to ride that slowly before. Brilliant!
I love the rides out with the group and am always grateful for joining in. I end up riding in places I probably wouldn’t have the confidence to go for on my own. I might not be a hardcore roadie, but I can ride the same hills. I might not be a black-grade-mountain-biker, but I certainly do plenty of exciting off-roading and get as muddy as you can get. When riding with a group, a lot of the mental hurdles you can experience riding on your own seem to vanish. You can achieve more than you expect from yourself.
I have still yet to convince any of my own friends to join me on a ride. The Rough Stuff Fellowship members are dispersed across Lancashire, Yorkshire and Manchester, so I still end up riding solo most of the time. My plan for the summer is to have a bicycle picnic in the park with my best friends. It’s my secret plan to get them all to catch the cycling bug!