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Wolverhampton Wheelers Cycling Club's wheels keep on turning

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They first saddled up in a pub in 1891 and they are still going strong 125 years later.

The Wolverhampton Wheelers Cycling Club has almost 500 members aged five to 90 – and is healthier today than at any stage in its illustrious history.

Robin Kyte, its president and a member for 50 years after joining aged 11, said: "When I was young you were regarded as being a bit weird if you were interested in cycling.

"But, since the Beijing and London Olympics and the British success in the Tour de France, the interest in cycling has exploded.

"It is very popular and sales of bikes have gone through the roof.

"We have also been very fortunate in having the use of the Aldersley Leisure Village where there is an outdoor velodrome."

British cycling star Andy Tennant – who won silver and bronze medals in last month's World Indoor Championships and rides for the team of Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins – led the anniversary plaudits for the club he joined at the age of 14.

But it wasn't always that straightforward.

The 29-year-old told the Express & Star: "I would not be where I am today without the Wheelers.

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"I owe them a great deal.

"My mate and I went to an exhibition illustrating the sports on offer at the Aldersley Leisure Village and took part in a mock mountain bike race.

"I finished last – which was a common occurance at the start of my cycling career.

"But I enjoyed it and joined the Wheelers, who have supported me all the way.

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"It was the enthusiasm of Robin Kyte and others that got me hooked on the sport.

"It is a fantastic club with great facilities. There are very few cycling clubs that have access to a velodrome and they make the most of it.

"I was rubbish at the beginning. I was a fat lad who enjoyed his biscuits.

"But I am the only member of the club ever to have won the Best Trier award three years in a row."

By 2005 he was good enough to be selected for the British cycling development programme and has never looked back.

He added: "I live out of a suitcase now but try to get down to the club whenever I can.

"If people see me as an idol I am honoured, but I am just a normal bloke. If I can inspire someone to go on to achieve in this sport it will be a great privilege."

Mr Kyte confessed: "I would have laughed if it had been suggested when Andy was 14 he would be winning World Championship medals, but I could not wish for a better role model for the kids at this club."

Sam Anslow is among the scores of schoolchildren dreaming of following in the star's tyre tracks.

The 13-year-old from Gornal – a pupil at Ellowes Hall Sports College – joined the Wheelers three years ago and explained: "I got interested in cycling after watching the road race in the 2012 London Olympics.

"I liked the thrill of wheel to wheel racing.

"I didn't have a bike but got one for my birthday. The club really support you.

"They do not push too hard and just want you to enjoy bike riding. Anything else is a bonus.

"I know of Andy Tennant and he is a real inspiration. He reminds me of myself since he did not start off too well in racing. But he stuck at it and I want to do the same."

At the other end of the age scale is its oldest active member, Ron Aspey, who joined the Wheelers 68 years ago.

He is now 90, still rides 10 miles every Thursday with other veterans from the club and has no plans to stop any time soon.

He explained: "It would be very dull without cycling. I have lived to cycle since I first got interested in the sport after leaving the RAF in 1948.

"A friend bought a bike and it looked so nice I decided to do the same. Then I joined the Wheelers and have been a member ever since.

"It is a marvellous club with a wonderful family atmosphere and has survived while similar organisations fell by the wayside because it has been brilliantly run."

Mr Asprey, who lives in Codsall with wife Margaret – another keen cyclist and life member of the Wheelers – enjoyed road racing and helped organise events like the Severn Valley race. He was treasurer for a period and produced its newsletter.

The Wheelers – a diminution of the cycling term 'wheelmen' – held its first meeting in Wolverhampton's Talbot Hotel in March 1891 and restricted membership to 30 people.

The inaugural official ride came two months later and took the cyclists to Boscobel House in Bishops Wood. The anniversary will be celebrated with a 'family ride' for current members on Sunday, May 15.

The club held a one-mile penny-farthing race around a flat cinder track in the Molineux grounds until the 1900s – long before it became the home ground of Wolves. But they were soon overtaken in the popularity stakes by the safety bike – sporting two wheels of equal size and a chain drive to the rear wheel.

The club survived as a group of friends during the First World War but reaffiliated to the National Cyclist Union in 1924 before expanding the membership further when ladies were allowed to join 12 years later.

Competition was restricted to individual time trials ridden against the clock, despite massed start events thriving on the continent.

But former Wolverhampton Wheeler Percy Stallard broke the mould when he organised the first massed race in this country – from Llangollen to Wolverhampton, finishing alongside West Park in June 1942.

He was one of several big names to have belonged to the Wheelers. Other big-name former members include the late Bob Thom, a successful international rider and England team manager, and Hugh Porter, who won four individual pursuit world titles and a Commonwealth Games gold medal.

Only 150 of the current members race, while the rest take to their bike for fitness and enjoyment.

The club has 16 qualified coaches with more than 100 riders regularly attending training and coaching sessions.

Mr Kyte concluded: "Volunteers make the club tick. It has never been as strong either financially or in the number of members as it is now. The future could not look brighter."

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