Club focus: Salt Ayre Cog Set
09 February 2015
Salt Ayre Cog Set is a brilliant example of how a youth cycling club achieves huge success by bringing three key factors together: developing the love of cycling; access to a great cycling facility; the vision and hard work of volunteers.
Cog Set’s Jonathan Abra tells us the club’s story.
Salt Ayre Cog Set is based in Lancaster but draws members from across North Lancashire, South Cumbria and even one or two from North Yorkshire. The club was established in 2007. We have around 100 members aged under 16 and, on average, see 80 individuals attending our sessions each week.
We are fortunate enough to enjoy the use of a purpose-built closed-road circuit with spectacular views across the River Lune to Lancaster Castle and the Pennine hills. Many riders and parents will know it from the North West Youth Tour. Our “landlords”, Lancaster City Council, have been great supporters of the club and we work with them to ensure that the facility is well used and maintained to a high standard. In 2014 we secured Sport England funding and installed floodlights around the track, which means that we can now train all year round. Our kit and club bikes are stored in reclaimed shipping containers on site but we’re working towards building our own clubhouse.
Because of where we’re based, most of what we do is focused on road (circuit) racing but club riders also compete in the Manchester Velodrome track leagues and cyclocross in the winter. Once a year we decamp en-masse to the Lake District, North Wales or Kielder Forest for a mountain biking weekend. Several times a year we take a group of novices to experience the velodrome and we’ve even dabbled in BMX. A significant number of our members also belong to our neighbouring triathlon club.
Our main coaching session takes place on a Saturday morning from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m., but as we outgrew the capacity of the circuit we had to instigate a Monday evening session for the race squad and aspiring racers. Each week throughout the spring and summer, riders have the opportunity to race in our youth crit series on a Wednesday and the wildly popular time trials on Thursdays where they can choose to ride 2, 6 or 10 miles. The time trials regularly attract 80 riders – from 8 year-olds on Isla Bikes through to dads on low-pro all-carbon TT machines.
After a protracted process of drawing up a code of practice that British Cycling considered appropriate we did instigate escorted group rides on the highway for over-12s: we have some fantastic roads and scenery here (even if the weather does let us down some times). Unfortunately that initiative seems to have fizzled out.
Our coaches (five at level 2, six at level 1) are encouraged to make the sessions fun and varied (“Bonkers Race” anyone?). Our club ethos is to build a love of cycling first and give those that want to race the opportunity to do so. Nobody is forced to race and we acknowledge explicitly that not everyone wants to. Those that do go on to compete do so mainly in the North West Youth League but in 2014 our newly-formed Race Squad travelled across the country and rode in several National Series events.
Parents are integral to the running of our club. Some are coaches themselves, others do membership, catering, club kit, welfare, treasurer… all the things that have to happen for a club to function. The Cog Set Catering Crew is legendary across the North West and its reputation has spread far wider. It’s a constant challenge to keep the posts all filled and our most important recent move was to appoint a volunteer coordinator. If anyone is just starting a youth cycling club that would be one word of advice I’d pass on – get yourself a volunteer coordinator early-doors!
We’re a very democratic club and while that can lead to protracted decision making it does mean we have a great sense of ownership and belonging. Every Saturday session starts with a whole-club “pootle”. All riders, from 6 to 16, ride round the circuit a couple of times at a really gentle pace and we encourage them to chat to someone new – even if it is just learning their name. It’s a bit like a school assembly and in that ten-minute activity we reinforce the fact that we are one club. Each Saturday session ends with a whole-club race activity like a relay or Italian Pursuit.
As we move into our eighth year we have just changed our jersey design for the first time. The more grown-up kit still uses our club colours (purple and gold) and features our cog motif but in a more pared-down style. Everyone is excited to pull on the smart new livery for 2015, including our newly formed Junior squad, formed in response to demand from last year’s Youth Category “A” (i.e. Under 16) riders who wanted to stay with the club!
It is testament to the inclusive nature of the club that we can be an attractive home for 17 year-olds racing at national level while still having a waiting-list of 5 year-olds desperate to start because they see how much their big brothers and sisters enjoy it. The continued growth of the club means we’re doing what we set out to achieve but unless we can continue to recruit parents to coach and volunteer, we will be overwhelmed by numbers.
Visit Salt Ayre Cog Set’s website.