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Join a cycling club

22 June, 2011

After a bit of psyching up, Quentin Frayne entered the fray of veterans racing.

Bike racing? That’s for super-fit, super-fast young guns with thighs like sides of lamb, isn’t it? It’s riding in enormous packs at breakneck speed into those spectacularly dangerous bunch sprints we see on telly at Tour de France time. It’s victory salutes, high glamour and the odd drug scandal, right? Well … yes, there is a bit of that out there, but that’s pretty much the domain of the professional road cyclist. There’s also another world of road racing on offer, one better suited to we lesser mortals and, in particular, those of us who are … shall we say … more mature in years. Welcome to veteran’s racing.

I can vividly remember my first taste of racing. I was 40 and had been doing a little riding through commutes to uni as a mature-age student, a few weekend country jaunts with friends and the odd ‘epic’ like the Around the Bay in a Day.

One day I met an amiable, fit-looking, but decidedly greying fellow in a bike shop who mentioned that he raced his bike. “Wow, you must be pretty handy to be able to race!” was my comment. He assured me that vet’s racing offers grades for all abilities (veteran’s racing is open to women 30+ and men 35+), and suggested I come out the following Saturday to a criterium (short-circuit road race) for a no-obligation try-out with Eastern Veterans Cycling Club.

Once I’d decided to take the plunge, the preceding days were all nerves and doubts. The big day arrived and I headed out to the circuit, the little voice inside my head chiming away with “What are you doing, you fool? You can’t race a bike! You’ve never even so much as seen a road race! You’re going to get hammered!” The tension eased a little when I was warmly greeted by the chaps taking entries, who ‘graded’ me after a brief look at my skinny, hairy legs and declared, “Reckon we’ll put you in E grade and see how you go, eh.”

It was a bit of a novel format on this particular day, with the regular Graded Scratch Race to be held after a short Elimination Race, where the last few riders past the line each lap are eliminated until the bunch is reduced to just three, then two, then one: the winner.

We were called to the line and after a few words on keeping it safe, we were away. The sense of excitement and anticipation was incredible and my heart was racing before I’d even turned a pedal stroke. How fast do racers ride? How do I keep from being last? Where should I position myself in the pack? With each passing lap, the inevitable surge and rush of speed to the line was accompanied by a chorus of whizzing chains and whirring wheels, adding to the already highly charged atmosphere. The tension rose as each time around I managed to avoid the dreaded tail end. The numbers dwindled and to my amazement it finally came down to just me and one other rider – one-on-one, yikes, my first ever race and I’m battling it out for the gold medal! Line it up and give it your all … I’ve done it! I’ve won! What a buzz!

Regardless of where I’d come in that first race, I was hooked. The fellow I beat for the win was 72, over 30 years my senior. I did it all in the small chainring, simply because I didn’t have a clue how else it should be done. Our maximum speed was probably not much higher than Lance’s average over the entire 3500km of the Tour de France, but to me, and to everyone else competing that day, this was fast, thrilling, competitive – and infectious – bike racing. Best of all, it happened in a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere, where novices and old-hands, men and women, are welcomed, supported and encouraged. This perception is almost universal among newcomers, as is the addictive nature of strapping on a number and getting out there, irrespective of age, ability or gender.

I went on to learn the ins and outs of road racing in its many guises: fast, furious criteriums; long, challenging country road courses; handicaps; hillclimbs; and time trials. I even rose through the ranks to A grade and discovered just how fast old codgers can really go. What I uncovered that day set me on a course that has continued through nearly a decade and a half, not only of racing, but riding of every kind – touring, commuting, mountain biking and generally just loving being on a bike. It’s not a unique experience either. It’s an obsession that sometimes drives our other halves batty, but what better ticket can you get to enjoyment, health, fitness and vitality in your advancing years?

Search Cycling Australia to find a club near you.

Try Bicycling Victoria’s Finda for community rides, events and other groups to ride with.

Tip Warm up with dynamic stretches

This post was for day 23 of Ride On‘s June riding challenge.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 June, 2011 8:01 pm

    Great article and mirrors my experiences of vet’s (or masters) racing, except for the winning bit! I love it, even though after 1.5 years I’m still in E grade. Come on all you older cyclists, join a club and get a racing licence, you won’t regret it. Oh, and if you’re in the Inner West of Sydney, check out Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club (DHBC) as a welcoming racing & recreational club to start your racing journey with, be it on the road, crit track, in the dirt on your MTB or at the velodrome on a track bike. Check us out here >>

    • 24 June, 2011 6:00 pm

      Thanks for the contact Stuart. Glad you’re loving it. Anyone else in a welcoming club? Please let us know.

  2. Matthew permalink
    5 August, 2011 11:13 am

    I’ve been a lone worrior for 2 years, the only pack riding I’ve done is in one of the event rides around Sydney. I’m 36 and with 3 kids a wife and a life style which is a ‘ride when I can’ setup, I’ve not looked at clubs. I also ride for the enjoyment not the politics that comes along with clubs (been there too many times).

    Wouldn’t mind hearing some more on club riding though.

    • 5 August, 2011 12:56 pm

      Thanks Matthew, we think there are plenty more people in your situation too. In our October-November issue we’re doing a feature about the range of different types of riding groups people can ride with. That’s being written now and the issue will be out on the newsstands 1 October.

  3. 15 August, 2011 12:06 pm

    Yep Bike Clubs can be politics, clicks sometimes exclusions like any other organised group but there are also belnefits of riding with people. For a busy persons whether with family or business it is trully difficult to manage fixed time of bike group ride; it requires commitment and finding also the right group. I used to live in Melbourne and was participating in official BV rides. I found great friends and we started organising our own rides (4 of us) and I found that a much more flexible and managable. I live in Brisbane now and with the weather here I have developped pattern of daily 35km ride on mt Cootha early in the morning, There are lots of cyclist doing the same and after a while you start recognising people and saying hi to known faces, it is like a group ride on a flexible schedule. I do rides on weekends accross the border to NSW and occassionally I invite someone along. I found bike riding much more pleasent cardiovascular exercise then a gym and it take me the same time because I can add extra hour to the ride, which nornally would be consumed for driving, parking and walking to the gym. The other benefits of riding rather then gym bike riding and treadmill running is being in the fresh air and not being judged of evaluated or stressed by the competition for euquipment of being conscious of hogging this treadmill. Besides for social thing I prefer to visit my friends or meet them for a coffee but this is just me. I love climbing hills regardless whether on bike or foot. Happy biking everyone… tony

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