Meet our groups: Gay Outdoor Club
When and why was the group formed?
The Gay Outdoor Club (GOC) started in 1974 when a couple of friends living in London placed an advert in the newspaper to see if there were any like-minded people who shared a passion for the outdoors. There are now more than 1,500 members and the club’s scope and activities have widened, partly depending on the interests of the membership.
The club is registered as a charitable company and operates on a not-for-profit basis, with the objective of providing facilities in the interests of recreation or other leisure time occupation of individuals who have need of such facilities, especially but not exclusively, gay men and women, with the aim of improving their conditions of life.
The club is now organised as a collection of groups covering geographical regions in the same way as Cycling UK, as well as groups covering specialist activities, one of which is cycling, which has around 200 members. Members belong to geographical groups depending on their location and interests, and possibly a specialist group as well for anything other than walking.
We welcome all, no matter what their sexuality and gender identity.
What challenges, if any, have you overcome to maintain the group’s success?
The biggest challenge we face as a national group, is geography. There are some cyclists in most geographical groups, but assembling a quorum for a group ride anywhere is difficult to organise on a regular basis. There must be more LBGTQ+ cyclists out there – please get in touch!
As a consequence, we currently focus on a small number of larger events, for which the travelling is worthwhile. Chief among these is the Annual Outdoor Gathering, held each summer in a different location, often on a university campus. This sees around 200 GOC members gathered for a whole weekend of walks, rides and socialising. There are cycle rides on each day.
What are you most proud of as a group?
Organisations such as ours play a valuable part in maintaining the physical and mental health of a still marginalised group, some of whom do have greater mental and physical health challenges than most people.
Most of our cycling members belong to other cycling groups, some of which will be Cycling UK groups. Although our members have never reported any prejudice while riding with other groups, it can sometimes be difficult to feel totally relaxed joining an overwhelmingly ‘straight’ group.
It is unfortunate that some of our members feel the need to hide their sexuality and dodge questions about partners, children and grandchildren. We provide a space that overcomes this. There is an overlap of the passion for cycling and ‘who we are’ which makes for convivial and relaxed rides.
How do you continue to attract diverse people to your group?
We face the same challenge that many other groups seem to face – our membership gets older. We have a national outreach programme targeted at those who are sexually diverse and interested in outdoor activities, but we have been less successful in contacting those who cycle anyway and happen not to be ‘straight’.
When and where do most of your rides take place?
Other than the annual gathering, UK riding is organised on a less regular basis and is likely to include a mix of day rides and occasional multi-day expeditions. The regional group structure provides a good framework for day rides, which are most active at the moment in the Pennines, Somerset and London.
In recent years we have cycled Coast to Coast across northern England, from Newcastle upon Tyne to John o’Groats (in stages, over more than one year) and the Hebridean Way.
The year’s biggest cycling event is the annual trip to Mallorca, which sees more than 20 of us in the sun, on an island that actively welcomes cyclists. There’s riding every day for a range of abilities, and maybe the beach afterwards too.
What type of rides do you offer?
We aim to cater for everyone who is capable of riding a bike and wishes to do so in a supportive group. The ease with which that can be done depends on the size of the group on any day. With a big group in Mallorca, there will be everything from social rides of 50km to hard-core rides of 150km+.
But a more typical day ride is 100km or less, at a steady pace with coffee, lunch and tea breaks, and cake if available. Whether a ride is flat or not depends on whether it is in East Anglia or Scotland.
Some members have e-cycles, which adds another dimension. The emphasis is on conviviality, not cycling prowess on Strava.
What are some favourite routes?
As a national club, it’s difficult to pick a ‘favourite’ route. Riders in each region will have their own, perhaps determined by the quality of the cakes and coffee. We are always open to a suggestion of a new café.
Of the rides we do regularly as a group, various routes in Mallorca are clear favourites, returned to every year. The Ma-10 road through the Serra de Tramuntana in the north of Mallorca has to rate as one Europe’s great rides not involving epic hill climbs – a huge variety of scenery from forest to bare limestone rock-scapes, and frequent glimpses of blue Mediterranean far below.
There are a number of access points, making sections of it readily accessible from our usual base near Palma.
Do you offer any other types of event or social activities?
Although the cycling group of GOC is about cycling, GOC is a ‘full-function’ club. Most regional groups have at least one organised social event a year, and there may be less formal events too.
GOC is a space to meet and what happens in that space depends on what people want to do. Most walking and cycling events involve a tea shop at some point. There is also the Annual Outdoor Gathering, providing a social setting over a weekend to meet members from around the UK, with bar and disco/ceilidh.
Tell us a bit more about your members and volunteers
We welcome members covering the full spectrum of gender and sexuality, and although gay men are still in the majority, we have around 100 members who identify as women. These days we tend to be ‘older’ and sometimes fitter too, but the club was founded by young men and all adults are welcome.
We are a ‘self-organised’ group, like many Cycling UK groups, and are reliant on members to take a little responsibility in coordinating things so that they happen.
And why should people want to join your group?
We provide a national group operating on a regional basis catering for the LGBTQ+ leisure rider. Speed and statistics are not where we are! We have some straight friends, too.