Tucked away under Bristol’s version of a mini-spaghetti junction, BW Cycling can be a difficult shop to find. You’ll know you’re in the right place, though, when you spot the sea of blue Bristol Road Club jerseys. “We open early on Saturdays, and there’s often 60 or 70 of them piling in before the club run,” says Andy Wadsworth, BW’s co-owner and a former World Cup mountain bike rider.
Bristol RC’s usual club run heads out on Saturday mornings, but the high volume of riders is something relatively new. Until a few years ago the club’s future looked uncertain, with rides and club nights lucky to get five participants. But now, thanks to the ‘Wiggo effect’ in 2012 and the hard work of leader Brian O’Kelly, the club is booming.
For CW’s visit, the club is heading to its usual stamping ground of Cheddar Gorge. “We couldn’t take you anywhere else really,” jests O’Kelly. When they’re not looping south into Somerset the club often crosses the Severn for a long ride into Wales, which some prefer because of the better state of the roads. However, if any road is synonymous with this club, it’s the winding climb through Cheddar.
The cracker-topping gorge is the furthest point away from Bristol on the route. The joy of this part of the world is that you go from city to stunning countryside in a matter of a few miles.
As we made our way into Somerset, the chatter of the group rose over the noise of the occasional passing car, and it’s clear that this is a friendly and sociable club. Usually the Saturday bunch splits into three or four groups, but on the day CW visited all 20 riders set off together, giving some the chance to chat to people other than their usual riding companions.
The usual splits are made depending on a rider’s ability, or their willingness to chase the wheel in front of them for four hours. I was told by more than one rider that they were glad of the more sedate pace for this Sunday roll-out, after some of the racing members of the club had put them through the wringer the day before.
The club kit is simple, even retro, in design, but there’s no mistaking who these cyclists ride for. With Bristol RC written in black lettering on a blue backer, the club name is the only thing on there, without the usual plethora of local shop and business names vying for space.
The rain that had been forecast had so far held off when we reached the cafe stop at the foot of Cheddar Gorge. The group piled into their favourite coffee stop, The Mousehole, swelling the number of customers on this drab March day five-fold. Once everyone was refuelled, the ride continued with the ascent of Cheddar Gorge. That was the plan anyway; a mistimed downshift on one of the 20 per cent hairpins saw a Dura-Ace rear mech shear off its hanger. The group continued on until the next lay-by, before two members looped back to help their stranded mate. With a shortened chain and temporary single speed bike, he tried his best to continue but a few miles down the road called it a day and phoned home for a lift. By this point the dreaded rain was well underway, and jackets were donned. Heads down and riding hard, the group pushed on to get back to Bristol. Members peeled off in different directions continuously on the return leg, demonstrating the wide catchment area of this old but healthy cycling club.
A great ride with a great group of riders. Anyone living in and around Bristol and thinking of joining should give this club a go.
Bristol Road Club traces its origins to 1927. Some young members of the Bristol District Association of the Bicycle Touring Club began organising all-day runs, and after a meeting of 17 members on January 4, 1928, Harry James was elected chairman and the name Bristol Road Club was agreed.
The club was split into ‘hard riders’ and ‘touring members’, and by the 1950s BRC was Bristol’s premier racing and touring club. Johnny Burrows, a founding member, married Iris James, herself one of the 17 who attended the first meeting, and for the next six decades they were the back bone of the club, contributing to its continuity and growth.
During the 1970s the club published a monthly magazine to keep members abreast of its happenings, which tied in with the start of the Severn Bridge Road Race in 1972. This March saw the 43rd edition attract a stellar domestic line-up, which was won by One Pro Cycling’s George Harper.
Despite the bright origins and strong health of the club now, it hasn’t always been easy – for a time in the early 2000s membership diminished hugely. Many club runs saw only five riders and club nights looked more like a couple of mates having a pint. The revival has been massive: the weekend ride-outs are never short of riders and the distinctive blue jerseys can always be spot- ted in races across the South West, and often further afield.
Club president Graham Moore is a former professional who rode with Hugh Porter and Sid Barras for Bantel in the 1970s. He was national vets’ champion in 1990.
In 2012, Nick Noble, 46, a former top amateur and Tour of Britain rider, won eight races and achieved 559 BC points in a season to go from fourth-cat to elite in one season.
In 2013, Ben Davis, 22, a former runner just getting into cycling, achieved 217 BC Points and went from fourth to first cat in one season.
BRC was the top road racing club in the south region in 2013, scoring 382 points, and was third in 2012. The club boasts a former national vets’ champion, a former junior national cyclo-cross champion, as well as British Cycling local race winners. The continuation of the Severn Bridge Road Race is one of the club’s biggest achievements.