500 celebrate a 134th birthday!

Campsite at Ellesmere College

As a fledgling cyclist, I joined the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) on its 100th birthday in 1978, and promptly joined in the centenary festivities by meeting up with 100 other riders in Manchester to ride 100 miles  in 8 hours (then known as a reliability ride). It was the first century ride of my cycling career and last week  (some 175,000 cycling miles later) I found myself mingling with a crowd of 500 other keen mile-eaters (many of a certain age) to celebrate the club’s 134th birthday. The event is known as the CTC Birthday Rides, a week-long rally that takes place every year in August in some carefully chosen location in the UK. This year our base was at Ellesmere College in north Shropshire, giving us immediate access to large tracts of hilly north Wales, the Cheshire lanes and the Long Mynd in Shropshire.

A remarkable thing about these huge gatherings is the demographic

My Vaude Hogan Ultralight tent: cosy!

of the group. Many have been coming to these rallies for years (some as long as 40 years). The demographic may have changed little over the decades, but the age profile has advanced steadily  ‘at a constant cadence’. Not for them shaven legs and faces. Not for them power bars, Gatorade and gels. Few sport the latest fashions in lycra, but demonstrations of club loyalty abound in the motley garments of attire. Not for them the latest in carbon fibre or titanium. You won’t see many 11 speed rear cassettes or the latest in Campagnolo or Shimano equipment. The predominant guide on the handlebars will not be a Garmin or Memory Map, but a Maptrap that holds in place the written route instructions and a page torn out of a road atlas.

One of the ‘lumpy’ bits in the Long Mynd

The Birthday Rides may not be a catwalk of the most recent ‘finger-licking’ developments in the cycling world, but you will be entertained by the motley variety of people who have cycled the world, who will hold you spellbound by anecdotal tales of what happened to them in darkest Africa, or deepest China, or crossing the arid plains of the Atacama desert. You will hear of intrepid pedallers who have scaled some of the highest roads in the Himalayas, crossed the Atlas mountains on two wheels, cycled from one end of Japan to the other, and crossed the American continent.

Many of these people resort to tricks of understatement. When they talk about a ‘lumpy landscape’, they are really talking about high mountains and huge passes. A long day in the saddle to the average human being is about 2 hours. For these people 8-10 hours is commonplace. A journey of 10-15 miles would exhaust a lesser being, but many of these people have cycled successive days in excess of 100 miles per day, and some will regularly do Audax rides of 200, 300, 400 kms without a break for sleep. A shower of rain that would deter the fair-weather cyclist is nothing but a minor annoyance. They will don their waterproofs and ride all day and night if necessary……. after all, it’s only water!

If you look beyond the characteristic stoop of the life-long pedaller, the silver hair and beard, you will see the profiles of

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people who have been true adventurers in their own right, quietly and undemonstratively cycling to the far corners of the earth just for the sheer pleasure. It is a privilege to share a few miles with them, or sit at table over a leisurely meal and eavesdrop on their storytelling. None of them have been propelled by the lure of success on the race track nor the limelight of road racing, but by their own curiosity to discover the world and pit themselves against the forces of nature. The ultimate reward was no more than a deep sense of personal satisfaction at a job well done.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on August 21, 2012, in Aspects of Britain, Cycling UK and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Peter Staples


  2. How funny, we were in shrophsire last weekend as well, for some audaxes (haven’t gotten around to writing it up yet). Alberto climbed Long Mynd on Saturday! He did mention running into some people who looked like that looked like they were on an audax, but weren’t …. must have been you guys!

    • Yep, it probably was us, clogging up the narrow lanes and byways. I was up the Mynd on the Thursday, sampling the fantastic home-made cakes at the Bog Visitor Centre near the Stiperstones. Great countryside, and met head-on at least one 20% climb.

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