Cycling Weekly goes Forth with Scotland’s youngest Clarion club

Words by Trevor Ward. Photos by James Robertson

Based: West Lothian
Members: 161
Formed: 2008
Meets: Two club runs every Saturday (combined club run first Saturday of each month), departing from Linlithgow Leisure Centre, 9am; East Calder Sports Centre, 9am (8.30am summer); 10-mile TT series, Thursdays (summer), 7pm, Blackridge station car park

It’s a case of bikes, boats, trains and planes as we meet on the banks of the River Forth beneath the flight path for Edinburgh Airport and the iconic bridge carrying Britain’s East Coast main line.

A bumper turnout of almost 50 members means club captain Chris Downey has to split us up into three groups before we head over the Forth via the road bridge.

It’s a shared bike path, which means a disciplined, single-file formation until we reach the other side.

Once out into the rolling countryside of Fife, however, the pace quickens as the ‘fast group’ pulls ahead, executing a well-drilled through-and-off.

Enjoyable climbs in amongst the Scottish scenery

Before it’s CW’s turn to put its nose in the wind, we have time to speak to Brian Freeborn, a former 17-stone rugby player who joined the club five years ago to regain his fitness.

“I’d seen the club out riding one day, got talking to them and found them a friendly bunch,” he says.

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“I struggled on my first ride with them, but I know now they’ll never drop you if you’re having a bad day.”

Next through is club treasurer Crawford Geddes, who joined the club for one simple reason — to keep himself motivated.

“The worst part of any bike ride is getting out of bed and putting your kit on, but if there’s a group of people waiting for you then you can’t let them down,” he says.

A strong youth scene

President’s pace

By now we are at the foot of the day’s big climb, Cleish Hill, and I’m happy to drop back and join the middle group, which comprises some of the club’s younger members being chaperoned by youth coach Matthew Ball.

“This is the youth section’s eighth season,” he tells me.

“Its success is down to several things: keeping it fun, learning skills, making friends and pushing the edges.

Matthew Ball, youth coach: “You make friends for life, there is a mutual respect.”

“To the younger kids, a bike is an adventure machine. Cornering at speed is an adventure. So we keep it as varied as possible, rotating classes in road, cross, grass track, hill-climbing and mountain biking.”

The final group on the road is riding at “the president’s pace”, the president being Graeme Horne, a road racing veteran who worries that cycling could become “a fashion statement”.

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“We want to see more members wearing our club jersey, but even with a discount some of them still prefer their £300 Assos or Rapha jerseys,” he says.

Today, however, everyone is in club kit. Michelle Gregory joined the club after moving up from Lancashire, where she rode with Ribble Valley CC.

“I get a buzz from riding in a bunch and everyone wearing the same colours,” she says.

Bridging back

Meg Spittal joined after a friend was killed while riding her bike.

“Riding with a club means safety in numbers,” she says. For Fiona Walker, it’s about companionship.

“I was used to doing long rides on my own, but I’ve made some really good friends through the club,” she says.

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During our return trip across the Forth, Matthew Ball is eyeing up the new road bridge that is due to open in August.

“We’ve been telling everyone it will be exclusively for cyclists,” he says. “That really winds people up!”

Liz Henry: “I joined a cycle club in 1981 because i fancied my brother’s friend. We’ve now been married for 34 years.”

History

West Lothian is the youngest and largest of the three ‘Clarion’ clubs north of the border (the others being Coatbridge and West of Scotland).

It was formed in 2008 after Sadiq Mir put out an SOS on social media looking for local cyclists to take part in training rides.

Within months he had enough regular riding companions to think about establishing a club, and the group decided to become part of the UK-wide Clarion network because of its “fellowship through cycling” tradition and rich history stretching back to 1895.


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They held their first club 10 on Boxing Day 2008, attracting four entries who competed for silverware donated by Jim Smith of West of Scotland Clarion.

By the end of the following year they had 70 members and a regular calendar of club runs, TTs, evening rides and a reliability trial.

The club appointed a women’s officer, and today boasts a total of 40 female members.

Carrie Laird: “I think i’ve done more volunteering, marshalling and timekeeping than actual riding!”

With the help of Scottish Cycling, they also set up a youth section with three coaches and 24 members. This has since expanded to 20 coaches, 80 members and a waiting list to join.

The club’s jersey is based on the design of Team Boavista, a Portuguese sports club with a strong community ethic. The logo is based on classic 1960s Continental cycling team logos.

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The club has established a number of events on the Scottish race calendar, including the Lang Whang Hilly 30 TT, Battle of Black Loch Road Race and the Kingscavil Hill-Climb.

Echoing the National Clarion’s early days as an egalitarian, politically active body — it was named after a socialist newspaper — the West Lothian section is working with the local council and the Linlithgow Community Development Trust on a project to build a £650,000 tarmac cycling track in the area.

“Cake or cookie, cookie or cake… it’s a toughie”

Achievements

  • Jennifer Taylor — Scottish hill- climb champion, 2012; Scottish road race champion, 2013.
  • Jennifer Taylor, Billy Minto, Iain Elliott — Scottish hill-climb team champions, 2012.
  • Steve McCaw rode 42.822km to break the British Veterans Outdoor Hour record in 2011.
  • Diane Clayton Chisholm — Scottish women’s vets XC champion 2016.
  • Shani Bloch rode for Israel in the women’s road race at the Rio Olympics, finishing 20th.
  • Jamie Mason — Junior Scottish CX Series winner 2013.
  • Alex Ball was elected to the Scottish Young People’s Sports Panel in 2016.

A well-earned cuppa always goes down well

Ride highlights

1 The Forth Road Bridge

A segregated cycle path over this mile-long bridge gives stunning views of the iconic
Forth Railway Bridge, the new
road bridge being built to the west and the Firth of Forth.

2 Cleish Hill

If you can ignore the statistics — a little over two miles at an average gradient of five per cent — this is an enjoyable climb with great views across Loch Leven to the Lomond Hills.

3 Knockhill to Saline

This gently descending stretch offers views of petrolheads putting their two
and four-wheeled vehicles through their paces at the Knockhill Race Circuit.

Favourite cafe

The Railbridge Bistro is situated on the south shore of the Forth and offers stunning views. Its outdoor terrace opens up a view of the magnificent railway bridge and two road bridges.

The menu isn’t bad either. Railbridge Bistro, Newhalls Road, South Queensferry, EH30 9TA.