Ashford Wheelers CC
Competition and camaraderie define Kent’s hard-riding club
As I pull up outside a small industrial estate on the edge of Ashford, I can’t help but wonder if I’m in store for the scenic ride through the Kent countryside that I’ve been looking forward to. But as Matt Clark of Ashford Wheelers CC says, when we return to the same spot 55 miles, and just three hours, later: “Ashford has a bit of a reputation for not being the most picturesque of places, but within minutes you can be in amazing countryside.”
Heading south towards the coast it turns out he’s right, with the oast houses and quiet roads with low hedgerows that are the stereotypical images of the Kentish countryside all around.
Ashford Wheelers are a club who love time trialling. “We run 17 time trial events through the summer. They’re open to everyone, just turn up and have a go. Sometimes we get up to 40 riders as it’s a really popular, fast course,” Mick Claydon, club treasurer, tells me.
But AWCC is also a club that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Steve Clarke is one of the longest continuous members, having joined in 1994. “We are one of the more competitive clubs, but there’s also a lot of mickey taking among the guys,” he says.
Dave Hampton is one of many members who relishes the social side that comes with being a club member: “We have a BBQ at my house every summer, and we’ve become good friends. A group of us went out for beer and curry this week. And for my wedding, the guys all turned up in the club shirt and did a guard of honour.”
Approaching the English Channel, Jon Collidge, who joined two years ago, alerts me to what’s in store. “Chick Hill is coming up. It’s short but really steep. You’ll hear a few expletives going up there!” He’s right: my Garmin shows a 23 per cent maximum gradient, Strava later says 33 per cent! Either way, the air turns blue.