Why Falmouth Wheelers were feeling on top of the world during lockdown

Photo by Falmouth Wheelers
Dean from Falmouth Wheelers reached a peak during lockdown. Photo by Falmouth Wheelers
Without the regular rides and social activities of a normal summer, many of our groups have come up with some inventive and amazing ways of keeping up morale during this terrible time. Falmouth Wheelers, from Cornwall, have been more creative – and energetic – than most

When lockdown was first announced back in March, many of us probably thought that would mean a long summer of boredom stretching ahead with many of the activities we love cancelled for the foreseeable future. Luckily, however, it turned out that cycling was one of the few things not only saved but positively encouraged. Hurrah! Except that you were only meant to go out riding with members of your own household and for a limited amount of time, which meant cycling group rides were firmly off the agenda.

Person at the summit of Everest

But that didn't mean members of Cycling UK-affiliated group Falmouth Wheelers decided to stop connecting with each other and their local community, lie on their sofas watching Netflix and wait for the pandemic to be over before being together again. With a bit of imagination, they found ways not only to pass the time productively but also to raise money for local causes and have a great deal of fun and exercise at the same time, even reaching the top of Everest without ever leaving the house.

Challenging times

Chair of the group, Kath Key, says: "What have the Falmouth Wheelers been up to during lockdown? I think it's more a case of what we haven't been up to! We've had members stuck on cruise ships and NHS workers working long hours helping the community. The list is pretty endless and it's been great that we've all been able to get out and do a massive variety of riding, fundraising and personal challenges. Initially, as we weren't riding too far from our homes and we have a lot of hills on our doorstep, a hill challenge was devised. This was called the Myllorca Challenge, which is a play on the village of Mylor and the fact that members of the club should have been in Mallorca at the time. The route was put on Strava for anyone to achieve and a few took up the challenge."

Robin takes a KoM

Fellow Wheeler Robin takes up the story: "Almost a year looking forward to riding the Sa Calobra once more – and then lockdown! I don't think any of us fully understood the risks of continuing cycling but the utter disappointment at not going on our cycling holiday was enough to spur me to recreate the challenges of Mallorca but on our own doorstep. We certainly had the Spanish weather! Visitors to Cornwall will know of the hilly terrain and in Mylor, near Falmouth, we have endless challenging hills. Stringing eight of these together, I created a ride of 17.5 miles but with nearly 2,500 ft of ascent. I called it Myllorca 765 (metres) and created a Strava segment for the whole route – I currently hold the KoM for no other reason than it gets complicated towards the end with the use of a bridleway!"

Summit else

Kath continues: "Others created their own hill or distance challenges, riding lots of times around a small circuit near to where they live. Some members not initially keen to leave the house created challenges at home: first, there was the Stair Snowdon Challenge, which obviously wasn't challenging enough as next there was the Everest Climb Challenge, with a combination of stairs and step ladder (Ed: Don't try this at home!). There was also daily cross training, skipping, kettle bells and Pilates in the garden, along with plenty of running events and a lot of Zoom exercise classes of yoga, kettle bells and core.

"On the day the London marathon should have been held, one member, Ian, walked around a family-owned field for 26.2 miles. In doing so, he raised £1,757 for the local hospice. Just this weekend there was also a charity ride that took place instead of RideLondon 100. The 100 miles were cycled on much hillier terrain than RideLondon and those taking part were rewarded with a glorious cream tea in a friend's garden. Another member abstained from alcohol during July and also raised a considerable amount for charity.

Ian completes his marathon walk for charity

"Once we were allowed to travel further, we dug out our Audax routes and six members rode a Tour of Kernow 200km route on one of the hottest days of the year. Again, a challenging hilly route from Falmouth, down to the Lizard, up to Padstow and back to Falmouth. 

Zooming in

"At the start of lockdown, Amanda, a member who uses Zoom for her business, suggested that we have a weekly meeting to keep in touch. Zoom wasn't well-known to most of us at the time but we soon got the hang of it. We proceeded to have a 'Velovino' online meeting every Friday evening and this was a life saver, as I don't think most of us realised how much we relied on the social aspect of the club. Conversation was mostly non-Covid related, which was a refreshing relief from most of the conversations happening at that time. A popular subject for discussion was which local brewery had the best beer delivery service.

Back to the new normal?

"I for one was not enjoying my solo cycling and certainly missed the coffee shop banter. To date, we have been unable to hold our monthly meetings so to keep everybody up to speed, I published a monthly newsletter on the day that we would have held our meeting. However, now that restrictions have been relaxed, we are looking at holding an outdoor socially distanced meeting very soon. 

We are now able to meet in smaller groups and are enjoying the great weather that we have had and getting out to support our local cafes that are now opening up.

We have been keeping busy and focused and staying active, along with keeping ourselves and others safe

Kath Key, chair of Falmouth Wheelers

I know that I will have forgotten something that has taken place as we have been cycling here, there and everywhere. I do feel that we have made the most of lockdown in the past few months, raising funds for charities that would have missed out due to cancelled events. We have been keeping busy and focused and staying active, along with keeping ourselves and others safe. We are grateful that cycling was an allowed activity and can't wait until we can all meet up as a larger group and are able to take part in the events around the country again."

Kath is also thankful for the assistance the group receives from Cycling UK during the continuing emergency situation. She says: "I can add that Cycling UK was there with support and guidance on how to continue with the activity we love while staying within government guidelines. I would check the Cycling UK website on a regular basis to see what guidance had been issued, and announce the changes to members via our our own website.

What did the club members make of it all?

Kath says: "I received some amazing comments after setting up the weekly 'Velovino' sessions for our club during lockdown. They proved to be a great way for us to catch up with the usual ride banter and maintain the sociable side of being part of a club. I think it made some of us realise the importance of being part of a supportive group on a regular basis."

Falmouth Wheeler member Amanda says: "I would never have believed that sitting in front of a computer to connect with people I usually cycle with was going to be so beneficial for my mental health. It was great to see everyone again and so uplifting". Fellow rider Liz adds: "We enjoyed some of the best cycling ever, with very quiet roads and perfect weather in April and May. We knew how lucky we were to be in Cornwall and allowed to ride our bikes while so many other sports had been stopped. For a while we were cycling 100 miles a week. I hope all the visitors who endured lockdown in cities are enjoying their holidays at last in our lovely county."

Dean, who is pictured at the top of this article on the 'summit of Everest', agrees: "I would say that getting out on my bike has been as near to normality as it's been possible to be."

The lowdown on the Lockdown Inn

Meanwhile, Robin found a different way to stay active after going into voluntary self-isolation in mid-March so he could maintain support for his wife's mother, who is in her nineties: "We have a large garden crying out for attention so lockdown was an opportunity to make the best of the glorious weather; it was the perfect way to keep fit without getting out on a bike so much – and we rediscovered the satisfaction of growing our own food again. Somehow before lockdown, there never seemed to be enough time and now we had oodles of it. I removed an old Cornish hedge near the road from when the land was divided up differently and created a lot more space at the front. Spurred on by the continuing good weather we sowed grass seed and made a larger lawn, which in a few months evolved into the club's 'socially distanced pub garden'. 

"We have called this 'The Lockdown Inn' and were supplied weekly by a local brewery – but that's another story..."

What about members not online?

They were certainly not forgotten by the club. Richard, one of the older members, doesn't have access to a computer or even a smartphone so the kind members of Falmouth Wheelers got together to have one delivered to him. Unfortunately, technical difficulties meant that he was unable to use it. However, he would regularly get the bus or cycle to the library to get on the internet to read messages on the group's website or post musings of his own, thereby staying in touch. Members of the group also speak to him the 'old-fashioned way' on the phone to make sure he's OK and he knows he can contact them if needs be. 

Richard himself says: "Like many Wheelers, I have been in a variable state of lockdown: I started with not cycling at all from 23 March until venturing out alone on 21 April, since when I have done almost daily short rides of about 25 miles on local lanes avoiding traffic and holidaymakers.The weather has been unusually kind with not too many soakings. One thing I have noticed during this period is the high number of 'idiot' drivers, with a few worrying near misses avoiding drivers going too fast in narrow lanes! One thing during this period was seeing the rerun of the 2018 Tour de France, Geraint's Tour on ITV4, arguably the best Tour ever. Now, I'm looking forward to watching Le Tour this year on TV, followed by the Giro."

Maintaining a theme, Richard adds: "To keep spirits up, I have maintained a supply of Fullers London Pride or Newcastle Brown, plus the occasional Treen's Classic, a Cornish beer. Not a lot else to report really, although the usual bike maintenance, which included swapping wheels from the old Raleigh to the Holdsworth – the Royce hubs are so good in spite of being nearly 40 years old."

Nominate somebody for our Lockdown Love Awards 

As Kath says, many people don't realise the value of the social connections they make through their cycling clubs until they are put at risk, while many of them are also actively supportive of their local communities through fundraising and other good deeds. For example, Chris from Falmouth Wheelers used his bike to deliver prescriptions to the local community to patients who were not able to get out to collect them due to them being in isolation.

Bike with prescription.

Cycling UK thinks groups such as Falmouth Wheelers deserve a loud ring of our collective bicycle bells for all their fantastic group initiatives, generous support and unsung heroics in their area during lockdown. This is why we'll be celebrating their achievements at this year's Volunteer Celebration on Saturday 3 October with our Going the Extra Mile: Lockdown Love Awards. Let us know who you think deserves recognition – groups, individuals or others – for their acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, and we'll do the rest.