Posts Tagged ‘Salt Ayre Cog Set’

Longer Days

April 22, 2013

Setting sun

The seasons matter to cycling. And cycling makes the seasons matter.

In the north-west of England we’ve finally emerged from the harshest Winter. The days are growing longer and warmer. The deep cold has gone and life is returning to the land.

Struck by a cold, I was off the bike for a week but, with my strength coming back, each of the past few days I’ve ridden out of town for a short, gentle ride towards the end of day. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening, enjoying the quiet lanes and lengthening shadows as the sun falls over Morecambe Bay.

Long shadow

Last night I left the house at 7:30 to do a little loop into the Forest of Bowland and up to Jubilee Tower. Lambs bounced round the fields, hares sprinted off at my approach, and birds busily prepared themselves for the coming night. Occasionally a farmer’s tractor or quad-bike trundled somewhere in the distance, but the lanes were empty of cars. I love the feeling of having all this countryside, all this space, virtually to myself; I sink into it, become blurred, am content.

Forest of Bowland

I hurtled back down to the quiet Sunday night city, passing the Town Hall clock as it chimed a-quarter-to-nine, some light left still in the sky. For the next two months each evening will grow a little longer, and hopefully warmer too. Isn’t this the very best time to be on a bike, the longest days and best weather still ahead? Our bodies turn with our pedals towards the optimism Spring surely brings.

Winter’s cold and dark tempts the closing of curtains and indoor retreat. Spring seduces us back to the world outside. The scope for cycling becomes so much greater. The traditional pro-cycling calendar reflects this – we’ve had the early season Classics and can now anticipate the Summer’s Grand Tours. Locally too Winter’s dormancy has retreated and the cycle racing season begun, the weeks now crowded with events.

Winter cycling is great, but includes a certain amount of ‘getting through’. Winter cycling matters, but there always lurks an orientation to brighter, better days ahead. Many people cycle only once it gets warmer, but surely no one cycles just in Winter.

We know how seasonal cycling is, how warm weather triggers the inclination to cycle. The bike shops get busy, new people on new or refurbished bikes are out and about. Of course we need to create conditions which compel people to cycle all year round, but in the absence of bolder, broader institutional support for ordinary cycling it’s understandable that most people’s interest in riding changes with the weather.

We’re ‘a cycling family’, but cycling is seasonal for us too. On Saturday morning I went with Bobby and Flo to our brilliant local children’s cycling club, Salt Ayre Cog Set, where weekly sessions have resumed. Both complained bitterly at being made to go; I was ‘the baddie’ breaking their winter hibernations in which lazy stasis inspired by staring at screens has taken centre-stage. But the sunshine, sociability, fresh air and exercise boosted their energies, and they came away bubbling with enthusiasm, as though participating had sprung Spring within their little souls.

Springtime cycling is a mechanism for lifting our spirits and horizons, taking us to other, farther, more interesting places.

Of course for those of us who ride year round Spring feels good partly because of the Winter that came before, as well as the Summer that lies ahead. Contrasts are everything: even the places through which we most regularly ride change dramatically; and as the temperatures rise and the days lengthen cycling becomes less shackled by some Winter essentials: lights, layers, gloves and hats; things can gradually be discarded. There’s a ‘freeing-up’ both of cycling and our selves.

My little ride last night wasn’t cold, but we’ve yet to experience a truly warm evening this year. At long last, though, it’s feeling possible; the dreamy, delicious prospect of the after-dinner short-sleeve and shorts ride through warm and windless air has moved one step closer.

Springtime evening sunshine

Bobby’s thoughts on cycling

November 4, 2011

My ten year old son, Bobby, is making a presentation to his school assembly this morning, about his favourite hobby – cycling.

Here’s what he’s planning to say:

Hi

My name is Bobby, and bike racing is my hobby.

I learned to ride a bike when I was three years old. Since then I’ve had five bikes, the last two have been racing bikes. That means that they are light, have drop handlebars and thin tyres, to help you go faster.

I go to Salt Ayre Cog Set, my local bike club, on Saturday mornings. There I do training. [show jersey]

On Tuesday nights in the summer I do crits, which is a short kind of bike race. I do 5 miles. In crit racing you don’t get medals for an individual race, you get points for coming 1st 2nd or 3rd  in each race. At the end of the season, which is 8 to 12 races, the points are added up. I came first in the Lancaster crits this year, and got my medal from Bradley Wiggins, who won two golds at the last Olympics. In Britain, for my age group, I am 28th. [show medals]

On Thursday I do Time Trials which is where you go round a track trying to beat your best time, I do 6 miles and 2 miles. My record for 2 miles is 6 minutes and 41 seconds, and for 6 miles its 19 minutes and 37 seconds, which is the same as 18.4 miles per hour.

I also go cycle-touring, which is where you go around different countries cycling from place to place. I’ve done it in France, the Netherlands and Belgium. I like it ’cause you get to camp out each night and you get to go to loads of different places where cars can’t go.

I think cycling is a brilliant sport; you should try it too!

Youth cycle racing

July 29, 2011

Bob Muir has circulated a set of photos he took at our local cycle track, Salt Ayre, on Tuesday evening. With his permission, I’m putting two of them here. Bradley Wiggins presented the prizes, straight after the final Youth League racing of the year.

This season of youth racing has been made possible through the sterling efforts of people from various local cycling clubs working together as Salt Ayre Cycling Association, with sponsorship from Vanilla Bikes and Leisure Lakes Bikes.

Thank you and well done to all – helpers and riders alike – who have contributed to such a fantastic series of events. There were some very chuffed kids on Tuesday night, and quite right too. But racing at this (indeed any) level is not about winning. (There are some important debates to be had about that, and a requirement to examine the very meaning of ‘winning’, but this is neither the time nor place … ;-))

Suffice to say, all children are welcome at Salt Ayre (half-way between Lancaster and Morecambe), and all are given wonderful encouragement and affirmation, by other kids as well as adults. There’s helpful advice and support aplenty should it be wanted, but not if it’s not. So, assuming and hoping the Youth League runs again next year, it’s well worth giving it a go. Maybe see you there?

Last night my son shook hands with Bradley Wiggins …

June 22, 2011

and how chuffed he was! (My son; I can’t speak for Bradley ….)

Bobby congratulated Bradley on his splendid recent victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race. And Bradley signed Bobby’s Salt Ayre Cog Set racing top, having first sensibly checked that he did really want his autograph scrawled across it.

Bobby was understandably nervous to meet face-to-face, and actually get to speak to, someone he has previously only seen thundering round Manchester’s velodrome, as well as on many more occasions on TV, winning Olympic gold medals, breaking world records, riding time trials, and sometimes clearly suffering alongside the world’s other top riders in the high mountains which are the crowning glory – the pinnacle – of our sport.

So it was good it was Sue, with her much cooler and more sociable personality, rather than I who accompanied Bobby to the track last night. I’d have been useless, but Sue can strike up a conversation with anyone, and usually does. So she chatted easily to Bradley and Ben, and ensured Bobby met a cycling champion.

Bobby has been riding the VanillaBikes.com Tuesday night crits at Salt Ayre, our local cycling track. Last night, Bradley’s son Ben rode in the same youth race as Bobby, whilst his wife Cath rode in the senior’s event. Bradley was there to support his family. How great is that? Fresh from winning a major stage race, and just before heading back to France for the really big one, a cycling star comes down to your local bike track, and mixes with club riders at the sport’s grass-roots.

Very good luck on the Tour Bradley – like people everywhere, many of us in Lancaster are wishing you and the rest of Team Sky well, and will be shouting you on, next month.

Family time trialling

May 23, 2011

The Thursday evening time trial at Salt Ayre is becoming a regular activity for our household this year.We went again last week.

It’s a wonderful occasion – people gradually arrive and assemble on the grass close to the starting line. For those who plan to ride, there’s the pleasant anticipation of giving your all, and perhaps even (on a windless night) beating your own personal best (PB). But this is a sociable place too – it gives us a chance to natter with old friends, as well as gently to intermingle, and gradually perhaps to develop ease and familiarity with a whole new set of friendly faces. (We’re always – with varying degrees of comfort – easing ourselves into and out of identities – and how lovely it is to see young people, especially, developing bike-based identities.) It really is a most agreeable scene.

A lot goes on to make these events happen, of course. They depend on a dedicated band of wonderful volunteers from Salt Ayre Cog Set and Lancaster Cycling Club, who must arrive early to set everything up and await the riders’ arrival.

Some people set up and staff the desk where riders sign in, pay for their ride (£2.50 for adults, £1 for children), and collect their number (all riders now have a small number which is pinned onto the top left shoulder of their jersey, so that it can easily be seen by the team of time-keepers who must keep track of the riders’ progress around the 0.8 mile circuit; riders in the 6 mile and 10 mile time trials also have a larger number, which is pinned onto the back of their jersey).

The time-keeping team establish themselves adjacent to the finish line. The area which they inhabit is cordoned off, to discourage interference. (But it’s great that the finish line is so close to the start line as it means that they nonetheless remain part of, rather than separate from, the happy scene.) The time-keepers’ task is a demanding one, requiring uninterrupted concentration. The team, led by the seemingly indefatigable and definitely indispensable Bob Muir, have honed their craft as these Thursday night events have grown increasingly popular, and their task therefore more complicated.

The pattern which has become established is this – the first riders to race are those doing two miles (two and a half laps); they are followed by those doing six miles (seven and a half laps); and then finally, riders completing a ten-mile time trial (twelve and a half laps). On Thursday there were 60 riders in total. They leave at one minute intervals, so there are always many riders on the track at any time. The time-keepers cannot snooze!

There are other helpers too. To one side is a refreshment table for tea, coffee, squash and biscuits. Some people organise this. And there is always a ‘starter’ – someone to hold you upright on your bike, enabling you to clip fully in before beginning your ride, and ensuring you start at the right time. All starters have their own style, and all riders their own ways of interacting with them. Some starters hold only onto your seat tube; others steady the front as well as the rear of your bike. Some start to rock you gently back and forth as your start time approaches; others hold you steady as a rock until it’s time for you to burst free. Your departure is sometimes accompanied by ‘good luck’, or ‘have a good ride’.

I’m not sure I should admit how I love the fleeting intimacy of this relationship – between you as the rider about to explode off the line and the person tasked with holding you there, keeping you safe and facilitating a smooth transition from stillness into flow.

No doubt we all differ in this, but I am happiest when I feel able to place my left hand on the starter’s right shoulder. By this the already intimate relationship between us becomes unambiguously physical. As a rider I feel that I am thus more obviously seeking support. And I like to think that the bond between us, however it may or may not develop into the future, becomes just that little bit stronger. Besides, I’m a wobbly bike rider at the best of times!

Relationships matter, in cycling as in life. For all its apparent individualism, time-trialling is no different. It would not exist without close and abiding relationships of solidarity and loyalty between specific people. So I’ll say it now in case I forget to say it later – I thank and salute all those who work so hard, week in, week out, to make these (and similar) events happen. They have become a central part of my own family’s life, and they are a central part of the cycling culture which many people are working in many ways to establish and broaden in this part of the world.

The first riders to go are the two-milers. Here’s Flo, who set off at 7:04 (number 4), during her race. Flo is 7. Those riding the two-mile time trial tend to be younger children. Riding smaller bikes, with smaller gears, and using little legs, two miles is enough. Most important is that they’re participating, developing a sense of the capabilities of their bodies, and having fun. During her first few time trials, Flo would ride past us with a look of absolute joy on her face. When we asked her about this, she told us that having people cheering her on made her break out in an involuntary smile. I’m not sure whether or not I’m pleased that she’s since learned to control herself, and take the whole thing more seriously! Last week she was a little disappointed with her time. After getting a PB of 8 minutes and 52 seconds in windy conditions the previous week, she was 18 seconds slower.

One of the many fantastic things about these events is how they’ve become really inclusive. Time trialling might have traditionally been seen as rather an isolated endeavour – one person (most commonly a man) alone on the road, riding against the watch. There’s nothing wrong in this, but Thursday nights feel quite different – many families participate, some with three generations.

Because the event takes place on a purpose-built cycle track, young children who are not allowed to race on the roads can participate. And – thanks in large part to the superb efforts of Salt Ayre Cog Set in introducing children across our district to the thrills of cycling – many are doing so, along with their friends, siblings, parents, grand-parents and other relatives.

Bobby, who’s 9, has this year graduated to the six-mile time trial. In the photo above he’s alongside Ffion, who is in his class at school, before their rides. Salt Ayre Thursday time trials also seem to be becoming a family affair in Ffion’s house. Ffion has been riding six miles whilst her Dad, Andrew, rides the ten. This week Ffion’s brother Rhys, who’s 6, had his first go – and looked like he was having a wild time as he rode 2 miles in an excellent 9 minutes and 21 seconds. Meanwhile Mum, Sandra, had a go at a time trial for the very first time, completing ten miles in a highly respectable 32 minutes and 21 seconds.

Here’s another way in which these events are reaching out and embracing people who might otherwise never have found the pleasures of competitive cycling. They are creating a family friendly atmosphere and a safe, welcoming environment, in which ‘entering into the spirit’ and ‘having a go’ is really all that matters. And because of this, new people are coming to cycling, and breathing fresh life into cycling, including people who perhaps wouldn’t be seen dead in a skin-suit and who might hate the idea of banging up and down a distant dual-carriageway early on a Sunday morning.

Bobby set off at 7:21, and had a great ride, recording 21 minutes and 2 seconds for the six miles, beating his previous personal best by 21 seconds. I’ve been very impressed by how naturally he’s stepped up to the longer distance, so that already he seems to treat racing over six miles rather than two as entirely normal. Here he is having finished, looking suitably pleased with himself.

Sue was our next household member to go, setting off for ten miles at 7:44. I don’t want to hark on about the achievements of our particular family; as I’ve said already, for many of those taking part this event has become a distinctly family affair, and everyone, younger and older, slower and faster, achieves something real and important, and has lots of interesting stories to tell.

But that said, the stories I know best are those closest to me, so what I will say about Sue is how she didn’t ride a time trial until she was past forty, how she barely trains (we go out for occasional rides together, and also as a family, but she doesn’t put in the long hours in the saddle which I am wont to do), how as a child and indeed for most of her life she’d never have considered herself as ‘sporty’ or ‘athletic’. And yet, having easy access to events such as this helps to make her so, both ‘athletic’ and ‘sporty’. In providing an inclusive and safe space a short ride from our home, where anyone can give cycle sport a go, the Salt Ayre Thursday evening time trials are democratising activity, health, fitness, and cycling.

I’m not saying there are no ‘barriers to entry’. To say so would be for anyone naive, but for a sociologist inexcusable. Clearly, all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons will feel uncomfortable in hopping onto a bike and trying to ride it as fast as they’re able around a track, as part of an organised event. But there is very clear evidence from the people who are participating that the Thursday evening time trials are succeeding in significantly lowering those barriers which once existed, and thus enabling a greater range of people to jump over them, onto a bike.

I hope I don’t sound patronising. My point is that occasions such as these should not only be celebrated, but actively supported and encouraged. What value should we – whether as individuals, as families, as communities, or as a society – put on a regular time and place in which different members of a family can come together and take part in the ‘same’ event? An event in which everyone can have a go? The reasons people ride, how they ride, their experiences of riding, and what they’re getting out of riding will probably all be different. But these differences don’t eclipse the undoubted fact that such riding is similarly good for us. In a healthy society such events would be at the centre of every community.

Sue managed a very creditable 31 minutes and 16 seconds, 58 seconds slower than her personal best. (I’m not sure she agrees with me, but I think she should aim to crack ‘evens’, which is to ride 10 miles in under 30 minutes, at an average speed of above 20 mph, this year. On the next calm night I’ve no doubt she’ll either do so, or come very close.)

Over an hour after Flo, I was last of our family to set off. I finished in a time of 25 minutes and 56 seconds. Fastest 10 miler of the night was John Ingham, in 22 minutes and 31 seconds.

I’ll write in more detail about my own experiences of riding time trials at Salt Ayre some other time. The key point for now is that Thursday night cycling at Salt Ayre, and thus potentially everywhere, has become an important and healthy local occasion, and exactly the kind of thing which should be more widely promoted.

Manchester velodrome

November 15, 2010

One of the reasons I so love cycling is because of the particular set of relationships which exists between the legendary and the plebeian, the heroic and the everyday, the spectacular and the mundane, the extraordinary and the ordinary. As many others have noted, this set of relationships is one of the reasons why the Tour de France, indeed all cycle sport, is so very special – in an extraordinary spectacle the heroes and legends come to you; they ride past your house, through your town, through your ‘neck-of-the-woods’, on your roads …

But also, anyone can, and you yourself do, engage in essentially the same practice, in essentially the same spaces, as those giants – or Gods – of the road.

Last year I rode to the Velo-city cycling conference in Brussels and along the way, with my academic colleague and cycling companion Pete Cox I rode sections of the Tour of Flanders, including the cobbled climb of the Koppenberg. Such a ride is a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage in which you not only revere but also emulate – in however modest and humble a way – the legends of your sport, some of whom are your heroes. On the Koppenberg I was on the wheel of Eddy Merckx.

Yesterday Bobby and I travelled to the home of British Cycling, Manchester velodrome. Not much more than an hour away, yet a journey into the extraordinary and spectacular world of heroes and legends, the trip of a lifetime. It was one of many such trips organised by Salt Ayre Cog Set, our brilliant local cycling club for children. But although we’d taken Bobby and Flo to watch racing there, it was the first time we’d been to the velodrome with Cog Set, and the first time either of us had ridden the track.

It happens so often in cycling, this transgression of the distinctions between heroes and mortals. For me, what happened last year on the Koppenberg happened yesterday on Manchester’s velodrome. I was challenging my spectatorship, and becoming a participant, and I don’t at all mind admitting – now that it’s over and finished well – that I was more than a bit scared …

Ten years before, I’d spent one of the most intense and thrilling hours of my life witnessing – or I like to think participating in – Chris Boardman setting a new hour record. In the last competitive ride of an outstanding career, Boardman beat Merckx’s mark by ‘a mere’ ten metres. I screamed myself hoarse as I watched one hero struggle so intensely to eclipse another … and as I watched Boardman, who is about the same age as me, circle that track with such resolve, focus, pain and ultimately desperation never had the human search for meaning seemed so tangible.

And suddenly, here we were, about to ride those boards ourselves. A place so close to home, and so central to my sport, yet belonging to heroes and legends, not really to my son and I. But in the next two hours we would make it ours too. So anxious had I been at the prospect, I had barely been able to imagine actually doing it. In my head there was such an enormous gulf between the abilities of Merckx, Moser, Boardman, Hoy and Pendleton to ride those boards and my own diametrically opposed inability, that I couldn’t begin to imagine actually making them my own, coming to feel at home on them …

But as with the Koppenberg and the road in general, so with the track – both I and my nine-year old son could indeed ride in the wheeltracks of legends …

And so – for me at least – a dream came true …

Our coaches John and Colin were superb. Our beginner’s group started by getting a feel for riding fixed wheel by circling the flat dark blue concrete at the bottom of the track. It’d been 25 years since I’d last ridden fixed, but my body seemed almost immediately to remember the direct feel which it gives you for the bike. And like the other youngsters trying it for the first time, Bobby took to it just fine. I think kids are more used to facing and dealing with fear, of taking it in their stride …

From the dark blue we moved onto the sky blue of the Cote d’Azur and then onto the track itself – first to the black line, then onto the red line, the blue line, and beyond … And where I’d anticipated fear I found mainly exhilaration. The first time into the bend – directly experiencing sensations I’d only seen and barely imagined – was so thrilling it brought a lump to my throat.

I had plenty of power and a lifetime of dreams to see me up that banking, riding high, almost disbelieving that it so quickly felt if not exactly ‘natural’, then at least entirely plausible. But how did Bobby get up there so quickly? I’m not sure what he had – perhaps that wonderful childish faith that everything is possible? If I hadn’t been so wrapped up in the intensities of my own experiences, I’d have been absolutely astonished to see him, like me, riding high …

 

Our two-hour session was over all too soon. Marks out of 10 from Bobby? 10. Marks out of 10 from me? 10. I think we’ll be going back, not only to watch, but also once more to ride.

What a day! Thanks to Salt Ayre Cog Set, and especially Carmen Jackson and Paul Andrews, for making it happen. And thanks to Manchester Velodrome, and especially John and Colin for such expert coaching.

Islabikes

February 1, 2010

One of the things I really love about having a home in a specific cultural world (in my case, cycling) is how it seemingly opens up the whole world, and often brings it right to your doorstep. By being open to cycling, by opening out to cycling, you actually gain a gateway into a massive range of understandings, experiences, personalities. Cycling is a tremendous connection between people at any time, but significant enthusiasm for and commitment to cycling tends to make you the best of friends before you’ve even met.

So I feel very privileged and quite proud – as well as very happy for my children – that from time to time we have quite esteemed (at least in our cycling world) visitors come to stay. And a week or two ago it felt especially delightful to play host to Isla Rowntree, because although we’d never met, Bobby and Flo have been very happily riding Isla’s bikes (Islabikes) since they started moving on two wheels. As they’ve grown older, they’ve progressed through the Islabikes’ range. Starting from the scooter-bike Rothan, Flo – age six – is now riding a Beinn 20, whilst Bobby – age eight – has moved up to the Luath 24. I absolutely agree with Isla when she says, on the Company’s website, “We believe we have built the best bikes available for children whilst recognising that a growing family is expensive and they must be affordable”.

Bobby was so proud to get his latest bike, a proper drop-handlebar racing bike. Although of course it’s not only for racing,  we did have some wonderful times racing together last summer – Bobby riding a two mile time trial around Salt Ayre cycle track, whilst I rode the 10 mile version (and on one occasion we even managed to persuade Sue out, to ride her first ever time trial – she did the six mile option). Isla can vividly recall getting her own first bike, and it really feels to me that her Company’s ethos embodies the profound love for a bike which children can have. I don’t think I’m overstating the case to call tragic the situation whereby many parents in today’s UK presumably did not experience the thrill of a Christmas or Birthday bike, and the intense liberation which a bike can give, so that there’s little hope of them seeking empathetically to communicate that magical experience down to their own children. We may have almost lost an important (if historically recent) ritual – indeed, rite of passage – of childhood, and I think we should be very, very angry about that – it’s symptomatic and symbolic of a closing-down of the world, a world which – as I said at the start – gets opened up by bike.

Bobby and Flo have been gradually moving up through the Islabikes range, but they’ve probably ridden more miles on Isla’s trailer-bikes. As well as lots of riding around town and local country, we’ve done a couple of big cycle-camping holidays in the Netherlands using these, and their performance has been just superb. There’s no comparison between Islabikes’ trailer-bikes, which pivot over the rear axle of the adult bike, and cheaper trailer-bikes which attach to the adult bike at the seat post. But Bobby has finally outgrown the trailer-bike, so – as with all the other bikes we’ve had from Isla – it’ll soon move on to another home and another child in Lancaster, helping to open up yet another little person’s world. And this year Bobby will graduate to independent cycle-touring. We’re currently busy researching the various options – if you have any recommendations for ideal cycle-touring country for a nine year old, please do let me know!

Isla was in Lancaster as the guest speaker at Salt Ayre Cog Set’s AGM. Paul Andrews from Cog Set had invited her, and because he knew that Sue had done some (obviously favourable!) reviews of Isla’s bikes for the cycling press, and because we live very close to the train station and Isla needed to leave Lancaster at 5 o’clock the next morning in order to get to work, Paul asked if we’d be happy to put her up for the night. “Of course, it would be an absolute privilege!” We already had my workmates Tim and Al, and Al’s son Johnny, staying, which made for a very sociable evening. After giving a by-all-reports excellent presentation to the Cog Set audience, back at our house Isla continued to field our many questions with immense patience and very good grace.

But you know what, if I’m completely honest, I enjoyed the most? Sitting in my lounge around midnight, talking with Isla and Tim about our shared love for cycling, and privately and indulgently dwelling in the thought, ‘there are three people all with Brummie accents talking passionately about cycling in my Lancaster living room! How ace is that?!’

Salt Ayre Cog Set use Isla’s bikes. Islabikes have played a very important role in this thriving Club’s success. Bobby and Flo are learning a (hopefully sustainable) love for cycling much earlier in life than I did, mainly because they’ve got parents who love cycling, but significantly because Isla makes bikes which they can not only ride, but also ride well, and so thrive on. And because good reputations spread, and word as well as the actual bikes gets around, Islabikes is playing an important part in the cultural revival of cycling in Lancaster. There are many interesting issues – well worth exploring – around the contemporary cycle industry. What is undoubtedly the case however, is that we need companies such as Islabikes making good quality bikes for children if not only those children, but cycling in general, is to thrive.

Thank you, Isla, from all of us.

Salt Ayre Cog Set

October 28, 2009

Last week the local cycle campaign with which I’m involved, Dynamo, held its Annual General Meeting. Every year for as long as I’ve been involved in Dynamo, which is around a decade now, we’ve invited someone to speak at the AGM. There’s been a lot of variety in our speakers, but when I suggested Paul Andrews as this year’s speaker, I was a bit worried that some campaigners might see him as a slightly odd choice. Here’s a photo of this very lovely and generous man competing, in Lune RCC’s colours, during this year’s 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross race …

Paul Andrews on the 3 Peaks

I needn’t have worried, of course. People love hearing a good story, and especially a success story, from an inspiring and charismatic speaker – and Paul provided all of that. On Thursday night, his eldest daughter, Ella Sadler-Andrews, was competing in the National Senior Track Championships at Manchester velodrome, so Paul’s mind might well have been elsewhere. But if it was you couldn’t tell, as he told us the splendid story of Salt Ayre Cog Set, our district’s cycling club for children.

In a few short years, due very largely to Paul’s efforts, Salt Ayre Cog Set has become one of our district’s biggest cycling success stories. It attracts an ever growing number of children to cycling, and – probably more importantly – it has mechanisms in place to keep them cycling. The most important of those mechanisms is a fantastic team of highly committed people who – no doubt inspired by Paul’s own enthusiasm – collectively generate a really warm, supportive, inclusive and friendly club spirit. But other mechanisms include regular Saturday morning cycling sessions at our superb Salt Ayre cycle track from March through to October, and an annual programme of events tailored to appeal to kids – trips to ride at Manchester velodrome, mountain biking weekends, roller racing, cyclo-cross, family bike rides, and a range of other social events …

From a personal perspective, it’s just brilliant to have a local club where my kids can go, and be encouraged and supported, to cycle. It’s the kind of resource which serves only to entrench my affections for this part of the world, which from a cycling point-of-view is already so special.

From a local perspective, Salt Ayre Cog Set is breathing new life into local cycling. My own club, Lancaster CC, is now holding around half of its weekly club time trials on the Salt Ayre track, and Cog Set riders are taking part, many beginning at the starter distances of 2 miles and 6 miles, from which they can, if they wish, move up to 10 miles. It’s just wonderful to see the children intermingling with the old hands, and to see the age profile of local racing cycling be so suddenly and radically lowered.

And from a wider perspective, Cog Set is of course part of a much broader push, still gathering momentum, to get kids onto bikes. This push includes national organisations such as Sustrans and CTC. But it everywhere depends on dedicated volunteers at the local level, putting in time and energy on the ground, to get more kids cycling more often, and more safely.

Dynamo‘s AGM wasn’t so well supported as I’d like. There are a few stories there for other days … But the people who did come along were I think hugely impressed by what’s been achieved at Salt Ayre Cog Set, and inspired at the appetite for cycling it’s so successfully cultivating in local kids, an appetite which we hope they’ll keep throughout their long and healthy lives …

So why was I worried that cycle campaigners might find Paul a slightly odd choice of speaker? Well, to be honest I’m still sometimes a bit surprised by how ‘in their own silos’ some cycling enthusiasts can be. There are some who, if they get so much as a sniff that someone’s cycling might be to do with ‘racing’, ‘competition’ and ‘sport’, say that ‘it’s not the right kind of cycling’, ‘not the kind of thing we need to be promoting’. (Other people who claim to love cycling meanwhile find reasons to slag off mountain biking, or Critical Mass, or track riding, or time trialling, or people who ride too fast, or too slow, or kids on BMXs, or people who use a battery to help them cycle … you get my drift … the worlds of cycling are many and varied, and not equally, unequivocally loved …  I guess that, although I much prefer to view cycling worlds through rose-tinted spectacles, it’s actually the case that people who cycle are as prone to judgementalism as anybody else).

So thanks Paul, and thanks to everyone else involved in, or taking advantage of, Salt Ayre Cog Set. You are a really, really great addition to our cycling world. Every town should have one! And for myself, well the main Cog Set season might have drawn to a close, but I’m already looking forward to riding time trials – both with my family and with friends old and new – on Salt Ayre cycle track come next Spring.