The following is an extract from an account of a ride by Harrow Clarion Cycle Club which appeared in a 1954 edition of the Daily Worker, it may well rekindle for some memories of what many, rightly consider, to have been a golden age for cycling.
National Clarion Cycling Club 1895 ~ an association of Clarion Cycling Clubs
‘Oil up!’, cried vice- captain Bert from the rear. ‘Easy!’ cried Captain Herbert from the front. And 20 cyclists two abreast in neat column safely negotiated a turn across the main road into a quite lane. Gabriel and I, uncertain performers, among the experts of the Harrow Section of the Clarion Cycling Club, were learning not for the first time since we had set out that there is a great deal more to an outing with a cycling club than just getting on a push bike and pedalling away. “Push-bike” in any case is hardly the word for the gleaming machines, many of them custom built, made to measure like a good suit and costing £30 or more.
There are the club rules and the jargon to learn too. The rules are simple; don’t cycle more than two abreast and don’t go ahead of the Captain without permission. The jargon you pick up more slowly “Easy” means slow down. “Oil up” is the cyclist’s contemptuous reference to the approach of a car from the rear. ‘Eyeballs out’ as you learn from experience is an all too accurate description of how it feels to toil up a one in eight gradient. ‘The bonk’, the most feared word in cycling, is the awful depression that grips you when nothing seems to go right. The wind is against you, its raining, you’re tired and you wonder how you ever came to think of cycling as a sport. This sad malady is treated with sympathy and cheerfulness until the victim recovers, as he usually does, when plied with hot tea and cakes at the next café.
By the time we bowled through the sunlit glades to the lunch stop we had discovered that our fellow cyclists were not just eccentric with a fancy for dressing in shorts and queer pullovers, but a group of very companionable individuals. Their ages ranged from 14 to a brisk and active 74-year-old. Age seemed to make little difference as long as you can cycle round the countryside in shorts, you’re young whatever your birth certificate says.
Most of our companions had taken up club cycling because it is cheap, helps you to make friends and combines the healthy exertion of a sport with the intelligent interest of a hobby. Cyclists we learned don’t just bowl about the country for the sake of boasting about their mileage later. Most of them find their greatest pleasure in enjoying the quiet countryside and getting to know the historic towns and villages of the land in which they live.
After lunch and a well-earned pint, we set off through the lanes and side roads to Chalfront St Giles. The village seemed to have been taken over by an army of cyclists who sported on its picturesque green and surged up and down its streets. In a café here, we witness the miracle of the disappearing bread. Plates piled high with bread and butter in thick doorstops were placed before us and disappeared almost before the plate had touch the tablecloth. Cycling gives you an outsize appetite as well as bulging calf muscles.
By the time we were on our way home to conclude an easy 40 mile run we’d almost forgotten that we’d ever been diffident beginners. We’d made a whole group of new friends and though we’d only touched the fringe of cycling activity, it was with a glow of satisfaction that we readily agreed riding with a Cycle Club was good thing most definitely to be repeated, on a fine day at any rate.
Interestingly whilst almost all early Cycling Clubs used to follow the ‘no over-taking the Captain’ rule, some of the very early Clarion Cycle Clubs also had a short-lived ‘one off, all off’ rule when it came to climbing hills This rule was clearly unpopular with the fast lads and lassies whose aim was to ‘bag’ as many hills as possible, in as quick a time as possible.
The thinking behind the rule was rooted in the Clarion’s commitment to fellowship, the novice or the slow rider knowing that his or her comrades would not want to dismount on the hill was likely to make that bit more of an effort than normal to stay onboard their machine in an attempt to conquer the gradient. The more experienced, fitter riders not wanting to hear an order to dismount from the Vice-Captain, would drop back to cajole and encourage their less able comrade to the top of the hill.
It was rumoured that whenever the gradient steepened a disproportionate number of ‘crack riders’ frequently suffered from bouts of deafness!