Cycling is the boom sport of this summer. Wellington Wheelers have seen a big increase in the number of enquiries and membership applications over the last few months, clear evidence of the increasing popularity of cycling both as a sport and a hobby. Club spokesman Charles Biscoe said, “Applications are from people of all ages. We’ve had unprecedented interest in our Time Trial series this summer. There were 27 competitors battling it out in the last one of the series.”
Cycling as a sport has attracted huge media coverage this summer. Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, Chris Froome joined him on the podium in 2nd place, Mark Cavendish is current World Road Race Champion and, in the London Olympics, UK cyclists won seven gold medals from nine events – and silver and bronze in the other two. Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton are two of track cycling’s most recognisable faces, with Laura Trott and Jason Kenny not far behind.
This success has raised the profile of cycling both as a sport and for recreation. As Charles Biscoe said, “A large number of new members have joined the club specifically to race. But
what attracts people to us is that we also ride for leisure. We’re not out training for the next race, or to better our personal best; we’re enjoying being out in the countryside with like-minded people. And it’s a good excuse for eating cake and drinking coffee together.”
Currently, the club had just over one hundred members whose ages range from fifteen to eighty. Charles added, “We’re always looking to share the secret of the best sitting-down sport and, particularly, to encourage more families to get on their bikes. We have a fairly large female membership. It would be great if we could attract more to make women-only rides a more practical proposition.”
The popularity of cycling has occurred alongside advances in bike technology. Lighter frames make hills easier and Kevlar tyres reduce the risk of punctures. Cycling safety has benefitted from more widespread use of helmets, although not from motorists’ behaviour.
“Many motorists do not understand the peril they place cyclists in as they cut the space they give them on the road,” rues Charles. “Over time we’ll see this change and actively lobby for more and better facilities for cyclists. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a segregated path between Wellington and Taunton? Perhaps the route of the Great Western canal would do.”
The idea of a long-term legacy of the London Olympics to the economy and to sport is yet to be realised. Somerset County Council decided not to contribute money to the Tour of Britain to bring it to the county again this year. It will pass through Devon instead. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome will both be riding and a number of Wellington Wheelers will be contesting the pre-race competition in Barnstable as well as providing marshalls.
But to capitalise on the sport’s growing popularity, a new BSkyB TV channel is due to be launched in November. ‘Olympic Legacy’ will feature 24 sports – including cycling. Wellington Wheelers Cycling Club invites a more active response to public interest. It runs without subsidy or support apart from its membership fees but its fund-raising events contributed over £1,000 to local charities last year.