08 December 2018

I'd Join Their Club If...

Most bicycle clubs I've seen have just one requirement for membership:  Pay your dues.  That sounds worse than it actually is.  Let's say you're in such a club and something comes up in your life that keeps you from riding with the club for, say, a few months.  Well, if you can keep up your membership, at least you can stay in touch with fellow riders--and partake of whatever benefits the club might offer, such as discounts at local bike shops.

Then there are clubs that have other requirements for membership, such as age or gender.  Others--usually racing clubs--want riders who can keep up with everybody else in the group.  

Sometimes these bars to entry are placed to keep the club focused, whether by interest or simply people's level of comfort with one or another.  I've heard of a few clubs that simply want to stay small (or, at least, no bigger than X number of riders) for whatever purpose(s).

But there is one cycling club in London that limits its size for a possibly unique reason, which has to do with its name.

The Pickwick Bicycle Club, founded in 1870, is said to be the oldest continuously-operating bicycle club in the world.  In following a custom that was fairly common in England at the time, the Pickwick wasn't just a group of cyclists; it was also a sort of literary club.  Specifically, its members were dedicated to a particular work by a writer who died in the same month the club held its first luncheon.

The club's name is "Pickwick", as in "Papers".  Because he died just as the club started--a year after the velocipede appeared in London--Charles Dickens probably didn't ride a bicycle.  Characters in the "Pickwick Papers", or any other Dickens story, didn't, either.  At the time the club held its first rides, however, he was at the peak of his popularity:  Clubs and other organizations existed solely for the purpose of public or group readings of his works.  And, it just happened that the sorts of people drawn to those groups--mainly middle-to-upper-class city dwellers--were also the same sorts of people who took up the then-new sport of cycling.

Pickwick Bicycle Club riders at Hampton Court, 1877

The Pickwick Club's membership has always been limited to about 200.  If you want to join, they won't quiz you on the PP or any other Dickens work.  It does, however, take a certain amount of knowledge of the Dickens oeuvre to pull off something the club requires:  that you become one of the novel's characters.  At least, in club circles, you have to be known by that character's name.

As you can tell by the number of club members, there were a lot of characters--mostly peripheral, but in the book nonetheless.  That is because Pickwick Papers was originally a serial that was later assembled into a book.  Every novel, however--even one as sprawling as War and Peace or Les Miserables--has a finite number of characters.  So, even at 200 members, Pickwick is a fraction of the size of other clubs I've seen, and of which I've been a part.

Can you imagine if bicycle clubs today limited their memberships to the number of characters in a novel--or a TV show or movie?  I must admit that, even though I didn't like Batman Forever, I would join any cycling club--hey, any club at all--that would allow me to be Dr. Chase Meridian, even if I wouldn't look as good doing it as Nicole Kidman did!

P.S. Even if I were a famous racer or writer, or someone influential in the cycling industry, I couldn't join The Pickwick Club:  It's still a men-only affair!

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