Allen Valley Velo

In the péloton, on the road with the Allen Valley Velo cycling club

I was young once, and cycling was my passion. But it was a solitary endeavour, on the back streets of Philadelphia, through the extensive park system, and on into the university. How I would have loved to have been able to join a club of like-minded cyclists, intent on eking every last bit of excitement out of the road ahead, commensurate with my current ability.

That, I think, is what Allen Valley Velo offers its members, who now number some 100 or so and think of themselves as the largest rural club in the country. What’s so intriguing is the avowed inclusivity of the club, which ranges from audax (apparently ‘audax’ is short for ‘audacious’ and the sport-within-a-sport is a non-competitive endurance effort by a group of cyclists to cycle long distances together within a pre-determined time level, up to 16 or 20 hours say, also similar to ‘sportive’ which sets a distance to be achieved in the best group time, hence emphasizes speed) .. . anyway, the club’s members range from audax and sportive enthusiasts, to regular racers, to competitive cyclo-cross to social, recreational cyclists, and even apparently includes members who don’t ride but just love the craic. And the strong female contingent means the group can be proud of its inclusivity commitment.

The group has its own kit — how lovely and committed is that! — and membership can be facilitated through the Allen Valley Velo facebook page, just to get involved, and then you formally join the British Cycling organisation for a fiver, as contacted via the club’s website. Other contact details are available too: there’s the contact form on their website, by phone on 07538 200 226, or by email allenvalleyvelo@hotmail.co.uk . I do like the feeling of belonging that the bespoke kit engenders (the colours of muted green, yellow and mauve feel like the Allen Valleys too), and Christian was full of praise for Peter McGlynn’s design efforts on this front.

From a photograph at the British Cycling Club’s membership page

I’d venture that the cycling adventure is not an inexpensive one (though it was in my day, I thought, as I really used my £300 bike and £10 fingerless palm-padded gloves, with the wind in my hair and no further expense, to avoid public transport costs, at the time). By the time you’ve acquired your bike, your kit and safety gear, you’re not going to be far off a significant investment ranging up to the thousands of pounds. Also, the club seems to be a road cycling effort, not BMX in either style or passion. I wasn’t sure the Velo group would accept electrical assistance either — from their website it seems to be a pretty passionate and puristic exercise group. I didn’t know when the group meets, or how they accommodate new members either.

To clarify some of these matters, I had a lovely chat with Christian Henderson, a founder member of the club, and it turns out that I wasn’t too far wrong on my expense estimates. In fact, if you want to get into cycling, enjoy the road and the companionship of like-minded cyclists, and just have a great time, you’ll need to spend about £1000 on your bike, and maybe another £300-500 on the kit (helmet £100 minimum, jersey £30-100, shoes £150, cycling gloves maybe £25. It will all add up, and if you become really keen and venture into the high end of the sport, you’ll need to sink £5000 into the bike just to keep up, along with the skin suit (£200) which is designed to cut down air resistance just like the bobsled racers, the specialised helmets (£200 minimum and you might need different ones for different activities), on top of the specialised jersey at £200 to go with the skin suit, and the shoes at £150. So the racing and high competitive side of the sport will keep you poor! But you don’t have to go that deeply into the sport, and maybe £1500 would be sufficient investment to get you well enough into the club’s activities. Any old second-hand bike and shabby safety helmet is not going to get you very far, is the point.

Anyway, the club’s activities are many and varied. I really wanted to learn about ‘audax’ or ‘sportive’ which are nearly the same sort of thing, and Christian confirms that although the sportive efforts are ranked in multiples of 100km (for example, a mass participation ‘sportive’ event is held in Newcastle called the Virgin Cyclone, and then there’s the more ‘ultra’ giant ‘sportive’ Paris-Brest-Paris which covers 1600km), the idea is to keep the group together, cycling in a chain gang with leaders piercing through the air at the front, setting the pace, and then cutting out to rest, relatively, in the airstream behind as migrating birds do in their own formation. Sounds like a great sporting effort to me.

And then there’s ‘cyclo-cross’, which is using racing road bikes on mountain trails — these individually competitive efforts are typically 1hr long, and are a mainstay of the club’s competitions. After all, Allen Valley Velo boasts a woman who is in the top two or three cyclo-cross competitors in the country in her age group. But beginners are definitely encouraged, from the very beginning of their sojourn with the club, to get out on their bike and explore the potential for excitement and group participation, both on and off road.

To my surprise, Christian felt that electrical assistance was now accommodated within the recreational ethos of the club, though verboten on competitive rides, of course. And cyclo-cross isn’t BMX (which the club doesn’t participate in formally, though some members enjoy it), but as an adventuring sport it certainly has its moments. So Christian answered all my questions, and also clarified how best to get in touch, as noted above, but he also suggested that if you can find the cyclists congregating together for their regular rides after Easter on Tuesday and Thursday on the lighter early evenings, or for their ad hoc rides which are typically held on Sunday, that could be a good time to chat about how to participate too. The challenge is finding them, and you can best meet that challenge by joining their closed facebook group with a simple request to the administrators.

It may have been cheaper in my youth, but not nearly as much fun, I’d venture, as cycling with friends who are eager to encourage. A little spin-off from the group calls itself ‘Cycling Sisters’ and this all-female sub-club encourages women riders without indulging in the macho pyrotechnics that the men may pursue.

There can’t be a much better place to join a cycling club than in the Allen Valleys, after all, when you come to think of it!

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