Cheltenham Town Wheelers was started by David Brown and Joe O’Hara in about 2015. It was a small community club that aimed to support more young people to ride their bikes and to introduce them to racing. I joined them alongside a couple of other coaches in 2016 and worked towards my level 2 coaching award when they were still working out of a car park in Sudeley Castle.
It was a wonderful place to start, but we were quickly outgrowing what we could do in that space. Then, in November 2017 we approached British Cycling and one of their club and coach officers joined us for a night at Pittville Park and from that moment it all changed.
Pittville has an area of land that is perfect for cyclocross (cx) and off-road bikes. It is a traffic free course that Cheltenham Borough Council look after and is used for Western League cx events and is now our home. We have worked closely with the parks team at the council and maintain the course for ours and others use.
David stepped down as Chair in 2017 as we moved over to the course at Pittville and that is when I took on the role of Chair. We had a few keen cyclists stay with us when we moved but had to look at growing our numbers again in this new location. In 2018 we would average 25 to 30 riders across all age groups and would run just one session and split out the riders into ability or age groups. Training on a Wednesday evening from March to October.
During 2019 we helped to host Cheltenham community cycling festival and from this moment our club seemed to blossom. We extend our coaching staff and our volunteer workforce behind the scenes as the numbers of riders continued to grow. At the end of 2021 we have over 70 registered youth riders.
Saturdays are always our busiest day, we start setting up the park for the arrival of our young riders about 1.30, as we need a good hour to walk the park for our risk assessment and set out the courses for the different groups. We have five groups across the two hours that we coach, each rider is put in a group that suits their ability, age and who their friends are. We try our best to accommodate all three, but it can be hard to always get it right. Each group has a lead coach who really sets the session and progression for the riders in their group, encouraging them to have fun and play with new skills. There is always something to learn and to practise on a bike.
The first hour is for our younger riders, we have the groups set out so they can see their progression through the club and (link to our groups on the website) Many of our younger riders just want to have fun on their bikes and although some do race, we focus more on play than race - which is perfect at this age. We should just do it for the love of it.
The second hour is for our older riders and those more serious about their riding. In this group we will focus as much on skill as we do on tactical and technical aspects of their riding to help them to improve in their racing. In this group we have riders who compete at local, regional and national events, with three riders now signed up to a local race team ‘Magspeed Racing’ who provide them with all round support for their competition. Working with Scotty has been good for the club and these young riders as it’s helped us to bridge the gap for those that want to progress their riding.
We also offer Wednesday night fun sessions - we take off road adventure rides on gravel or mountain bikes, head to the pump track for some fun on the rollers and table tops and, in the winter, we have a couple of flood light sessions on the park to run Zwift rides on the turbo for riders who want to stay connected through the week. My favourite of all these are the adventure rides, rolling along with our riders side by side means we can chat more and really get to know them and it also allows us to share a little trail etiquette and give them the freedom to use the skills they learn on the park and put them into practice.
Our club isn’t all about the bike though, we want to make sure that all our riders grow as individuals first, to develop all round skills that support them in life not just on the park. We have five young leaders who help us each weekend. Paddy was our first youth coach; he completed his British Cycling Gold Youth Leader award in 2019 and went on to complete his Level 1 in coaching in 2021 aged just 17. He is an absolute star and a real asset to the club. Following closely in his footsteps are four new young leaders aged 14 and 15, they all attend the first hour session to help the coaches with the younger groups. Setting out the course, understanding the skills we are looking to coach in the session and offering demonstrations. They also help lead warmups and cool downs around the park.
We know that these young leaders offer a quite different connection for the younger riders. I have seen young riders progress further and put in more effort when the young leaders are around. They act as a role model and a benchmark for riders.
In the next few months, we will be supporting these riders through the British Cycling Flying Start programme for young leaders and they will learn more from coaches across the country that will help them progress. I can see them becoming not only riders of the future but also coaches, mechanics, and support staff for cycling events.
All credits: Cheltenham Town Wheelers, 2021