Straying from solo – Riding with the Rapha Cycling Club

It’s rather a cliche but I started to cycle regularly in my middle-age. Initially enjoying the quiet country lanes easily accessible from where I live in South East Cheshire, I distinctly remember looking up at Mow Cop (a local landmark topped by a castle folly and location of the infamous ‘Killer Mile’) and judging the climb to the top as unthinkable.

Of course, time moves on and you progress. You ride further and faster – acknowledging Mr LeMond’s truism that it ‘never gets easy’ – until Mow Cop becomes the warm-up for rides into the Peak District.

And I invested in ‘better’ equipment. Bikes (please notice the use of the plural) became lighter, more specialised and considerably more expensive. Finally, I reached the understanding that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to term myself a ‘cyclist’.

Bikes - riding with the Rapha Cycling Club

The next step was commuting to work. In addition to weekend rides, most mornings the alarm is set, clothes laid out the previous evening and bike lights charged. The challenge of winter rides with frozen fingers; drying sodden bib-shorts on the office radiator. The first springtime morning with the sun rising; a taste of warmer months to come.

But all of this activity was pursued alone or, occasionally, in the company of one good friend. We did notice cycle club members meeting at a local crossroads before setting out on their Sunday run but never for a moment considered joining them. Too fast, too elitist, too much…

Fast forward to 2015 and I received an email from Rapha with an invitation to apply to join their newly launched cycle club. Note that I had to ‘apply’. Not only was I expected to pay a not insignificant joining fee but I also had to submit an essay describing a favourite ride*. My mind conjured up a basement room at the Imperial Works headquarters with a rather bookish young intern installed at an office desk with a well-fingered thesaurus and a pile of applications that needed marking on their style, punctuation and ability to spell ‘derailleur’.

Banter - riding with the Rapha Cycling Club

As a Rapha convert – regularly visiting their Manchester cycle store – I was understandably intrigued and immediately sat down with pen and paper to compose my missive before waiting (I admit, ever so slightly anxiously) for a letter of acceptance whilst also pondering my reaction if their reply was a polite but firm, ‘No, thank you’.

To cut a long story short, my application to the Manchester chapter of the RCC was accepted, I paid my fee and bought my member’s only club jersey. All that remained was to ride.

My first club run was actually a ‘satellite’ ride; meeting at Nantwich before heading into the Welsh hills. As my fellow club members pulled up in their cars and began unloading bikes, I felt rather on the outside looking in. On the laughter, the casual jokes and banter. Like a first day at school with the ‘cool’ kids the sole centre of attention. Matching kit, deep section carbon wheels, legs cleanly shaved and glistening with embrocation. And I was nervous. Would they ride too fast, climb too strongly?

Bike chat - riding with the Rapha Cycling Club

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Joe, the Manchester RCC concierge, rode with me at the rear of the group and patiently talked through the do’s and dont’s of a club run. Everyone was welcoming as I mixed in with the group and when it came to the climbs, although not the fastest, I also didn’t feel I’d let myself down. And I’ll never forget the exhilaration as, after finishing in the hills, we sped back to our waiting cars. Two up, in matching club colours, through the quiet Cheshire lanes; a snaking line of pink, grey and black.

Since then, and I admit that I’m rather biased, it’s honestly been a revelation and I’ve enjoyed many varied challenges and bike based adventures with my fellow RCCMCR members.

But they’re other rides and other stories.

*I believe this requirement has now been dropped from the current RCC application process.

Photographs by Matt Randall (@mattrandallphotography).

Published on Headset Press, 10th May 2016

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