Finding friendship and comfort on the Cowley Road

How cycling changed Velocity founder Will's life

April 4, 2022

I’ve always loved sport and in recent years I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve been using exercise to regulate my mental wellbeing for most of my adult life. Thankfully the topic of managing mental health, which was once a subject that was almost taboo in some quarters, is now far better understood and has largely cast off its reputation as something to be internalised or worse, to be ashamed of. 

I discovered middle distance running as I approached my thirties. Well, I say running, but in truth I was a pretty modest athlete, so my efforts were probably better accurately described as jogging. However, getting out and pounding the streets, listening to my Walkman (remember this was last century) was an ameliorating process, allowing my mind to either reflect on work worries, the stresses of raising a young family or any other pressing matters; or blotting them out for a while, whatever was needed at the time.


Unfortunately what was good for my mind wasn’t so great for my body and I began to suffer from a succession of niggling hip and knee injuries that were preventing me from being able to carry out myself-help therapy sessions.

Eventually, after a number of different sessions of physiotherapy failed to address the underlying problems, a physio asked me if I’d ever considered cycling as a method of building leg strength. I hadn’t, but by this point I was prepared to try anything that might provide me with the diversion I needed. I dipped my toe in the water at my local gym, starting out with half hour sessions on their Wattbike (a static bike). I loved the distraction of the stats on offer: miles covered, heart rate, cadence, average power. Within a month I needed a daily fix and longer sessions, but unfortunately for me I didn’t have a monopoly on the bike and I was often left jealously watching other gym members sweating away. 


My brother-in-law Jon, an accomplished road and mountain bike rider, who worked in the trade, offered to pick me up a cheap, but decent second-hand bike to see if my enthusiasm for riding in the gym might also translate when getting out on the road.


On my first solo road ride I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t really understand how to use my gears properly and my heart was in my mouth every time a car passed me. I managed 45 miles but stopped numerous times to catch my breath or eat, and I had to dismount on one steep hill. However, I was smitten and within a few weeks was planning my first 100 mile ride. It nearly killed me but with the support of Jon I completed the century. 


I went in search of other long ride events and discovered Bike Oxford. Over the course of that ride I couldn’t help noticing how many cyclists in a cool pink and black kit passed me, mostly in small groups and almost without exception with big smiles on their faces.

The following Tuesday I was heading out down the Cowley Road when I passed a mass of pink-clad riders milling about Manzil Way. My curiosity overcame my natural reticence and I approached the throng. I was warmly welcomed and it was suggested I join a small, mixed-sex social ride for my first experience of a group ride. I was introduced to everyone in the group, and given a little guidance on some calls and signals that are used to safeguard everyone. That evening the revelation that riding in a group was not only easier than riding solo, but quicker too, convinced me that the Cowley Road Condors were for me. Through my involvement in rides and social events I became aware of the incredible amount of work the club’s dedicated board, ably led by President, the inestimable Cheryl Reid, put in behind the scenes to ensure its smooth running. Furthermore, their drive to continue the club’s goals of further increasing its female membership (currently 37%, already amongst the highest in British Cycling affiliated clubs in the UK) and trying to ensure that the club represents Oxford’s diversity is laudable. I felt compelled to try and contribute to these efforts, so I volunteered to stand for a board position and was lucky enough to be elected as co-race secretary. 

Five years and 55,000 miles after joining the Condors I can say, hand on heart, that joining the club was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made. Thanks to the Condors I’ve learned so much about the city I’ve called home for over 25 years, and discovered beautiful scenery within Oxfordshire and beyond. I’ve ridden with some wonderful, fascinating and talented individuals and forged friendships with people from walks of life that without a common interest in cycling, I’d never have met. I’ve laughed and cried with them and been inspired by them. I’ve been supported by some of them through injury and a bout of depression. What’s more, they’ve been pivotal, alongside my family, in encouraging me to believe that Jake and I had nothing to lose by establishing Velocity. 

Apologies if this blog has veered toward the evangelical, but if you have ever considered riding with a club in Oxford and you’d like to know more, please see the Condors website here.


back to Blogs