Sean Lacey takes a Midlands spin with a club steeped in history – the Wolverhamption Wheelers
- Photos by Andy Jones
From: Wolverhampton, West Midlands
Meets: Sundays at Aldersley Leisure Village, 9.30am. Wheelers Club Run: 50 to 70 miles averaging 16 to 20mph, often with a cafe stop. Wheelers Classic Club Run: 40 to 55 miles averaging 13 to 17mph, with a cafe stop. Wheelers Race Training Run: 50 to 100 miles averaging 18 to 23mph normally non-stop or with a cafe stop at the end of the ride. There are also numerous activities and rides through the week, see the website for more details.
You know you are heading somewhere with deep connections to cycling when the road leading to your meeting point at Aldersley Leisure Village is named Hugh Porter Way. The stalwart of 60s track cycling, better known nowadays for his TV commentary, is still a local lad and a life-long member of the Wheelers.
We’re met by Robin Kyte, the current chairman, who beckons us inside to the cafe as it’s frankly freezing outside. Kyte tells us, “It’s not just a position but a privilege to look after this club. I’ve been a member for more years than I care to remember and I’m so pleased to see the growth and high standards we produce bring such results and camaraderie among the club’s members.”
The cafe area is starting to fill up nicely now, a sea of black and yellow with the chatter in full flow. A round of applause goes up when a young lad walks in — it turns out that Giulio Cervi had raced the day before and bagged his first win, and his third-cat licence to boot.
The Wheelers organise themselves into two groups, one will be tackling a shorter 25-mile route while the rest will be taking on a 53-mile ride. With the start point on the outskirts of the city, the urban riding is thankfully limited, but the traffic is quiet and soon we are heading for greener scenery and cross into Staffordshire.
The group is rolling along nicely at a pace at which we can chat with relative ease and allows for some on-the-bike interviewing. The Wheelers are a talkative bunch and all attest to the inclusive and friendly nature of the club, with many mentioning the variety and frequency of their rides — from multiple club runs through the week; sessions on the velodrome for both kids and adults; and regular road race and criterium events throughout the year.
At our northern point we pass Haughton, home to another favourite cyclist’s haunt, pencilled in as a fall-back stop should the weather be against us.
Luckily the sun is out so we press on, dropping down through the village of Wheaton Aston for a second time and past Boscobel House, destination of the very first Wheelers club run in 1891.
From here the pace picks up, in part due to the fact it’s mostly downhill from here on in, and that the cafe is just a couple of miles away.
When we arrive, the queue snakes out of the door; not unusually for the Spider’s Web, according to the Wheelers. We just about manage to squeeze in for hot tea and a bacon sandwich.
We get chatting to Sally Ward, who had ridden the 25-mile route with her husband Lee and youngest son Oliver, nine — older son Alex, 13, had opted for the longer route.
“We initially got involved when we brought Alex along for taster sessions on the velodrome,” she says. “He loved it and we all saw it as the ideal family activity. We have now been members for four years, and I qualified as a coach to get more involved and help bring more young riders through.”
Shropshire — our third county of the day — brings both pretty villages and another turn of pace, the wind at our backs now for the run home, and the final treat of a couple of laps on the velodrome, a fitting end.
History, champions and friendship — the Wheelers have a lot going for them.
There are a lot of clubs in the UK, but very few can boast as long a history as that of the Wolverhampton Wheelers. It was formed within the Talbot Hotel in the city just two months after the very publication you are reading, in March 1891.
The nearby Molineux Stadium, now synonymous with Wolverhampton Wanderers football club, hosted cycle races long before a ball was kicked there; in fact, the first recorded Hour record was set here, by James Moore in 1873.
Initially the membership was restricted to 30 members and by invitation only, with no women allowed to join until 1936.
There were some unusual rules by today’s standard back then, including a fine for overtaking the captain! The club has grown and survived two world wars to become the large and vibrant club it is today, with swelling numbers of social and racing cyclists and a large youth membership, in part due to the excellent velodrome facilities they have in the city.
The club has produced an incredible number of national, European, Commonwealth and world champions and there seems to be no sign of letting up on the trophy haul any time soon.
For their 125th anniversary in 2016 the club re-enacted the very first Wheelers club run to the historic site of Boscobel House, which features on our route, with 75 club members turning out to celebrate a club with an amazing heritage.
- Aged 16, Hugh Porter placed third in his first ever race, and went on to win numerous road and track events before landing his first national title for the individual pursuit in 1963, plus rides in the Tour of Britain and Tour de France. He was crowned world champion four times in the individual pursuit.
- Currently on the road and track is another Wheelers world champion in Andy Tennant. Having won at European and world level in the team pursuit and individual disciplines, he has also enjoyed a successful road racing career, riding for pro teams since 2009, and is currently with UCI Continental team Canyon-Eisberg.
- Again on the track, Georgia Hilleard has had a successful season, winning the keirin at the Junior Track National Championships and placing third with team-mate Lauren Bate in the national junior women’s track sprint.
Wolverhampton Wheelers club run
Boscobel and Royal Oak
After the urban sprawl of Wolverhampton comes the rolling countryside of Staffordshire and Boscobel House. In the grounds are the Royal Oak, where King Charles II hid during the Civil War.
Dipping into the third county of the day, you will pass through one of the most picturesque villages in Shropshire, with its large thatched house and pond in the front as you sweep through.
In keeping with the racing heritage of the club, the ride ends with a lap or two of the velodrome, a chance for those with a little bit left to outsprint their mates for bragging rights.
Although the Spider’s Web cafe isn’t quite as old as the Wheelers, it has been a popular cyclists’ stop for over 80 years, serving clubs from all over the surrounding areas for a good few miles around. The door-stop bread used for the sandwiches is legendary, the portions big and the tea and coffee very traditional — no lattes here. The décor is quirky and reminiscent of the old days, with queues out of the door on a busy Sunday. Spider’s Web Cafe, Sydnal Lane, Albrighton, WV7 3NB, 01902 372379