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Cycling in the UK: What Keeps Us Going?

Now, on any given Sunday you can find groups of men out there in the early hours of Sunday mornings, soon after sunrise, riding the 'lanes' where we escape the curse of the motorcar.

PacelineNow, on any given Sunday you can find groups of men out there in the early hours of Sunday mornings, soon after sunrise, riding the 'lanes' where we escape the curse of the motorcar.

Talk to any cyclist and they'll tell you there's no better feeling than being out in the weather enjoying the air, 'shooting the breeze' and escaping from the everyday 'hum drum'.

My idea of heaven is closed roads until midday every Sunday to keep people out of their cars and off the roads, unless on a bike.

From time-to-time a change is needed, and some new impetus to maintain the momentum and up the morale is called for.

One of the constant motivators when riding a bike is the thought of teaching someone else all there is to know about riding. What that means is not necessarily the physical aspects of staying upright or which leg to put over the top tube first or how to pedal, more on that later, but the 'art of cycling'. Enter the "new guy"...

"So you've got a new bike and you want to ride it, come and join us then.

"We're out Sunday morning and ride for between three and five hours depending on what's been planned or we are building up to."

A quizzical look appears on the "new guy's" face and the mental arithmetics are in full flow. Wondering if they know what they've let themselves in for when they nod yes... Then the distance and expected average speed are communicated. The first look of horror appears, followed by the usual "I'll be OK". Right then, we're on.

Sunday morning 7:30: ready for the off, new recruit at the ready.

First a little lesson in dress sense. It's 4˚C and you're wearing mitts and a thin long sleeved shirt, tracksuit-jogging bottoms will make up the complete wardrobe.

Dress for the day clearly went over the head and the thought of holidays in Spain took priority, hence the lack of effective attire. Mario Chippolni

Now correct me if I'm wrong but I'm sure the wind chill factor is going to negate any effect of warming up when we get going, guess we're going to use the 'school of hard knocks' method today.

As the last man turns up we hit the road. A sense of guilt and at the same time macabre pleasure comes over us all. No punches are pulled, to do so would be to belittle the experience. As we all remember our first time I'm not going to be the one who suffers most today.

Trying to put into words the experience of riding in a group is difficult, and after a few minutes of riding together it becomes clear that my efforts have failed to sink in or indeed have been ignored as overblown hype.

A glance back confirms this; the 'new guy' is now way back down the road. Slowing down to allow him catch up, a quick chat confirms that this is warm up pace and soon we'll get up to speed. The best way to keep up is to stay close to the rear wheel of your leading rider, explaining the aero benefits of drafting. A confirming nod indicates the message is understood, either that or a look of anguish.

The rest of the group, sensing peril, has slowed to allow us to come together as one once more. Away we go.

Several kilometres later a quick glance around to check status shows us all together. The banter is now full on and the best part of the day out is underway.

Unfortunately the new boy is a bit shy and not participating, this is not embarrassment, as it turned out, but the early stages of hypothermia resulting in a frozen expression, for a moment we thought it was the company we kept.

It's the moment of truth from here to the end. Everyone is eating and drinking and making merry now. It's safe to assume that when one does this, everyone does, but the new boy is not picking up on this.

When we said bring plenty to eat, he thought that meant a 'rice crispie' square and a bottle of water! Bless him, he did not know what plenty meant with regards to cycling.

Everyone digs deep and comes up with a bit extra and hands over to 'new boy'. Suitably nourished but now laden down we press on. The worry is that he'll be handicapped by this extra weight but that’s not what will cause his downfall.

It's the last 10K now and the pace is on. This will be the telling of the man and the making of a rider. Either that or the 'crash and burn' takes place. Being dropped

As the road rises ever so slightly the hurt begins. It's every man for himself now and all the lessons have ended. If you did your revision you'll know to hang on in there in the middle and maybe make it halfway, then do your own thing for the rest of the way.

The 'new boy' forgot his revision and with about 3K to go is still in there. Faster, faster now, last one to the coffee shop buys the round. Bang, the man with the hammer gets him in the end. After catching our collective breaths and beaming great smiles all round the 'new boy' rolls in about two minutes down.

The initiation complete and nodding glances all round the question goes out. "All right mate?" A big grin appears and the question is completed non-verbally.

His has been a baptism of fire but the initiate has passed the test, confirmed by the response from the group. "You up for next week?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world" he says.


SamAuthor: Sam Spencer
Sam has been a keen cyclist since he learned how to walk. Starting with BMX at a young age, he then participated in many areas of competitive cycling. A regular commuter, Sam has worked as a cycling instructor and coach for an outdoor education program.

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