You know me, reader. You know the sort of person I am. I’m an honest man, and I will always endeavour to give you the unvarnished truth. So I feel I can tell you that London Dynamo hasn’t been travelling a smooth road lately.
Behind the walled city of our members-only forum, a few ’Mos have loudly complained that the club has lost its focus. Dynamo finished a mere sixth in the Surrey League last year – please, hold back your tears – and some of our more experienced racers feel the club’s racing culture has been eroded as more sportive riders have flooded in.
Despite my fondness for a good old ding-dong, I’m not too bothered by this contretemps. A lot of our big Surrey League point-scorers stopped racing for the club because they moved out of London or had kids. But a healthy number of newer members are going to Hillingdon to try out racing at the Imperial Winter Series, and more riders will make the transition from sportives to road racing. You’ve just got to give it time.
Nevertheless, the issue of how to handle the club’s ever-expanding size is likely to provide animated discussion at this year’s AGM, which takes place tomorrow. Some disillusioned members might not come along to join in with the arguments because they have decided not to renew their memberships. But it is notable that many more haven’t already left. Veteran club cyclist Tim Hilton, in his charming, freewheeling cultural history One More Kilometre And We’re In The Showers, observed that any cycling club’s maximum number of members was usually around 100. “The history of British cycling tells us that defections will occur, or a formal split, if this number is exceeded.” London Dynamo reached Hilton’s benchmark within 12 months, and by the end of 2012 – its ninth year – there were 560 paid-up members.
And these days there isn’t an imperative to join a cycling club in the first place. With GPS devices, newcomers to the sport can easily discover and navigate training rides themselves. Personal trainers can provide you with a training plan, or you can filch knowledge from books, magazines and the internet to create your own. You could even learn the basics of roadcraft from YouTube.
In this context, London Dynamo and other large clubs should be the HMVs of the cycling world, lumbering beasts struggling to adapt to the digital age. But instead of facing extinction or decline, membership numbers in most large clubs I know of are rising or remain high. Strava’s virtual club runs haven’t made a dent in the popularity of our rides, and the Rapha Rendezvous app, which aimed to connect users looking for others to ride with them, quietly disappeared some time during the past year.
So why are cycling clubs doing so well? I think the fundamental reason is that cycling can be bloody miserable. Before reaching the sunlit uplands of peak fitness, you must endure scores of desultory, rain-soaked miles, so it helps if you can be among a large group of people offering each other moral support along the way. The other key reason is the randomness: you can turn up week after week for a club run and never know exactly who you’re going to meet. A big club like ours can be a new club, or at least a slightly different one, every time you turn up for a ride.
But you can’t have amity without enmity, which is why I value the sometimes vociferous debates that take place within Dynamo, and the wide differences between members’ participation in the sport. The club will never be just a load of stats and info on a screen; we’re a living entity, and arguments are a sign of life, however ugly.