We make plenty of kit for cycling clubs. From the well established to the brand new. In the first of a series of articles, Tom Owen of BBBC aka Big Boys Bicycle Club shares some reflections on running things…

“Four years ago I kind-of-accidentally founded a cycling club. I really just put a name on a thing that already existed and started sending emails to my friends, with wildly overdramatised ‘reports’ of our weekly Wednesday night laps.

The first time I just sent an email from my work account to the three guys who’d been there the previous Wednesday, as well as a handful of other people I knew who owned a bike. And sure enough, when Wednesday rolled around again, there were more people at the ride. It had grown. It was weird.

It kept happening too. More rides. More emails.

After a few months of this, we got some kit made. We had no idea what we were doing. We got it sourced from a company that made promotional items.

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That sort of thing.

It might surprise you to learn that the cycling kit they made for us wasn’t very good. The jersey was alright and the cap had a certain wonky charm, but the bib shorts live on in infamy in the minds of those misfortunate enough to have ever pulled them on.

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The kit – 2014/2016 

When he got sick of me accidentally leaving people off the recipients list, my cofounder took charge of the emails and upgraded us to Mailchimp. At the time it seemed like overkill to manage a ‘mailing list’ of 12 people with a dedicated platform, but looking back it was one of the smartest things we ever did. The emails are what stitch the club together. We share our weekend ride plans, dates for sportives and races, sell kit and promote each other’s latest fundraising efforts.

We have 1,000 Instagram followers now and a website. We went to the Alps last year and we have trips planned to Mallorca and the Pyrenees later in 2017. It’s all gotten horribly, wonderfully out of hand.

But running a bike club is not without its frustrations.

“Why can’t any of these bastards learn to use a Google Spreadsheet?” I yell at the screen, driven into a rage by the latest plaintive cry for assistance.
“Can you put me down for a medium jersey and a large gilet, please? Google doesn’t work on my phone.”

These are civil servants, broadsheet journalists, insurance brokers and tech consultants. They are smart people, while Google’s cloud-based solutions are both ubiquitous and intuitive. What is going wrong here?

Diligently I record their orders. Manually. Like Bob Fucking Cratchit. One day I will abandon the pretence of technology altogether and buy a leather-bound ledger.

I am always overjoyed when we get a new member. Whether they’re brought along by a friend who wants to share the fun, or – as is happening more and more – they simply find our presence online and like the look of us and our clobber.

I really am delighted, with each and every new face. But another tiny part of me thinks, “Great, another helpless bastard. Another ineffectual, useless collection of selfish desires.”

I imagine it’s like becoming a parent for the fourth time. You are very, very, immeasurably happy – but another bit of your brain says, “Cripes, I can barely feed the ones we have. How am I going to to do this?”

I imagine parent-dread is stronger by a considerable factor. But the principle is the same. The tiny iota of resentment is the same.

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On top of the world

Mainly it’s just amazing though. And we still do the same things every week. Monday email, Wednesday laps. Although now there are more people and occasionally we vary the park we ride round and round the outside of. And at the height of summer we go on post-work rides out of the city and into the lanes. Those nights are magical. Like playing truant, or stealing time back from the gods.

Oh, and I haven’t paid for a coffee before or during a group ride for like six months. Which is nice.”

Tom Owen is the president of Big Boys Bicycle Club. No, it isn’t just for big men. Yes, it is a silly name.