Ride 100 miles on a bike and they call it riding a century. Today, one of Northern Ireland’s oldest cycling clubs celebrates 100 years on the road.
But Ballyclare-based Kings Moss Cycling Club nearly died 20 years ago, and its survival to celebrate the big anniversary is a small miracle.
Records show the club, also known as KMCC, was established at Whittley’s Tavern next to the level crossing at Kings Moss, County Antrim, in 1922.
Over the years it has become one of the most successful running clubs in the country.
A number of young cyclists who founded the club had fought together in Company C of the 12th Royal Irish Rifles in the First World War.
Returning veterans were behind several new sporting clubs in the area which still flourish today: Ballyclare Comrades Football Club was established in 1919 and Ballyclare Rugby Club was based in Staffy Carmichael’s pub in the village of Ballyeaston.
Thinking back to the golden age of the cycling club, one of its most successful riders was Joe Hadden, who competed for three decades from the 1950s.
In 1953 Hadden ran a 12-hour time trial at an average speed of 23.4 mph. That same year he broke the Belfast-Dublin-Belfast record, completing the feat in 10 hours and 17 minutes.
His name appeared in the top three drivers in Irish racing from the 1950s until 1984.
Later he took on a coaching role at the club, and in 1982 another Kings Moss rider, Gordon Scott, represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in three separate disciplines.
Interest in cycling died out in the later years of the 20th century and by the early 2000s the KMCC had only six members, only two of whom were active cyclists.
It looked like the club was doomed to close, but a charity event in 2008 proved to be the turning point.
In 2008, nine cyclists from Kings Moss rode 400 miles covering the length of Ireland from Mizen Head in County Cork to Fair Head in County Antrim in four days, raising £5,000 for charity cancer charity.
Stephen Laird, one of the heroic nine, says they have taken a proactive approach to generating local and national media coverage.
“It saw a good number of members join us,” he recalls. “I guess the end to end gave us something to practice on and we were out to beat the miles for weeks beforehand.”
Sitting on the shoulders of giants
I joined Kings Moss in 2016 after a few years of cycling alone, attracted by the club’s “Couch-to-90km” program for beginners.
The senior members coached and pampered us until we were fit to tackle the club’s annual sporting event – a challenging 90km course through the Glens of Antrim.
Since then, I have traveled thousands of kilometers and participated in many sports with thousands of other runners.
I managed to get lost in the woods during a sports race in Belgium and got completely soaked watching the world championship road race in Harrogate.
Cycling has changed my life, but the heart of it remains the Saturday KMCC “running race” with my group C mates.
We may be slow, but we sit on the shoulders of giants.
Whether in time trials, road races or on grass tracks, early Mossers were hardened athletes. And they were all men.
Friendship, fun and friendship
These days the club has a healthy mix of male and female members.
“The club has grown significantly in recent years to over 100 members and, like most other cycling clubs, has seen a surge in female membership,” says KMCC secretary Ian Houston.
“While in the past Kings Moss was primarily a well-known racing club, we are now putting much more emphasis on the club racing, sports and social aspects of cycling.”
Club member Tara Farrington says cycling gives her a sense of well-being and energy.
“It’s an antidote to the stresses of life,” she says. “It’s hard to worry and ruminate while cycling in our beautiful countryside.”
Tara, who has just returned from the club’s annual trip to Mallorca, says being a member of Kings Moss gives her “comradeship, fun, shared adventures, supportive people and friendship”.
The motorcycles of 1922 were very different from those of today.
Rims were made of wood and multi-speed derailleurs belonged to the future. A rider who wanted to change gears had to remove the rear wheel and flip it over to access a larger or smaller sprocket.
The equipment may have changed, but some of the traditions of the KMCC club have remained the same for decades.
Regular meetings are held at the Five Corners pub near Ballyclare and all members are welcome to attend.
The President may knock the gavel and decisions are made by a show of hands.
It is also a good opportunity for members to chat and have a coffee.
Keith Gibson was once a serious racing cyclist, but now finds weekend club racing a great way to stay physically and mentally healthy.
“When I started, cycling was a sport, a question of speed and competition,” he says. “It was about getting in shape and recovering, improving your times and beating others.
“Biking these days is an escape from the daily pressures of life, it’s about clearing your head of energy-consuming nonsense and just getting away to hang out in my happy place.”
The Kings Moss Cycling Club celebrates its centenary with a number of special events including an exhibition at the Theater at the Mill in Mossley.
The exhibition, which opens on Saturday May 7, takes the visitor from the founding of the club in 1922 to the present day through stories, images and videos.
The club that almost died is looking forward to a very healthy future.