We take flight with an eclectic bunch of riders based in Oxford
- Words: Dave Nash | Photos: Andy Jones
Meets: Saturday and Sunday Mornings and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Details of club rides and events can be found on the club’s website
We’ve all come up with an inspired idea when drinking with friends, but how often is it forgotten by the morning? The Cowley Road Condors was a club conceived by four cycling mates over a pint in 2011. Fast forward six years and the club is one of the most vibrant in the country, boasting a healthy active membership approaching 300 and, bucking the norm, a female membership of over 100.
Riding with an eclectic mix of Condors, it’s clear that everyone has embraced the ethos and culture envisaged by the founders, which has been propelled forward more recently by an extended and very committed board.
Since joining in 2014, current president Cheryl Reid, or ‘Chesident’ as she is affectionately known, has played a dynamic role. “We just want to be inclusive, friendly and social and simply encourage people to join the club and enjoy cycling with a group, in safety and with confidence,” she says.
Reid leads by example and to say she has nailed the Condors colours to the mast is an understatement. Her colour coordination is impeccable: helmet, shades, shoes, bike frame — in fact, pretty much everything she is wearing or fitted to her bike, has the Condors’ signature pink detailing. “Is it a little obsessive?” she asks.
As we pick our way out of the historic centre of the city and thread our way through small hamlets, heading south-west towards the ancient Ridgeway and the focus of our ride, the White Horse of Uffington, I chat to Becci Curtis, who exemplifies the type of cyclist who has happily fallen prey to the allure of the Condors.
When she joined two years ago, Curtis, who works in publishing and also teaches yoga, was a road cycling novice. “The club nurtures new riders, so I signed up for the spring and summer women-only sessions. The rides gradually get harder each week to build fitness and confidence,” she says.
Curtis is in no doubt that the spirit and support of the club has been the key to
Talking to Curtis, it’s evident that the gut instincts of the founders that the buzzing east Oxford enclave of Cowley harboured a rich seam of potential club members was spot on, though many may never have envisaged joining a club.
The Condors place a huge emphasis on safety, which many in our well-disciplined group cite as one of the strengths and attractions of the set-up. Reid, who is leading the ride, has only to occasionally cajole gaps to be filled or the pace to be contained and the response is immediate. To underline the commitment to group safety, members are now encouraged to take the Ride Leaders course.
Club rides, which take place on weekday evenings and weekends, remain the mainstay, but as the Condors evolved a more competitive element emerged and there is now a clear framework in place to support racing ambitions.
Philip Ross, 23, who joined last September, is already making enthusiastic steps into racing and has been mentored by development officer, Arran Curran. “He explained the different racing on offer and gave me invaluable advice on improving my fitness, cornering, and endurance,” Ross says. He has also benefited from the experience of other seasoned heads: “They have been looking after me in the races and giving feedback afterwards.”
The Condors may have benefited from a city demographic, but that’s no guarantee of success.
A lively website and Facebook presence has helped to establish the character, but the members themselves have come together to cultivate and promote the ‘Oxford’s friendliest cycling club’ image and this, possibly more than anything else, is why the Condors are soaring so high.
When four cycling mates, Jonny Revis, Ollie Jaques, Nick Hughes and Jock Poole, met for a drink in the spring of 2011 their conversation turned to establishing a cycling club based around the Cowley Road in east Oxford, where they all lived. By the end of the night they had both the ethos and name sorted.
“Jock started to doodle the outline of a bird,” recalls Revis. “Someone piped up, ‘Condors… Cowley Road Condors.’ It stuck and was never discussed again.”
A “rag-tag brigade” rolled up for the first ride in June 2011, but by tapping into a youthful, social media savvy demographic, word quickly spread and soon the distinctive pink jersey was a common sight on the historic streets.
The club has continually adapted to meet the needs of its growing membership, though Revis says that the original emphasis on midweek evening rides continues.
Jaques and original women’s officer Carrie Hartwell were instrumental in starting the influx of women and this initiative has been accelerated by the current board, which has introduced skills sessions, including bike maintenance courses, designed to attract female members and build their confidence of riding in a group. Women members also have a dedicated area on the club website and 50 per cent of the current board are women.
A dedicated racing contingent has evolved and Revis played a pivotal role in setting up the Oxfordshire Road Race League. Many members, both male and female, now race and the Condors fielded five teams at the recent Silverstone 9up TTT.
The club organises regular social nights and raises funds for a local hospice, Helen and Douglas House, and helps to organise the Bike Oxford Sportive, which attracted over 1,100 riders in April.
- The Condors have a healthy racing/TT contingent, with around 20 male road/crit racers, half of which are cat three, and a similar number of cross racers. There are currently eight women racing regularly, including Aimee Jones, who is second-cat.
- Co-founder Jonny Revis was the mastermind behind the Oxford Road Race League, run in conjunction with several Oxfordshire clubs.
- Matt Dixon is a C2 classified para-cyclist and is training for the National Para-cycling Championships later this month.
- Dave Dyer represented Team GB at the Amateur Worlds in Denmark in 2015, and in 2016, Chris and Aimee Jones rode the Amateur Worlds in Australia.
Cowley Road Condors club run
1 Historic Oxford
The centre of the city can get congested during the day, but winding your way past the ancient colleges and churches in the relative quiet of early morning is a pleasant way to start a ride.
2 Uffington White Horse
You will probably miss the famous chalk white horse as you chug your way up the 10 per cent incline of Dragon Hill. A panoramic view over Oxfordshire at the top is the reward.
3 Boars Hill
Pause for a minute to admire the panoramic vista from the south-east of the city. Framed by woodland and rolling fields, the view of the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ is spectacular.
The Condors have recently adopted a new cycling cafe, Peloton Espresso, on the Cowley Road as their club hub. Co-owner Matt Rees is an active member and secures rear space for bikes and cycling on the TV. Peloton Espresso, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JB. www.pelotonespresso.com