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Rennrad

Calvert Churchill's touching ode to his former cycling club

Rennrad. A name that has rung in my ears for almost two decades. Since I was young I’ve been surrounded by members of this club, never knowing their real names. Almost like a scene out of Goodfellas when the narrator introduces each character by their nickname. It was only at the age of about 16 that their true identities revealed themselves. It’s also only now I understand the impact this club has had on my life, not only in cycling but also outside of it.

More than just a club, more than just cycling, Rennrad for me always meant family

Rather than a detailed history, I thought I would give a brief overview of its impact on my life and the lives of others around me. More than just a club, more than just cycling, Rennrad for me always meant family. Calling my Dad’s friends ‘uncle’ from the day I could talk, I never quite understood who these people were other than they had won this race and they had won that race. I was entered into a fraternity without knowing. 

Run, organised and managed by Bob Whitear, he created a club that brought on riders. Nowadays it would be the envy of any under-23 development team. Lads who went on to be professionals, lads who won races locally, lads who gave something back to society whether they thought so or not, decent human beings is what Bob shaped. His work, effort, time, patience and persistence with all these people was to live on long after his passing. Without ever knowing, his morals and values would carry on, and be passed down through those members of the club, eventually making their way to me. 

I still take part in the traditions of the club, such as the infamous run from Norwich to Skegness every winter. Cold and hard, in the crosswinds of the fens, I ride with the same thoughts and dreams as those who went before me. Stopping at the same ‘characterful’ cafe and checking into the quirky B&B on the coast of Skegness. The memories of the lads who’ve pressed the pedals down the A17 are inescapable. 

It had traditions and rituals that would baffle the average Joe

Push biking has no real allegiances, no massive supporters or fans for one club or team, yet Rennrad is the exception to the rule. It had all those things you find when supporting your football team, it had traditions and rituals that would baffle the average Joe. Yes, although the commonality with other clubs became apparent, it was obvious to me, that Rennrad was still unique. This is when I realised that cycling was more than just a sport, it affected parts of my life, more than I would ever know. It became entrenched in how I acted and behaved on and off the bike. 

Often I wonder what would’ve been without the Rennrad. It’s hard to even contemplate, almost not worth thinking about. The things that it created, and the opportunities it gave those involved and those that came after, are without question, infinite. I know those who raced or were involved at any level within the club, would consider themselves forever grateful for what it gave them. Whether that be the memories that were formed or the purpose of being that it handed down subconsciously. It may in many cases have kept lads out of prison or found them their place in society. Cycling always attracts characters and although hard to control and direct, somehow Bob found a way. 

The real success is in the world it built, and the people it inspired. Not measurable by any power meter or computer programme

You would only need to spend a few minutes looking at past results of years gone by to see the success – in black-and-white – of the club. This may satisfy some in the modern day of coaching, results and number counting. But the real success is in the world it built, and the people it inspired. Not measurable by any power meter or computer programme. This is what I find to be lacking in modern cycling. It’s often what people forget is most important, what is truly representative of the sport, and what it gives those who live and breathe it everyday. 

There are too many names to mention, too many stories to tell, this is just one of them. In a way it can be said those who know, know, and that may be all that matters. But if you ever come across a Rennrad member, it will only take a short while to realise its impact on them and even yourself. The story of the Rennrad goes on through it’s now sister club, Strada 2020, and those still passing on anecdotes and wisdom. Hoping and building on the foundations that have laid solid in the ground of Norfolk cycling. A legacy I hope resonates with all those who understand that cycling in its various forms is truly a lifeblood.

All images kindly shared by former Rennrad members.

1 comment on “Rennrad

  1. Matt “Spider” Ling

    Great read Calvert. I miss those days so much like many of the other lads. Such a camaraderie within the club and a real sense of belonging – the likes of which I’ve never experienced since. As you say “Those in the know…know”

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