Cycle Together

Origins of the UK Cycling Club

Friendship, camaraderie and community are some of the most common reasons that people tell us they love to cycle. That sense of community often comes through joining a cycling club. After all, they are ready made communities of people with a shared interest! 

Cycling clubs are the foundation of cycling in the UK and are nothing new. In fact they’ve been around since the late 1800s. So we wanted to take a little look into the history books and see how cycling clubs began in the UK and how far we’ve come.

Where is all began

The early days of cycling clubs were the preserve of the upper echelons of society. Bikes were expensive and you needed to have time to be able to ride them. As bikes became mass-produced in the 1900s, they were suddenly more affordable and more readily available to all. More clubs were formed and they began organising rides and excursions at the weekends. 

For many of the working class, the bike was an escape to the countryside from the dirt and grime of the inner city. These weekly club rides from the big cities became popular. One of the most famous was from central London to the village of Ripley in Surrey (a 50 mile round trip). Many clubs didn’t race at all. They existed purely for these weekend rides to the countryside and an annual bike tour.

A decline and a resurgence

By the 1960s sadly, the social side of cycling clubs was in decline. The arrival of more affordable cars, urban migration and clubs putting their priorities into competition took the focus away from cycling clubs. 

Over the last decade, however, the UK has had a cycling boom. Membership of British Cycling has apparently doubled since Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 and the number of cyclists in the UK has increased again since the pandemic, with over 7.5 million reportedly now riding bikes.

Who is the oldest cycling club in the UK?

With more people taking to two wheels than ever before, new cycling clubs are popping up all over the UK. But which club has the title of being the oldest cycling club in the UK? There’s a bit of a battle here, as many clubs like to try to lay claim to this honour. 

Pickwick Bicycle Club in Hackney Downs was established in 1870 and claims to be the oldest cycling club in the world. It’s certainly one of the most eccentric! This Dickensian themed club organises an annual Annual Garden Party as well as a cycle ride at Royal Hampton Court where members are encouraged to ride period bikes.

These days PBC seems to be mainly a social club, rather than an active cycling club, so perhaps the honour of oldest cycling club in the UK should go to Peterborough Cycling Club. According to its website, PCC was established in 1874 and is the oldest continuously active cycling club in the country. Proud of its history, the club today has an active membership and puts on regular club runs and social events.

One final contender, although no longer in existence, is Liverpool Athletic and Velocipede Club. It was formed in 1869 following the import of Pickering and Davis bicycles from New York. Two members promptly strapped bags to their bike, and rode over two hundred miles to London in just four days, bike packing trailblazers we’re sure you’ll agree! 

Developing from Bicycle Touring

Cycling UK, the UK’s cycling charity, traces its humble beginnings back to 1878, when it was known as the Bicycle Touring Club. Not a cycling club in the modern sense, however it plays an important part in the UK’s cycling history. It’s roots stem from creating member guides and handbooks to help promote independent travel by bicycle. They have also long advocated for cyclists’ rights and played an important role in the development of the latest changes to the Highway Code.

The earliest clubs were in fact much more like the Bicycle Touring Club. Cycle touring was popularised at the height of the Victorian wellbeing movement and clubs sprang up all over the UK. From these humble beginnings, cycling clubs have developed into a myriad different types for everyone, from BMX and MTB riders to road racers and Sunday club riders.

The Clubs of the Future

Cycling club culture and traditions have come a long way since the days of bicycle touring. Where once the clubhouse was the focal point for meeting before and after rides, these days clubs pick public meeting points, often focused around the need for caffeine, and they organise themselves online. There’s also a big community element around social media. As with most areas in life, technology is the way of the future and cycling clubs young and old are really embracing it! 

One thing that still remains core to all clubs, and something we don’t think will ever change, is the community element. Given our nature as humans to want to belong and our need for socialisation and social interaction, there will always be a place for cycling clubs.

Are you considering joining a cycling club or maybe you haven’t found the club for you yet, check out our Cycling Club finder tool to find a cycling club local to you.

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