Not many clubs start their rides with a ferry crossing. Poole Wheelers do...
- Words: James West | Photos: Chris Catchpole

From: Poole, Dorset
Members:
190
Formed: 1926
Meets: The Cafe on the Square, Wimborne, Dorset. 7.30am and 8.30am Saturday for training rides; Sunday for training or social rides.
Website: www.poolewheelers.com | Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/poolewheelers

“This is the best banana bread in the world,” Craig Weston, who coordi nates the majority of Poole Wheelers weekend club rides, tells me as we meet at the Dancing Goat in Poole, Dorset.

With caffeine and carbs on board, we head out to catch the chain ferry across the mist-shrouded Poole Harbour. It’s a short five-minute hop across the water to Studland, and then on to Swanage, Corfe Castle and the steep hills of the Purbecks beyond.

“The club are blessed with a great choice of ride options,” Weston continues. “To the west we have the Purbecks, where we are today. To the east is the New Forest, and to the north are the rolling plains of north Dorset.” On a sunny February morning, it’s hard to disagree.

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No matter who you speak to on the club run, the overriding word that comes through is ‘friendly’. This is a view endorsed by Howard Pankhurst, club chairman: “We’ve gone from being an old-fashioned club to more a modern-thinking, fun club with lots of families involved.”

The group of over 50 that set out at the start gradually form into a number of smaller groups, tackling different distances depending on ability to ensure nobody is left behind. The friendly and relaxed attitude is obvious for all to see. On the few occasions when people do drop off the back, or mechanical issues occur, the club’s members wait for everyone to get back on.

As we climb the second significant ascent of the day, at Steeple just after the stunning Corfe Castle, the shout of “puncture!” rings out from the back of the group. Granny gears are engaged and once we’ve ground our way to the top I chat to Lisette Bonin-Casey, who joined the club last week.

Club run rookie
“Howard and Craig are fantastic, they took me out on my first club run last week, and whilst they really pushed me they made sure I didn’t get dropped. Nobody gets dropped on our rides and everyone is so friendly,” Bonin-Casey says.

Female membership is growing rapidly, and the Monday evening women’s ride has 18 weekly regulars.

Ellie Rendell, who ‘officially’ joined the club in September is responsible for the Monday night loop: “It can be quite intimidating for women, as it’s a male-dominated sport, so we set up the girls’ group on a Monday night. Everyone is so lovely and supportive.”

Ros Spencer, treasurer, vice-president and member for 53 years hasn’t joined the ride today, but has come to Wimborne to join the social side the club offers. She is delighted at the increase in female members. “Everyone is willing to help, which I am really proud of. It’s amazing to see so many girls out riding on a Monday night,” she says.

Youth membership is growing too. On the run into Wimborne, I chat with 15-year-old Dan Byrne, who despite “taking it easy” has been sprinting through the pack all day.

Dan is one of many juniors on the ride and says how the range of activities available to club members is a really appealing element. “The club offer a lot of different opportunities; road, TT, track, even cyclo-cross, so there’s a good mix of activities to do,” he says.

Today’s groups all reconvene at the Cafe on the Square in Wimborne, where the ride officially ends. The club has a good relationship with the owners, who provide bike stands, track pumps and essential work tools for the members to use, and a 20 per cent discount on coffee for members.

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Sipping our coffees in the sunny town square, Weston sums up the ethos of the club: “There are no big egos in this club, and we are all very friendly. A lot of cycling clubs used to be like old golf clubs, where the colonels didn’t want the youngsters in, but it’s not like that. Anyone can come along. As long as you ride a bike there’ll be a group for you to join. It’s a great social thing.”

It turns out Weston is right about the club not having any big egos. And he was right about the banana bread too.


History

Poole Wheelers was formed in November 1926, and was initially a select group with the objective of riding very high gears on Sunday rides which seldom fell below 120 miles. From just 14 members in 1927, membership had swelled to 124 by 1932. By the end of the 1930s almost all the members were sent off to war, effectively closing down the club other than a yearly meeting that was sometimes only attended by two people.

The club resumed its activities in 1946, with a focus on road and time trialling, particularly ‘12s’. By the 1970s the club had branched out to focus on mass-start events, as well as cyclo-cross. By the 1990s, the club still promoted the usual 10s, 25s and 50s. And in 1996 Poole Wheelers hosted the National 12-hour time trial. 2000 saw Poole Wheelers entering a team of riders in the Tour de Cotentin, in France.

Past champions

  • In 1932, William Harvell rode for Great Britain at the Los Angeles Olympics, winning a bronze medal in the team pursuit.
  • Also in 1932, Tommy Green won the 50-kilometre Olympic title at the age of 38.
  • In 1933, William Harvell, Norman Barnes, Ray Cleal and Ernie Holmwood won the 1933 National Pursuit title at Herne Hill.
  • In 1974, Andy Sawyer came third in the National Schoolboy Championships in Leicester. The following year, in Southampton, he was crowned champion, winning by over a lap.
  • In 1979, Rita Maddison reached the last seven in the Miss World contest.

Achievements

  • Sam Wadsley, now of Primera-Teamjobs, won silver at the Junior National Closed Circuit Time Trial championship at Thruxton in 2017 and Bronze in the Best British All-Rounder (BBAR) Junior Boys category. He also came fourth overall in the Chris Boardman Trophy the same year.
  • Alex Jolliffe won bronze in the team sprint and the keirin at the National Track Championships this January.
  • Becky Raybold was fifth in the National Omnium at Derby Velodrome in February 2018, and first in the team pursuit at the National Track Champs at the Manchester Velodrome in January 2018. She was also third in the National Madison Championships in December 2017.


Poole Wheelers club run

Ride highlights

1 Ferry crossing
Not many club rides involve a ferry crossing, but when Poole Wheelers head for the Purbecks they do. Just £1 for crossing the blissfully smooth Poole Harbour was money well spent.

2 Corfe Castle
Built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the sight of this ancient edifice hoving into view through the mist on a February morning is quite a vision.

3 Banana cake
It was suggested that the Dancing Goat in Poole did “the best banana bread in the world”. It turned out it was so good I went back for another round for the journey home!

Favourite cafe
The Cafe in the Square offers outdoor seating that, even on a February day, is a real suntrap. Without too much effort it could easily be mistaken for France. The cafe put out a bike rack for members (and others) to use when they descend en masse, quickly followed by a second when it became clear how many people were joining the club run, as well as track pumps and tool kits for any minor mechanical issues. Cafe on the Square, The Square, Wimborne, Dorset, BH21 1JG. 01202 888117