We ride with a Cumbrian gang who love racing against the clock
- Words by John Walsh
Based: Carlisle, Cumbria
Meets: Sunday morning 9.30am at the Crown Inn south of Carlisle for the official club ride.
I meet the effervescent Carol Westmorland outside the Crown Inn surrounded by flat farmland on the edge of Carlisle. Westmorland is definitely a product of Border City Wheelers: “My mother met my father at a club dinner when she was 16. I am one of three triplets, they don’t ride so I am the ‘son’ of the group and go racing with my dad.”
It seems the club all got the memo about the kit; it’s virtually box fresh with a new design, as “the old one was cartoon style writing,” more appropriate to a comic book. The new one holds the same traditional colours but with stylish writing and new aero design, a good fit for a club famed for its time trialling.
Westmorland jokes she “got sacked from her kit designing role” as her proposed red shorts were vetoed in favour of a more conservative black. The kit retains a Reivers emblem, a nod to the historical border raids across the Scottish frontier. Now the only raiding that takes place are weekend rides and races in the perfectly quiet Scottish Border roads.
Westmorland mentions there is a new club on the block with Reivers in their name. “Some say we’re a bit too competitive and not very friendly but we are nice, aren’t we?” she enthuses. A voice chips in from behind who has just arrived at the meet up: “Well, we’re nice except on TT nights.”
I am introduced to Westmorland’s dad, Mike, who has raced with the club since 1959. He is treasurer and CTT north district secretary and used to be on the national committee. He still races aged 72 but that is not enough to make him the longest serving member, an honour which goes to Mike Glaister, who has been organising road races over the last 40 years and is credited with getting more women to join the club.
We set off following the course of the ‘Crown 10’, the TT route that epitomises the club. Ten miles into the ride a rogue in a Beacon Wheelers kit from nearby Penrith does a turn on the front; the tow is very welcome but he is politely told to stop hogging the camera and peels off to Penrith.
Someone flats alongside Ullswater as we all regroup after the swooping decent of Matterdale End. There are worse places to stop than next to a shimmering lake with mountains towering above. “Who flatted?” I ask. It turns out it’s Westmorland, the club treasurer. “It’s because he’s not bought a tyre since the 1950s,” comes from the back of the peloton.
Five miles after leaving the shore of Ullswater we’re in the Rooster Cafe. The air is thick with fried bacon and roasted coffee as farmers in wellies have their weekly catch-up and 40 Border City Wheelers fly through the canteen-style service. Howard Cain has been coming here with the club for 20 years: “I once got served a frozen scone here but the upper echelons of the Rapha brigade don’t necessarily like it though. Chris is one of the Rapha brigade, aren’t you?”
Chris Irving, the chairman, glances over, agreeing with Cain’s cafe choice: “There are plenty of poncy cafes around but you can’t get served for ages,” he muses.
Cain has been a keen time triallist, since the age of 16. He did the first Fred Whitton in 1999 and got into the club through its social trips: “I went to Benidorm training for four or five years in succession. It was cheap and there was something to do at night. You would go out and blow your doors off for 90-odd miles, come back and some of the less athletic of us would go out on a night.
“There was a table of elite athletes we called ‘the water boys’. By the end of the week, on the last night, they had half a bottle of red wine between four of them, which was a moral victory for us. Now the club has decamped to the motorway that is Majorca.”
Club run revolution
Cain comments with mixed feelings on how club rides have changed, the overriding feeling though is, “If you don’t want to be on a group ride don’t go in a group. When I started it was just hanging on. Sometimes it was good as it meant you tried hard and stayed on the next week, but we have to be welcoming now.”
Cain seems very proud of the strong work the core of the committee does, the often unsung heartbeat of every cycle club. “Everything is organised right because Mike [Glaister] jumps on us if it’s not and he is right to.”
After hopping out of Westmorland’s seat just before he returns with his beans on toast, I ask Carol how she got so intertwined with Border City Wheelers. She was a late starter; after only watching cycling as a teenager she returned to the area aged 29 and “went out with dad and my uncle; it was fabulous and I never looked back. I did a 24-hour time trial to celebrate being with the club for 10 years.”
The club’s actual founders are a bit of an enigma, but Gus Foster was one. The earliest trophy dates back to 1926: the Tiffin Cup, which is a handicap awarded for the club 25 Calthwaite circuit, a time trial of two laps.
Mike Westmorland, a member since the 1950s notes, “The club did well to survive the 1970s when it was down to about half a dozen members.”
In 2016 to mark the clubs 90th anniversary a 90-mile ride into the North Pennines around Alston was organised. The club boast an extensive range of TTs with 42 events and 10 opens during the course of a season as well as organising a two-day Hadrian’s Wall ride.
– Carol Westmorland won the women’s National 12-hour Championships with 243 miles in 2004 and the National 24-hour with 445 miles in 2006. She is also current Lakes and Lancs Spoco champion.
– Pete Smith had a sparkling year in 1999 coming third in the Best British All-rounder (BBAR) in 1999. The Kiwi has since returned to his homeland after a long period in Carlisle, but not before setting a 19.17 national vets record for a 10, which is also
still a club record.
– There is a thriving junior section with over 50 members and five qualified coaches.
– Adam Bent is the current British under-14 cyclo-cross champion; his sister Liv is a British Cycling mountain biking apprentice. Dave Rawle heads up the youngsters’ operation with a new purpose-built track opening in Harraby, Carlisle, in September.
– Richard Bickely is current club champion and prolific winner locally of hilly TTs.
– Mike Glaister is a key organiser of events locally and regionally and was given a badge of honour from the CTT last year for service to the council.
Border City Wheelers club run
Ride highlights (44 miles)
1. Crown 10 club TT route
A famous local time trial route, a fabulously wide and quiet road heading south from the city of Carlisle into the Cumbrian countryside. The benchmark club 10 in the area.
2. Matterdale End
An easier climb from its northern side which offers a cracking decent down to Ullswater. The Fred Whitton sportive climbs the opposite way up Matterdale End in its early stages.
A beautifully picturesque and undulating road along the shore of the Lake District’s second biggest lake.
The Rooster offers no-nonsense cafe grub, with beans on toast apparently the club dish of choice. For those who enjoy a tipple, glasses of red wine and beer are available to help wash it down. The Rooster, 11 Ullswater Road, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 7EH