The Scottish Cycling annual awards celebrate the clubs, coaches, volunteers, and riders making the biggest impact in cycling over the previous year. Members of the Scottish Cycling community are invited to submit nominations; before a series specialist panels decide on who that year’s worthy winners are. Announcements are made at a glitzy gala dinner, this year held at Crieff Hydro, where the dress code is formal, the drinks are flowing, and the vibe is buzzing.
The Club of the Year category provides an opportunity to celebrate a team of people making a difference to cycling in their local communities and beyond. But what does a club have to do to win this award? We asked Sheila Scott from Elgin Cycling club to let us know the secrets to their success.
It’s not so many years since our club was pretty standard. A few dozen members, mainly fast, serious cyclists; a little bit of racing and a few race events going on. I tried to join about 15 years ago and realised quickly that the club wasn’t for me; it seemed to be for fast, thin, serious racing types, and on my first ride, I sent my unwilling ‘minder’ back to the pack and went home.
It was during lockdown that I realised things had changed. There was a new committee, with a few fresh new faces. Some people who did not like the new approach did move on, but look at us now; a six-fold increase in members participating in rides, a vibrancy and excitement amongst club members, increased number and diversity of events, regular rides for new and ‘touring pace’ riders, increasingly faster riders, including up to national racing standard, gravel rides, fun rides, segment challenges, and so on.
We welcome Breeze riders to the club, with many joining as they increase their cycling experience and confidence with Breeze, helping us to achieve a fully inclusive and representative 50:50 gender split. Breeze riders help us out too; this year about half of our volunteer ‘task forces’ for club races and events were from Breeze.
Our advice to other clubs who wish to achieve similar success is:
- Welcome non-club members to join your Facebook group. Most of our Facebook group are unknown to us, but every now and then a new member joins and tells us they have been waiting and watching and trying to pluck up the courage to come along to a weeknight event in summer or a Sunday ride.
- Keep your Facebook group active. In addition to information about upcoming events, and results from races, etc, we encourage everyone to share their photos and stories from their rides. For example, we encouraged all our ladies (could do it for the lads too) to ‘blow their own trumpets’ with a wee paragraph and a photo detailing how they surpassed their own expectations or were proud of what they did on the bike, in planning a ride or event, or anything cycling related. The stories were diverse, surprising, moving, inspirational and brave, and drew us all together as we got to know each other better.
- Build an inclusive club structure. All sports and social clubs want and need new members, and they only attract them when new members are welcomed. In cycling this means welcoming those at the beginning of their journey; the new cyclists or the less competitive cyclists who are happier at a more leisurely pace. Our touring group is very popular and self-supporting; as riders improve and move up the speed groups on a Sunday, more ‘newbies’ or Breeze riders join and swell the ranks at the club’s most relaxed level. The tourers are a very important part of our club, and without them, half the fun and the banter, and the race events, wouldn’t happen.
- Have a sizable committee. We have around 200 club members and 19 on our committee. Not everyone makes it to every meeting, but that’s ok, they can join in the committee chat on the messenger group to catch up and help out. Having a larger committee means we have a diverse range of skills and a larger number of people able to support our club’s activities.
- Embrace diverse events and look for new excitements. Whilst traditional racing formats test the best competitive riders, this can be adapted to encourage novices to get a taste of competition. In addition, our club supports a variety of regular ‘fun’ challenges, including Strava segments, fancy dress rides, 100km and 100-mile rides.
- Support the physical and mental health of the club and your community. Through the ‘blow your own trumpet’ stories we realised cycling was increasing opportunities for socialising and supporting better mental health. We heard stories of overcoming depression, addiction and difficult life situations and we better understand the power of cycling to change lives, and the part we can play to support this. We now run ‘Bike and Blether’ rides where the focus is on chat and socialising, and through Breeze and Rock Up and Ride we are working on a project to help people experiencing challenges such as social deprivation, addiction and mental health problems, to access and have fun on bikes.
- Promotion, promotion, promotion. We foster good relationships with our local paper, the Northern Scot, and send stories and images to them as often as we can. Around 90% get printed, providing a great boost to the club’s spirits, as well as building positive relations and understanding of our sport within the county. In the past, the club had a ‘results’ column in the paper, which was of great interest to the racers, but fostered that ‘elite level’ club vibe. We are now more interested in human stories and including images of people participating in cycling alongside the photos of race winners.
- Embrace recreational cycling via Breeze and Guided Rides. When a few of us decided to become Breeze Champions and help new people into cycling, we hadn’t really thought about the benefits to the club, we just decided to do what we felt would be helpful for women in the area. We now have over 200 women on our Elgin Breeze Facebook group, around 60 of whom attend rides, alongside a steady stream of new and returning cyclists joining us.
We have always said that we run Breeze ‘alongside, but separate from the club’ as all but one of us local Breeze Champions is also a club member, and the Breeze ladies are aware of this, and always asking us about the club, and when they will be ready to join, etc. We are aware we now have a cohort of regulars who are ready to make the step up to joining club rides, potentially leaving Breeze behind. However, they like the easy pace and the chat, and the café stops on Breeze rides. So, we make sure we regularly cater for absolute newbies, and it’s heartening to see so many women progressing to the point they are now ready to join the club. To date, we estimate that 33% of those who have come through Breeze are now club members – and they make up almost 20% of the women in the club!
Thank you, Sheila, for sharing the secrets to your club’s success, and to everyone involved at Elgin Cycling Club, for making it the success that it is.
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For any enquiries relating to Breeze or Guided Rides, please email [email protected]