I have sensed it out on the roads and in conversation but today I got a tangible measure of the boom in cycling right now. In the cycling calendar, Reliability Trials are pretty much filed under hardcore. At a distance they look like a Sportive, hard rides through scenic landscape. But they are its older more brutal twin. Run in inhospitable times of the year when road conditions and the elements are against you, there are no broom wagons for the weak. Route signs are optional, it is down to the rider to know the way. As for event timing something scrawled on a soggy card takes the place of chip timing. The term Reliability Trial comes from the notion that it was a test of the bike and rider, not just fitness but if they were both 'reliable.'
So these events were pretty much the preserve of racing club men (and it was men mostly) getting themselves fired up for the season ahead. This was not the kind of thing newbies pick. You could try to follow somebody who knows the way, but then you have to be able to hang onto the wheel of some headbanger racing snake.
But there is a change I could see at the Old Portlians Reliability today. Normally we get around 80 entrants. Today there were long queues and dwindling supplies as we attracted nearly twice that number. Interestingly there was lots of demand of the short route suggesting we were getting riders newer to the sport. And, a growing female cohort, many who have come in through triathlon.
It was great to see so many new faces turning out for this homely cheerful event.
Some may miss the hardcore past. Austen (half) joked that the sport was now too accessible, what had become of the brutal alienating rituals that ensured cycling remained an obscure athletic backwater? Cheery old initiations to would be members like take them on a club run, ride them into the ground then drop them in the middle of nowhere. Surprisingly many did not return the following week.
A few years back I was concerned that traditional events like to Old Ports Reliability would get swamped by slick Sportives. Either having to scale up like Catford CC did with the Hell of the Ashdown, or die. Today suggests that the cycling boom, and the demand for the sport will mean that there is still a space in the calendar for these old school season openers.
Cheers to Gary Blunt for organising it.