Fighting off strong competition from clubs across the UK, the Cowley Road Condors won Cycling Weekly's Club of the Year Award, for 2023.
Started by four friends as a bit of an East Oxford lads’ club that followed the traditional fast-riding club run standard, the Cowley Road Condors have evolved into something markedly different. The cycling club prides itself on being a place that stresses friendliness foremost in its identity and sustains a large number of riders and racers that reflect the inner-city and academic community in which it’s based. Its members highlight its inclusivity, and talking to them it’s quickly apparent that the Condors’ fundamental objective is to encourage anyone and everyone onto two wheels, by any means possible, whether it be with social rides, time trials, enduro, mountain biking, cyclo-cross, treasure hunts, and anything beyond.
“It’s always been about trying to be friendly and inclusive,” says Cheryl Reid, the club’s president for the last nine years. “This drives a lot of the decision-making that we do as a board and is our central ethos basically.”
Founded a dozen years ago, its membership is now more than 300-strong, making it the largest club in Oxford. Its website, bedecked in the Condors’ striking pink and black colours, proudly states that it is ‘Oxford’s friendliest cycling club’.
“I suppose in the past there’s been a kind of standard template of what a club should look like, with fast rides and racing and timetables, and we do all of that,” Reid continues. “But it’s really important for us to make it accessible at slower speeds; to include women; to do things off the bike that are different as well, like socials.
“We like to do stuff like bikepacking, or going on holiday together and camping. And I think it really adds overall to the kind of rider experience we offer, where our members are meeting different people with different backgrounds, different interests, all around the common thread of enjoying a bike ride.”
Mixing it up
Among the board’s members is men’s racing secretary Peter Fifield, who’s a good example of a cyclist won over by this ethos. “It’s been a really wonderful experience to find a club of a different type,” he says. “You get a really big variety of rides and people, and you’re very welcome to dabble in whatever you fancy. It’s not one of those environments where the fast riders always have to go on the fast ride and the slow riders always on the slow rides. We mix and match quite a lot. I think all of the social groups that typically form are still very permeable, so we get a lot of cross-club conversations.”
As the club has grown, so has its range of activities, Fifield explains. They organise an annual set of road races, a TT series, cyclocross events and Audaxes, including the Condaudax. “Ultra-racing has been really popular this year too,” he says. “We had an evening where all of our ultra-riders led conversations about what it was and what they were getting from it. It was a way of communicating what that experience is like, but it also helped to flatten the entry requirements for people wanting to have a go at that sort of thing.”
Running parallel and even driving this embrace of a variety of racing challenges has been an imperative for the club to be reflective of its home city. “We’ve pushed very hard on female membership,” says Fifield. “At one point it was 50-50, which is unheard of. We’re now about one-third women, which is twice the proportion of most clubs in Britain.”
“We’re focusing very much on diversity and trying to tap into some of the groups in Oxford that aren’t as well represented within the club, for example, 18 to 24-year-olds and the BAME population, so we know where our gaps are,” says club president Reid. “We’re working really hard to try and understand what the barriers are and how we can bring those groups into the club. We want people to come and join us and enjoy it.”
Journey of self discovery
A member for just over a year, Jessie Weavers-Medina typifies this approach. “I’m transgender and the club have been incredibly inclusive, welcoming and supportive,” she affirms. “It’s really worth being aware of just how forward- thinking this club is.”
After attending an outreach programme on an old mountain bike that had been in a shed for a decade, within a couple of months Medina-Weavers was taking part in her first time trial, “on that same rubbish mountain bike, with D lock still attached because I forgot to take it off”. “I’ve been on my cycling journey with them since then, in terms of teaching and learning, guidance and mentoring and access to facilities and equipment. I now do a 28-minute ‘10’, do weekly races and have done lots of training on how to lead rides. It’s been an extraordinary experience.”
Hitherto closed to under-18s, Reid says that opening the club up to children is the Condors’ long-term goal, helping to anchor it within the local community even more strongly. “You need a lot of volunteer time to run that side of things, but we would like to get to the stage of having children and young people riding with the club as well. The more people we can bring it to, the better.”
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1