We visit a club who exude affability and old-school charm
- Photos: Andy Jones
From: Sheringham, Norfolk
Meets: Saturday club runs at 10am at Pretty Corner, Upper Sheringham. Wednesday club runs begin at 10.30am at a different place each week.
Website: nnwheelers.co.uk | Twitter: @nnwheelers | Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/78217365459/
Harvey knows all the lanes,” says someone as we roll off from the meeting point just south of Sheringham. North Norfolk Wheelers’ club run leader, Harvey Taylor, has been riding these tiny roads for years and we join 15 of the club’s 68 members in putting our faith in him leading us through the labyrinth.
Soon we are lost as we wind between high hedges, passing small copses. We visit tiny villages, their flint-clad churches fronting lush greens strewn with fallen leaves. The roads are so narrow our speed is naturally limited, though we’re forced to ride single-file and after a while the group is stretched.
No one is bothered by a brief loss of contact with the rider in front though, at every junction we stop and regroup, then after a brief chat we’re off again, meaning the atmosphere remains undiminished by these brief splits.
“It is a very accessible club and very friendly,” notes triathlete John Morgan.
“It’s also slightly old fashioned. There is quite a traditional feel to the club which I like, but the demographic is more elderly. I feel there is a nostalgic thing going on, which I like, but it would be good to get more younger ones in, we do get some but usually they will try the TTs and move on as they move on in their lives.”
Over recent years North Norfolk’s membership has failed to capitalise on Britain’s cycling boom, something not helped by its location.
“We struggle because three fifths of the catchment area is in the North Sea,” jokes club chairman Chris Knowles.
“We punch way above our weight, though. We have 68 members and we hover between 60 and 100. At £12 we have one of the cheapest memberships around and have negotiated discounts with some bike shops who also sponsor the marshal’s jackets and signs, though we’re not a sponsored club.”
Starting at the beginning of April and going through to the end of September, the club boasts an extensive calendar of time trials. Including their 100-mile open event, North Norfolk run 32 club races; sometimes there are two a week, with 10s, 15s, 25s and even two hill-climbs, each attracting a minimum of 20 riders, though the variety of routes often attracts more.
“We can be there for more than 30 minutes afterwards just talking,” continues Knowles, whose duties include running the events. “We also have a lot of people from other clubs because it is just so friendly and we have attracted a fair number of triathletes, some very good members who are European-level triathletes.”
But it’s not all about time trialling; most on our ride have tried them, but not all continue to compete. Instead we have triathletes, sportive riders, former road racers and long-distance Audax riders like Ian Spencer.
“The first I did was the 2000 series which made up 2,000km; I’m quite proud of that one. It’s something I can do, I suppose. I tried time trialling but I was never any good at it, it was too painful!”, Spencer explains as we roll along undulating Norfolk lanes beneath blue sky which has replaced autumn gloom.
Club-run leader, 71-year-old Taylor has ridden on the front with metronome-like consistency the whole day, proving that while the members may be a little older than other clubs, they can still set a decent pace. Most importantly, they know how to enjoy their rides. And that is what North Norfolk Wheelers is about — like-minded people enjoying cycling.
Much of North Norfolk Wheelers’ history has been lost, but they can trace their roots way back to the late 1800s when the club split its time between Sheringham and Cromer. Folklore mentions a club scandal during a ride along Sheringham promenade, allegedly involving a female cyclist who failed to wear a skirt.
While it survived World War One, North Norfolk Cycle Club, as it was then known, was forced to disband when the majority of the members were called up to fight in the Second World War.
Current president, Geoff Pace, joined when North Norfolk reformed in 1947, only to be called up for National Service three years later. By the time he returned, a lack of members had caused the club to fold.
After a brief dalliance with a club in nearby Norwich, Pace and some other previous members formed the current club in 1986. While he is now the only surviving member of the original club, another, Pat Ash is remembered with a trophy awarded to the member with the best 50-mile TT time.
Introduced to allow members time to attend church, weekly club runs are on Saturday mornings. Unusually, this is
not a hangover from the club’s earliest iterations, but has been the case since North Norfolk reformed in 1986.
Membership currently stands at 68, and has remained largely static since the new club’s inception 31 years ago.
- Andrew Knowles first made his mark winning British Schools Cycling Association East and East Midlands Hill-Climb Championships, but his biggest claim to fame is beating Ben Swift in the BSCA Youth Tour, won by Ian Stannard.
- Mike Padfield once bagged fourth place in the Fakenham 4th Category Criterium.
- In the early Noughties Ian Spencer twice rode London-Edinburgh-London and completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 2003.
- As well as holding many of the local time trial course records, Kimberley Halton-Farrow has experienced incredible success on the international triathlon scene.
- Having undertaken a number of mammoth rides to raise money for local causes, Robin Rush was awarded an MBE.
North Norfolk Wheelers club run
1 Plumstead to Saxthorpe
It’s not about speed here, more the whole cycling experience. Winding through narrow lanes you need to keep your wits about you although for such rural roads, the surface is very good.
2 Little Ryburgh
A narrow lane with two steep digs which can be attacked out of the saddle in the big ring. There’s time for recovery in the middle, but it’s more fun to keep the speed up.
3 Bridgefoot Lane
Beginning at sea level where you cross the River Glaven, this one-mile stretch concludes 200 feet higher. It only reaches six per cent but still contrasts sharply with the surrounding landscape.
With its sun-trap courtyard, the Courtyard Cafe is a perfect place for a mid-ride stop and there’s plenty of room inside too. There are a number of different rooms to prevent your sweaty kit upsetting the locals. Courtyard Cafe, Fakenham Rd, Fakenham NR21 0LN, 01328 851465