Coming back from the current situation has been difficult for everyone especially clubs who want to return to normal activity, getting their volunteers and coaches re energised to provide quality sessions.
Cycling has however seen a big growth in popularity mainly due to the two lockdowns and people trying new things or returning to old activities. The rusty 1990 bikes were brought out the shed ridden a few times and taken to the local bike shop. New bikes were being bought at an incredible rate resulting in the current shortage. At Scottish cycling we are trying to get clubs back on two wheels and embrace this newfound enthusiasm for cycling with new club opportunities.
There have been a few success stories already and for the next instalment of the Wheels In Motion series Club Development Coordinator for the North, Neil Wilson, spoke to Willie Watt the Chairman of Wolfpax Riders.
Wolfpax Riders formed in 2006 by some local parents and a bike shop owner. The club initially ran their sessions at Laggan Wolf Tracks south of Aviemore. They provide mountain bike coaching for kids and youths at all levels of ability. They differ from the traditional idea of a bike club as they now change their locations for each session and have been held at Comrie Croft near Perth and Badaguish, near Aviemore. They have seen a big increase in their membership in the last few months, with 64 riders singed up for their session at Burnside trails just outside Aviemore in a few weeks. This model has allowed the club to be very adaptable to change. If a location has issues, like temporary closures of toilets then they can move the session to another location quite easily, as happened last month with Laggan Wolf Tracks, kids need toilets its just not worth the hassle and soggy shorts.
It was felt that returning to club activity was quite straight forward as all the committee, coaches, riders and parents, had a strong desire to start getting back out in the outdoors. Willie mentioned that after lock down 1 one of the parents described the club as a “Rock of Normality". The club has members from Campbelltown, Edinburgh, Dundee as well a core membership within 40 miles of Aviemore. The riders now have some great friends from other parts of the country that they would never have met otherwise. The parents are also starting to organise rides to enjoy the areas the club goes to while the younger riders are being coached. Willie mention that for the parents it is not just about the riding they are getting to exploring parts of the country they had not been to before. There is also an economic benefit to the areas they travel to. Badaguish opened the cafe for the 60 riders and 120 adults, and he is sure there were a few trips to local bike shops, with the inevitable mechanicals requiring spares to keep the riders going for the afternoon sessions.
The club has a core group of volunteers who form the backbone of the club. All are invested in the club’s success and were eagerly anticipating the return to activity. Committee meetings are generally held on a picnic bench at a meet, so they are easy going and informal with occasional chats on the committee media group in between sessions. Willie likes to keep things as easy going and unofficial as possible as it makes volunteers feel at ease and just enjoy the experience.
The annual AGM is quite a big affair as it also coincides with the club’s residential weekend. It is not just for kids; the parents are invited to stay as well so it is quite a social event. The last one, in 2019, was in Peebles with a local bunk house filled as well as other accommodation nearby.
Most coaches at the club are freelance professionals who are paid for the time they spend doing club activities. This has allowed the club to offer more riders places in the sessions, without having to worry about volunteers going through the coaching / guiding pathways. This means that Willie and the team can react to demand for the sessions without having to start a waiting list. There has been an increase in coaches with 3 professional female coaches regularly coaching sessions with some girls only session appearing on the calendar now. The riders can also see how they can possibly make a career out of mountain biking, asking the coaches career advice. Willie secured some funding last year to put some of the older riders through the MTB Fundamentals course, which will hopefully happen in a few months’ time. The coaches have been allowing the older riders to mentor some of the youngest riders under their watchful eye. This is giving them some valuable experience for their coaching careers if they chose this path. Some of the members have gone onto big things like 20-year-old Jamie Edmonston who has signed for Trek Factory Racing this year so that he only has to ride his bike on the world stage in Downhill and Enduro and not worry too much about finding money as a unsponsored rider.
Being a mountain bike specific club Willie felt it was easier to resume activities than maybe for other clubs. The group sizes are a maximum of 8 riders, with group sizes often less than this. The groups ride off uphill and generally distances through ability, once they reach the top of the trail, they turn down hill on single track stopping occasionally to session sections of trail. There is no real change to that process with the current Covid restrictions. Something he and the rest of the team have been very keen on is to make things as normal as possible for everyone so that they feel at ease in the current changeable environment. The only change for the club has been at the start and the end of the day. The usual melee is now distanced, and the M check is completed in the individual groups. It is and will continue to be a fun safe and fun environment.
Willie is delighted at the club resuming its role of bring smiles to everyone’s faces and having a great time. This includes the parents. Happy kids’ happy parents