How we returned to group riding safely

Cyclists from Elgin Community Cycling Club give their first ride post-lockdown the thumbs up. Photo by Elgin CC
Founder-member of Elgin Community Cycling Club and ride leader Christopher Ince recently became Covid officer too. He tells us about the training he undertook for the role and how the club's first group ride after lockdown went.

The sheer joy of club cycling

I am sure that most, if not all of us, have missed the camaraderie and the sheer joy of club cycling over the past four months of lockdown. Many of my friends have been slogging away on Zwift and other online cycling apps; I guess this counts as cycling together in a virtual sense but going around Central Park, New York with other avatars is not for me.

Up here in north east Scotland, the winter weather has been wild and windy, with some of the best snow in the mountains for decades. Cycling is always a challenge at this time of year, but with Covid especially so. Whilst I enjoy solo cycling in all weathers, I missed leading groups out with Elgin Community Cycling Club, the Cycling UK-affiliated club I set up two years ago.

A great sense of relief

Several weeks ago, when we had a clearer picture of the Scottish Government roadmap out of lockdown, and group cycling of up to nine cyclists could recommence, I had a great sense of relief. My first priority was to make sure that the club was compliant with the government’s and SportScotland’s guidelines on returns to outdoor sport.

To this end, I completed the SportScotland Covid e-learning module, which is available via Cycling UK's volunteer platform Assemble,  and became Covid officer (also known as a Covid co-ordinator) for the group. The online course was straightforward with segmented assessments, much of it common sense but reinforcing protocols and what if scenarios.

Organising the ride

My first task was to ask my ride leaders who would be available, given that it was Easter weekend, rules governing meeting in gardens had eased and many would have family commitments. Three offered to lead a ride so I knew we could put on at least one route.

My next task was to see what response there would be for members to return to group cycling. My experience outside of cycling over the past year is that so many people have been affected by this virus. I knew of people isolated through various vulnerabilities but also the social isolation for some has had a real impact. I was sensitive to this in advertising the first ride on Facebook.

I didn’t want to put people off but had to spell out that there would be various protocols in place: face coverings, sanitising gel, distancing on and off the bikes, no sharing of drinks or snacks (I always shared Jelly Babies!), dealing with a first aid situation and how to proceed in the event of having Covid symptoms in a few days' time. A lot to take in and probably to put cyclists off going a first ride!

Signing up

However, in the event, we had 11 people sign up: as we could only ride as a group of nine, an experienced rider and ride leader went out separately. We had some new members on our Facebook page and three of them wished to come along as guest riders. This was brave of them for a whole host of reasons as novice cyclists: they probably had all the usual questions, such as, ‘What is it like to cycle in a group? 'Will I keep up?' 'Is my bike fit for purpose?' 'Will the  other cyclists be friendly?' 'What if I get a puncture?’ and so on. Two had decided it was time to get fit as a consequence of lockdown, while the other had cycled intermittently the previous year; all three were novice riders.

Smiles all round

Easter Saturday came and the whole group met punctually at 9am in the Moray Leisure Centre car park in Elgin. To my relief, I was greeted with smiles all round; I sensed that this is what we had all missed so much. With introductions, protocols and contact details completed (all riders have to sign on and give their contact details so they can be traced at a later date, just in case anyone later reports developing coronavirus symptoms), we explained the route and off we set. Ride leaders controlled the pace and accompanied the guest riders. Everyone was very good at maintaining social distancing during the ride and at the stops. 

A really pleasurable ride

We had decided to put on a ride of 12-14 flat miles on a combination of cycle paths and quiet country roads. But within the first mile, we had a puncture, the first on a club ride for over year! Embarrassingly, it happened to one of the ride leaders but ended up as a mixed blessing: there was no problem fixing it so I used it as a training point with tips, for example always carry a nappy pin to dig out thorns. 

A really pleasurable ride in the company of others sharing their love of cycling

Christopher Ince, Covid officer for Elgin Community Cycle Club

Fortunately, this was  the only mishap on what turned out to be a really pleasurable ride in the company of others sharing their love of cycling. Although we didn’t have a cafe to go to, the stop  by the sea in Lossiemouth in spring sunshine and sea breezes was pure balm.

A successful first outing

The return to Elgin was into a stiff wind, and with bikes spaced apart, I was concerned that the guest riders would find this a bit of a challenge but we dropped the pace and they coped well. All in all, it was a successful first outing in which the group ended up cycling twenty miles; the guest riders were really chuffed and wanted to know when the next ride was taking place.

On reflection, the easy route, pace  and distance, combined with the protocols put in place, was reassuring for all. If your club or group are a little reticent about getting out again, do make sure someone takes on the role of a Covid officer, completes the training course and can therefore encourage, reassure and help your members return to the joy of group cycling.

It is very satisfying when you receive comments after the ride like this from guest rider Elizabeth: "Thank you so much to everyone I met this morning on our cycle. Really enjoyed my first group cycle and everyone was so friendly and welcoming." 

Another guest rider, Lisa, said: "Thank you all so much for today, I had been extremely nervous and very nearly didn't come (so glad I did)... I really appreciated the time taken to explain the gears, raise my seat and pump up my tyres...see you in two weeks."

Become a Covid officer

Cycling UK has online training available to all our registered volunteers so they, too, can become Covid officers and return safely to group riding like Elgin CC. There is a Scotland-specific module as well as modules for England, Northern Ireland and Wales (there may be a small charge for the latter).