It takes me 15 minutes, post-cornflake-breakfast, to ride to the meeting point and ready for the 9am start. It’s early May and Spring is starting to breakthrough the UK northern skies above me. I arrive at the meeting place and am greeted warmly by the small group already there. I am 14 years old and the youngest by a loooooooong way. I am smiling as wide as my handlebars. This is because my new Carlton Corsa bicycle has just returned from the bike shop following its upgrade to 10 gears. My parents bought me the brand new bike with 5 gears, and after weeks of whinging and justification from me, they relented and paid for the upgrade. This bike was undoubtedly the best thing that my parents ever bought me in terms of value and fun. Fact. Thanks. The 10 speed upgrade is essentially an extra chain ring, front derailleur and second shift lever. I now have 2 shift levers sitting either side of the down tube on my frame and the sight of them makes me feel fast! My bike is a small size in comparison to the others, because I am as well. It also has 26” or 650 size wheels, which are also an inch smaller than everyone else’s, but the upgraded gears put me ‘up there’ with everybody else.
I’m proudly wearing my club jersey, which is a goldy-yellow colour with three purple rings around the chest and its made of the silkiest polyester ever made, at the time. More people arrive and are greeted just as warmly. In addition to my new Carlton bike, there is a broad spectrum of bikes. There’s a couple of touring tandems with husband and wife combinations, road bikes which have been built by local bike shops and bearing the names of the makers on their shiny tubes like Ken Ellerker, Cliff Pratt, as well as famous names like Raleigh and hand built bikes from further afield with names like Holdsworth. There is also a racing trike and a home built fixed wheel bike. This last bike is not a track specific bike, just a normal road bike converted to a fixed gear. All proper club racing cyclists have a fixed wheel bike for training, and which is second only to his/her race bike.
At the junction of Endyke Lane and Beverly Road, 12 cyclists are ready to set off. This is the weekly Sunday ride out of the Hull & East Riding branch of the CTC. Dress code is smart, functional and made a bit more colourful (or bling) with my shiny goldy-yellow jersey. Regardless of the weather, these rides take place every Sunday and can include up to 20 riders. As I’m an aspiring racer, or ‘roadie’, I’ve got everything I need for the day and stuffed into the 3 large pockets in the back of my jersey. My bright yellow rain cape is rolled up and strapped to the underside of my Brooks saddle. It is a very yellow rain cape and its simple design means that it has a hole to put my head through and two string loops on the inside that I wrap around my fingers to stop the whole cape from flying up at the front and thus preventing forward, or any vision. In terms of aerodynamics, it isn’t. It has the same effect as a large sail on a boat. The idea and concept of the design is fine as long as the bike has mudguards fitted. Like me, a true racing roadie does not have mudguards, which means when I’m using the cape in the rain, the tyres fire water around the inside of the cape like I’m in a (cold) washing machine cycle. I should also have a spare inner tube, but I’d spent my pocket money on a 45RPM vinyl record by The Sweet called ‘Ballroom Blitz’, so I’ve ‘made do’ with a puncture repair kit, which has the patches in it, but not the glue, because I lost it somewhere. I’m hoping others are better prepared in the advent of a puncture.
We set off and are joined by 4 other riders about 6 miles into the ride. One of the riders is wearing a Hull Coureurs jersey. I’d not heard of this other local club before, so I ask a rider who is alongside me, where the Coureurs club is based. Before the rider answers, he frowns deeply and then tells me the story about the club. Apparently, in 1942 the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) was formed in order to promote road racing on the open roads. This caused furore amongst the traditionalists. Almost 10 years later, and in Hull, a group of ‘right minded rebels’ formed Hull Coureurs, a club which was affiliated to ‘The League’. This caused a big stir in the city’s cycling scene and many other clubs refused to speak to Coureurs club members, who were considered as renegades and traitors, and whose actions would kill off cycling.
Because Hull Coureurs were affiliated to the BLRC, they were promptly outlawed by the RTTC (Road Time Trials Council), the NCU (National Cyclists’ Union) and the RRA (Road Records Association), who were then the major governing bodies of cycle racing. The Coureurs rode bikes without mudguards and saddlebags, wore bright colours and they stuffed their back pockets with food, and initiated the use of bonk bags. Practises which were very much against the norm! After explaining this story, the rider tells me that the wearer of the Coureurs jersey only ever wears it on Sunday runs and just to wind up the older riders who were around at the time of the rebel club.
We’ll do between 60 & 80 miles on the ride and which is to a pre-planned, pre-agreed route that has been put together by some of the CTC ‘grown-ups’. I ride alongside a tandem with a married couple piloting it. The husband is at the front of the tandem and he’s talking to the rider on the fixed wheel or Fixie bike. It’s a low fixed gear as well, and the riders legs are spinning at ‘the speed of a small moped engine being thrashed by a 16 year old’. I ride behind Mr Fixie’, alongside the wife on the back of the tandem. She’s probably just old enough to be my Mum and is pedalling at a relaxed cadence in comparison to Mr Fixie in front of us. She talks to me like I’m an adult, doesn’t ask me about homework, girlfriends or ‘what I want to be when I grow up’. A music conversation starts when a flash, orange Ford Capri passes us really fast, its windows down and with very loud music filling the Country air. This triggers a barrage of jokes about ‘Mr Speedy’ in his Capri and everyone laughs.
Before I know it, we’ve done 25 miles and its time for a break. This break doesn’t take place at a cafe either. Everything needed is carried in panniers and saddle bags. We find a nice grassy area near a wood and someone goes off to a farm with a big folding bag to get some water for the ‘brew’. In preparation for his return, the kettle, cooking stove, mugs etc are all assembled from bags and readied for that ultra nutritional drink, a hot and sugary mug of tea. I’ve brought my own milk in a small bottle, which has been in one of my back pockets. The waterman returns and the brew is on! I’m always amazed by how much stuff CTC riders actually carry, and they’re still faster than I am! They’re just so well organised. A group of us is standing, clutching mugs of hot, sweet tea and discussing ‘the racing, three wheeled trike’. It’s a marvel of bicycle engineering, but I don’t understand why anyone would want one. Certainly not any able bodied rider. The owner can’t explain why either. He just said that it’s a change from two wheels. My mug of tea is complimented by a warm Kit Kat, that’s also been in one of my back pockets.
We all move on, post brew and with no sign of anyone ever being there apart from the PH rating of the soil has changed due to several urinary visits. I ride alongside a ‘retired’ (from work) rider and he gives me tips on how to tackle some of the different hills, which he knows and I don’t. On the approach to one hill, he verbally ‘kicks my arse’ for not thinking about changing gear in anticipation of the next part of the hill. He say’s as I’ve got 10 gears, I should ‘bloody-well think about using them properly!’ This is fine, because whilst his advice may seem brutal, he delivers it well and I’m not offended.
Lunch is another well organised stop in a church yard. I eat white sliced bread sandwiches, which contain a new food innovation called ‘Sandwich Spread’. We set off again after our second stop of the day and late in the afternoon, I get a puncture and shout out, as I was told, the word ‘PUNCTURE!’. One rider drops out of the group to help me, whilst the rest just keep going. We stop and he asks me where my spare inner tube is. I explain the pocket money decision and he laughs, pulls out ‘one’ of his spare inner tubes and hands it over. As he’s a full sized cyclist, his wheels are a larger diameter than mine, so I’m concerned about shoe-horning a bigger tube inside my tyre. He says that ‘it’ll be fine’ and not to fit the tube until I’ve inspected the inside of the tyre for whatever it was that gave me the puncture in the first place. He’s right of course. I find the offending thorn in my tyre and remove it. He also tells me to always watch where I cycle in the road to remain safe and avoid thorns.
We get back on the road and he paces me back to the group. On one hill, he pushes me up with one hand on my back faster than I could ever cycle up on my own. The final brew stop is well underway when we arrive back with the group and I’m greeted with several jokes about my puncture.
My tandem friend passes me a hot mug of tea and I pull out the small bottle of milk from my back pocket, and notice that the small bit of milk that I had left, had turned into a small, round piece of butter. Someone tells me to spread it on the underside of my saddle to help ‘break the leather in’ and someone else comes to the rescue with some milk.
Another hour later and we all say our goodbyes and ride off in the different directions to our respective homes. I cover the last 15 minutes ride with a feeling of both satisfaction and achievement. Although my new, leather Brooks saddle and my secondhand leather cycling shoes have tried their best to ‘wear me in’, as opposed to the other way round, I know that eventually, they’ll mould their shape to my shape in the future.
I finish the end of the day, post bath, with an evening meal, which included a desert of butterscotch Angel Delight with a chopped up Mars Bar in it. Homework checked and then some well earned listens (its on repeat) to my latest 45RPM Vinyl record by The Sweet.
Photos by Jodie Wallace-Hill