I was living with my wife-to-be in the smallest two up, two down house that Yaxley could muster. Cycle training in that particular winter comprised a massive logistical piece of skill in getting the turbo in from the shed before hooking my bike to it in the pokiest corner of the kitchen.
I was a fully-fledged committee member of the local cycling club Fenland Clarion, despite the organisation being based on the other side of the city of Peterborough, in Helpston. There were as many miles in the car as on the bike in participating in my hobby, but there seemed no alternative…
The email was from a former training partner and school friend, Steve Milne. He had drifted away from cycling but was getting back involved. We discussed the local club scene, including which one he should join for racing and “wasn’t it still annoying that there was nothing on the southern side of town for riders?”
The correspondence went on for a few weeks and once Steve was up and running with a bike and some kit we went out on a weekend, chatting, riding and enjoying ourselves.
What was clear in our minds was that we needed something in Yaxley, something to engage the existing riders into getting on their bikes. We wanted them to go training from the village, rather than having to trek across town to meet up with others.
We settle initially on a Tuesday night ride (I can’t remember why that day was chosen), and set off from the top of Holme Road. The ride was only 17 miles and at a social pace. It was the perfect way to take advantage of the spring evenings and extra day light.
We went down the length of Holme Road before turning right at the Admiral Wells. We headed west to the A1 and down towards Sawtry.
We then took the left into Cooks Lane, a road which was much more rideable back in the day, and across towards the railway line cutting back to Conington church. It was a straight road back past the Peterborough Airfield and retracing our steps back to the village.
We did the ride again the next week with two more people joining. A 100% increase on the first ride! The Yaxley Gazette backed us by posting an article advertising the rides, support we still have from Justine to this day.
We set up a website and Twitter feed before ordering the very limited edition first set of jerseys.
They were white with blue sleeves and had the group web address on the front and back. We sold a few, mainly to people who had been born and raised in the village but had moved out. They went to places like Holland and the Channel Islands.
The group was started to grow and develop further. The Tuesday evening ride was getting to double figures and we started to go out on Sundays. The meeting point was moved from Holme Road to the white bench at the Church Street/Broadway junction.
There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly there was a bit more space up on the grass there, secondly we were getting a number of people joining us from outside of the village and this was a spot everyone could find without knowing the layout of Yaxley.
The final, and yet most subtle bit of marketing was that it made the rides more visible. People were gathered in anticipation of having some fun whilst others were trapped in their cars at the traffic lights. It worked brilliantly and the group started to grow massively.
More people started to get involved once Steve launched the groups Facebook page. There was lots of discussion and debate about rides and kit. We quickly hit triple figures in terms of number sof followers and it was clear that the idea of an informal set up had worked and that it appealed to people.
We did have a mission strategy in that we wanted to help develop riders for the clubs. We didn’t want to work against them or replace them. It’s true to say that both Steve and I took a bit of stick from our respective clubs at the time and throughout the life of Yaxley Riders. We were not popular as we were different. There were plenty of times during that period where we discussed closing the group down.
Yaxley Riders used the internet to communicate more effectively than the established clubs had ever done and we were not charging a membership or expecting commitment. We just wanted people to ride with us!
Rob Bernard, Paul Griffin, Alex Ashcroft and Gary Gwynn joined us to form the first admin committee bringing even more structure to the group and a real strategy for developing the sport locally.
Our regular ride calendar developed over the next year or so with the Tuesday ride tradition being maintained. It evolved into the “Hare and Hounds”. Weekends were now being catered for and more and more people wanted to be part of what was happening.
Over 100 riders joined the first Reliability Ride from the Sunny Café at the start of 2014. It was a proud moment for Steve and me to set that ride off.
By now we had an online store selling our new black orange and lime kit, a jersey designed by Gary and made possible by Steve and Dave Clow who did the first and only group logo. The chain ring with our name and website address is now really recognisable and was added to the website and Facebook page.
We were still unpopular to some and had endured a bit of public criticism at a celebration of Peterborough cycling hosted by Rapha. Those misunderstandings of our purpose and mission seem to have died down sufficiently to the extent that people accept Yaxley Riders place in the local cycling scene.
The objective hasn’t changed. We want to get people involved and interested in the sport. If they want to develop and race, then there are established clubs with a much better infrastructure to accommodate those needs than us. We want to help people get the basics of the sport and the most possible enjoyment they can from the time they have to devote to it.
However, enough on the negative publicity we have created though. It’s more important to focus on the successes as there have been many.
We have a healthy social scene with regular pub evenings and meals. The regular ride calendar has now been expanded to include a beginners ride, Thursday training, a Saturday join up with local shop Greenwheel cycles and the Sunday Spinner.
Many of the rides now prove so popular that we can’t use the bench as a departure point! The Sunny Café in the Broadway shopping centre has become the focal point with coffee, cake and fry ups adding to the cultural appearance of the club.
Our tours are rapidly gaining legendary status. We have ridden to the Women’s Tour twice and the Tour de France, both from the village.
The Tour de France had a reception with coffee and croissants back in the village, concluding with a big screen transmission of the last kilometres of the stage.
The weekend trips away have proved really popular with the Tour of Britain having been taken in from the roadside.
This year has seen the group celebrate its fifth birthday.
I think it’s fair to say that Steve and I never saw that coming back in 2010. We wanted some company for rides. After that came the opportunity to represent our home village, hence our continued focused on branding and pushing the team kit.
We are proud to be from Yaxley and wanted to show people that civic pride.
As the fifth anniversary dawned I launched what was supposed to be a limited edition single production run of commemorative jerseys.
I had toyed with the design for days and days. Our chosen supplier was Godfrey Sports and there was a reason for that. They are a UK based company with a UK production facility in Nottingham. Their values and ethos of getting high quality kit out there for people to enjoy their riding was exactly what we were after.
Their CEO Tom Godfrey and I traded drawings on a pretty regular basis (you should see some of the ones we rejected!!) before hitting on the block layout we have.
The colours were no accident and nor was the design. It had the white on it to reflect the first kit we had done, the black to reflect the previous look and orange which is a consistent colour in a lot of the sports teams in Yaxley. We wanted to represent the village and keep that theme. It was important to be part of the sporting community that existed.
Lots has been said about the colours and the kit but a lot of thought and consideration went in to the minutest points of detail. The thickness of the bands, the size of the lettering, everything was researched.
The final tweak we made was the addition of the riders name or nickname down the sides. Yes we took the idea from Team Sky who were doing it in the pro cycling peloton, but there was a purpose behind it.
The group was growing so rapidly that we were struggling to keep pace with all of the new riders to know their names!
Almost 100 kits have been sold which is well beyond my wildest dreams when I first shared some ideas on Instagram back in late 2014. We are keeping this kit into 2016 and despite riding in my club St Ives kit in the Tour of Cambridgeshire last summer, it was a really emotional moment seeing people in the YR kit at that event.
So in a rather concise nutshell, that is how we have got to where currently sit as a group. I have immense pride in being one of the two founder members of Yaxley Riders. Not a day goes by where the group doesn’t cross my mind in one way or another.
It’s well documented that with a young family and time pressure, I don’t partake in group activities as often nowadays. But that is also a sign of my faith in the people running it. They are doing a great job. The new team comprises Andrew Edwards, Richard Nightingale, Helen Harris and Nick Reinis.
The other thing I take great pride in is that the group means so much to so many people and in so many different ways. It’s true to say that Yaxley Riders has made a positive difference to lives and that is something way beyond the original remit.
I have been wanting to document the history of the group for a long time now and the end of our anniversary year seemed the most appropriate time for a real look back and reflective appraisal of what has been achieved.
It only remains for me to say, here’s to the next five years!