Like most good ideas, Ilkley Cycling Club started off on the back of a beer mat - now it is the fastest growing cycling club in the UK. Neil Hudson speaks to its founding members to find out what all the fuss is about.
It was an overcast Sunday in late March 2011 when a Leeds computer consultant decided to bite the bullet and set up something he and his mates had been talking about for years - a small cycling club.
He hired a room at The Yard pub, Ilkley and was hoping for a turnout of about 20. In the end, both he and the pub were overwhelmed.
“The room had space for about 40,” recalls 44-year-old father-of-three Paul O’Looney.
“We had about 80 turn up. The pub only had one person behind the bar. Can you imagine 80 people suddenly wanting a couple of pints?”
Paul’s idea, which he’d mulled over for years with pals in various drinking holes - pitstops between cycle rides - took off with a vengeance.
To date, Ilkley Cycling Club is one of the largest and fastest growing in the country, with over 1,100 members.
“We were very keen at the start to make this an all-inclusive club and to keep certain things in place, like the low membership fee, which is just £10. I realised early on it was far better to have a thousand members paying £10 than to have 40 members paying £55.
“We can do so much with that money and we do.”
He’s not wrong. Aside from the club’s packed social and events calendar, there’s a good deal of fundraising and an increasing amount of interaction with local schools.
One of those is Brooklands School in Skipton, a co-educational school for children with severe and complex learning needs. The club is supporting them by buying bicycles and providing tuition for the children.
In addition, the club supplies coaches to enable local schoolchildren to pass their cycling proficiency tests.
Eleven club youth members competed for their schools in the British Schools Cycling Association National & Yorkshire Regional Roller Racing Championship last weekend.
The club also takes in mountain biking, indoor spin classes, pilates, educational nights and social events and regularly visits the Manchester Cycling Centre to allow people to experience the velodrome and BMX track.
Paul said: “We’re very keen to keep the the club inclusive. When you are out riding, it doesn’t matter how much money you earn, or what you do or how old you are, we’re all equal. It’s a great example of what a club should be like, we were very keen this would not be a club for middle-aged men.”
Perhaps one of the best adverts for the club, however, is its chair, Katherine Church, who was made ‘Yorkshire club official of the year 2012’ by the British Cycling Go-Ride conference. An accomplished cyclist, she is one of the leading lights of the club’s youth coaching programme.
She said: “We do live in one of the most amazing places for cycling, we have some incredible landscapes.
“I think part of the success has been down to that and also people in this area are quite health-conscious. When I agreed to be chair I didn’t expect the club to be this big but I was down in London recently and they have already heard of us down there.”
The 41-year-old mother-of-two, who has had a varied career as a hospital doctor, florist, Childline councillor and now mature student, is keen to get more females involved in cycling.
“We are pushing to get more women and girls involved. We do a lot of work in schools to that end.”
The club’s can trace its history back to 1885 and they even have a picture from 1913.
It survived two world wars but membership waned after the 1950s.
Club secretary Jonathan Riley said: “We run all kinds of activities throughout the week for every kind of age group and level of ability.
“There is a great atmosphere in the club - the kids ride with the adults, no-one feels segregated.
“We try to make it fun, we will run cycling proficiency tests where children have to ride in and out of cones, limbo on a bicycle and take part in mini-races.
“A ride out to Bolton Abbey is not too hard to start, it’s about 15 miles. Most children can manage that. It’s not like running, so you cover longer distances in a shorter time. .
“We have about 400 women and 600 men. In terms of the age split, about a third of our members are youths.
“We’re all excited about the Tour de France, it’s fantastic. It is the largest sporting event in the world and it’s coming right here to Yorkshire, right on our doorsteps, in fact it will go past Ilkley twice.
“I think in terms of being of benefit to the area, it’s already paying dividends. Certainly, we are hearing word of mouth stories that a lot of B&Bs are already booked up in advance and that’s what it’s all about, it’s about investment in the area and the economic benefits it will bring.”
Father-of-two Mr Riley, 41, who works as a property solicitor, began to take an interest in cycling in his 20s. Over the years he’s cycled in the Alps and Pyrenees but he says it’s the Yorkshire slopes which prove the most challenging.
“The Alps and Pyrenees are very hilly but, unlike here, they tend to allow you to get into a rhythm, whereas the terrain in Yorkshire is so unpredictable you rarely get that. One of the best thing about cycling is being outdoors. You see all kinds of things, all kinds of wildlife and some beautiful scenery.
“Just last week I was cycling through Asquith and I spotted a sheep on a barn roof. I don’t know how it got up there but it seemed happy enough.
“If you’re interested in taking cycling up or returning to it, it’s relatively inexpensive. You just need a bicycle, which you can borrow, a helmet and a comfy pair of shorts.”
The club runs a number of ‘sport eves’, starting at the rugby club in Ilkley, with 50m and 120m courses planned into the Yorkshire Dales. The next big event is the White Rose Classic on July 7.
CYCLING CLUB FACTS
All Ilkley Cycling Club rides start from the Old Bridge in Ilkley. The Thursday night rides start at 7pm, the Sunday rides at 8.30am.
Rides are separated into different categories. ‘A’ rides are usually undertaken at a speed of 18mph and are about 30-70 miles long. ‘B’ rides are for intermediates and can be up to 23 miles long, taken at a speed of about 14mph, while ‘C’ rides are about 17 miles long at a leisurely 13mph. All involve pitstops at cafes and pubs along the way.
The White Rose Classic offers a choice of three routes: 110 miles, 84 miles and 50 miles, all cutting through the heart of the stunning Yorkshire Dales. It costs £30 to enter, including car parking, food and chip timer. This year 10 per cent of the profits raised will go to the Sue Ryder charity.
For more information, contact: www.ilkleycyclingclub.org.uk