Words by Dave Nash. Photos by Andy Jones
Based: Banbury, Oxfordshire
Members: 150 approx
Meets: The Saturday ride is aimed at beginners and two rides are held on Sunday; 8.30am for faster riders and 10am at a medium pace. The club website has more details and information on the club’s varied racing activities.
A large group of Banbury Star Cyclists’ Club members are strung out in front of me, rolling over a quiet Cotswolds ridge.
It’s a rather nostalgic scene, recalling a club run from a bygone era. Sat in the bunch astride a vintage bike is Brian Reid, resplendent in plus-fours, complete with leather saddlebag. It’s all rather fitting for a bike club that celebrated its 125th anniversary last year.
Reid, who owns Golden Age Cycles in Banbury, is riding a Trevor Jarvis bike, hand-built in the early 1990s, but based on a design dating from the 1930s.
“It’s known as the Flying Gate and has a short wheelbase that is meant to make it stiffer and more responsive,” he explains, pulling hard on the brakes as the road plunges downhill.
“Unfortunately, the original rubber pads have hardened, so I need to take it a little easier on descents!”
The conditions are treacherous for us all. Gentle drizzle was falling as we gathered outside Broadribb Cycles in Banbury to listen attentively as ride leader Bill Ord reminded us to communicate clearly and alerting us to potential danger spots.
A youthful 77, Ord is an experienced head, but gathered around him is an eclectic mix of riders, who testify to the inclusive nature of the club.
Banbury Star has a healthy membership, but even clubs with such an enviable history need to evolve as times change. As we thread our way out to the south of the town, new club president Paul Dean explains his plans to increase the membership.
“Banbury is expanding due to faster links to London and we want to reach out to new cyclists arriving in the area,” he says.
The club has an informative new website, designed by club member and LEJOG veteran Mark Boyles, who is also responsible for the club’s new kit design.
“I’ve cajoled the savvy younger members to help with social media and we also approach cyclists we meet on the road or in cafe stops,” he explains.
Banbury sits in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds and offers glorious riding. The roads are wonderfully quiet, less beset with coachloads of tourists as some areas.
It can be a challenging, punchy terrain too — club member Keri Williams recently devised a bruising 40-mile loop that packs in 1,000 metres of climbing over seven ascents that criss-cross the escarpment that lies to the north-west of Banbury.
Today we are tackling the most famous: Edge Hill. I spin my way to the top, watching the young whippets fly ahead beneath the wooded canopy, seemingly unaware of how crushing this is for the rest of us who puff our way to the top.
Banbury Star has a healthy youth element and has plans to introduce a Go-Ride scheme. At 17, Lydia Watts fizzes with enthusiasm.
“When I joined the club everyone was so welcoming and it’s just really developed from there,” she says.
Watts soon fell on the radar of the Zappi Race Team, based 30 miles to the south in Oxford. She now rides for their youth team and is still beaming from clinching the women’s title at the Banbury Star’s time trial season opener, the Hardriders event, the previous weekend, which she won in atrocious conditions.
There is great camaraderie between the younger members, peppered with a competitive edge, and Watts would love to see more youngsters giving cycling a go.
Talking to Bill Ord at the end of the ride, he nods towards the teens, who have stayed behind to chat and joke with one another.
“It’s great seeing them joining in, getting into time trialling and being able to show them how much they are improving over the season.”
He says, before adding, with a grandfatherly expression of pride, “They are what the future is all about.”
Banbury Star CC was established in 1891 and the name is believed to derive from the fact that most rides took place in the evening.
The 125th anniversary in 2016 was celebrated with the release of a revamped club kit and 65 club members recreated the inaugural ride from Banbury Town Hall to the village of Middleton Cheney.
Club runs continued throughout both world wars and women were allowed to join in 1935, all recorded in meticulous detail in the treasurer’s records. The club has expanded in recent years and ended 2016 with just under 150 members.
Club runs cater for all abilities, with a slower, sociable ride on Saturday, typically a 13-14mph average over 25 miles. More challenging rides are held on Sunday morning, but coffee and cake stops still feature prominently! In 2017 the club intends to join the British Cycling Go-Ride scheme.
Watch now: How to beat long time trials
The time trial season opens in early March with the 23-mile Hardrider event, and an array of popular midweek time trials take place in the summer, attracting riders from other local clubs.
In conjunction with British Cycling, Banbury Star also organise an open event each May on a challenging multi-lap course that climbs Edge Hill three times.
The men’s race is for third and fourth-cat racers and the women’s race is part of the Team Series of six events for Elite/1/2/3 riders.
The 2017 event will be held on May 21 and more details can be found on the Banbury Star website.
A hotly contested downhill freewheeling race, a regular pub night social and talk of a possible trip abroad round off a packed club calendar.
The club’s most successful road racer was Malcolm Brookling, who was the divisional champion in the 1980s.
The club has a strong time trialling tradition: in 1960 Peter Boffin became the first club member to beat the hour for a 25-mile race. Jon Simpkins and female member, Nicky Xandora, have excelled in recent years and in 2011, Steve Batsford became the first club member to beat four hours for 100 miles.
In 2016 Paul Demicoli qualified for the UCI World Amateur Finals in Perth, Australia.
At 86, Eric Smith is the oldest member of the club and still holds the club record for the Banbury to Reading challenge.
1 Little Tew
On the north side of the Cotswolds there are expansive views, plunging valleys and honey-coloured stone cottages. It’s less touristy and far quieter than many parts of the famous hills.
2 Sibford Gower
The road up to this hidden hamlet starts benignly, but twists and turns its way up to the junction with the B4015. Fortunately, the cake stop is not far from the top!
3 Edge Hill
The scene of the first major battle of the English Civil War is now the backdrop to a more personal war of attrition, as cyclists attempt to conquer the 17 per cent incline.
At the Chandlers Arms, tucked away in Epwell, owners Peter and Assumpta Golding baked a celebratory cake for the Cycling Weekly ride and they also sponsor the Banbury Star Road Race men’s trophy. Chandlers Arms, Sibford Road, Epwell, OX15 6LH.