South West London DA: Sou' Wester Archive
Profile of The Downland Section

Profile: The Downland Section - by David Aylett - (Sep/Oct 2002)

Diane, Clive and I have had a number of enquiries about the Downland Section following a comment about the "Motoring Section" in a recent Sou'Wester and we thought a little more publicity wouldn't do any harm. For Dawn and I it all started one bright summer's day in 1976. A voice echoed across the green from the Forge Cafe at Headley: "You should be with us". Our then twelve and ten year olds, Richard and Karen, had wanted bicycles and Dawn and I took the view that we had better take them out and teach them some road sense.

I had sweated blood as a teenager earning 3d an hour farm labouring so that I could buy my first ever custom built Maclean road racer only, later, to have it stolen. I hadn't cycled for over twenty years. My dear mother had given away my collection of wheels and cycle bits to a passing club when I was doing my bit for King and Country. How they managed to carry it all away I'll never know, they must have thought Christmas had come early: Fiamme sprints on Harden hubs that I fitted with quick release Campag skewers, spare tubs and boxes of bits. Help came from Marjorie and John Perkins of the Surrey Road Cycling Club who sold me one of John's frames, plus my search of the local rubbish tips. Dawn still has her rusty, sandpapered, hand-painted open frame from our first trips together. With help from Roger Pearson the family foursome took our first tentative rides towards Woodmansterne.

Soon we needed to spread our wings further and with the help of Shirley Quemby, and in the company of others we had ventured as far as Headley. It was Syd Richardson who had called over to us from the Forge Cafe. He was with Grace and other members of the Family Section: Ted and Ellen Storey, Tom Fish (who still rides with us), Ruth Coker who with her late husband founded the Section, Bunny and Terry Watkins with their youngest son on a Rann trailer. We met Elizabeth and Mike Bowden with their three children, Janice (now our rides organiser) with husband Ken Loy, Reg Beaver with his two children, Peter Suckling and Diane (currently Section secretary), with their two children, Rita and Mole Wilkins with their youngsters, Maureen and Stuart Downie with theirs, Sheilagh and Derek Monkhouse (these last four until last year ran the DA reliability rides), Mary and Alf Lawrence, Eileen and Gerald Burt with Susan and Ian, and many others.

We heard many a tale of exploits on tandems and triplets, with sidecars, camping holidays when dad had to take off with the trailer with all the gear to the campsite, then ride back home to collect the family. There is no doubt that parents and their children suffering the elements together does something for their relationship that TV and computer games do not. After all these years our children still, to this day, commute on their cycles. It was the order of life that all the children who cycled together with us would leave their parents behind, join a racing club or just move on, as have many of the parents who are stronger riders than ourselves. Nevertheless the Section is still there. It was Ian Burt and I who had the idea in 1995 of starting the Beginners Section with the intention of introducing families to the joys of cycling and to the Section.

For a number of years the Family Section membership consisted of the parents who had joined with their children. These days the Downland Section has both 'singles' and couples, some who have graduated from the Beginners Saturday rides, others who like our company at lunch or coffee, some who just cannot keep up with clubs that ride faster or further. For those of us who remain from the old structure it is regretted the Section was renamed from the Family Section. Where were we when that happened? We are, after all, families still, and enjoy the company of children with their parents.

Headley was a favourite meeting place for the Section and the loss of the Forge cafe and other nearby elevenses meeting places, and having to negotiate the North Downs, put pressure on some of us who started meeting at the morning coffee venue. We meet some who travel by train to West Humble or Dorking, (the train leaves Sutton at 9:03am) and ride to our coffee stop, some of us carry our cycles on our cars, Diane and others meet in Banstead and ride out almost every Sunday. Those of us who are unlucky enough not to work meet up during the week. On a wet Tuesday we have been known to go shopping instead of cycling but every Thursday is a must when we meet at Fanny's Farm for coffee and a scone. This Section has been an ideal meeting place for the odd retiree returning to the bicycle. Tom Barr, a long established rider has become a regular just lately. He was telling us recently how excited he is, after many years of non-cycling, he is taking out his daughter who has just returned to her cycle. Maybe a new recruit for the Section?

So, if you are new to cycling, born again, or thinking of giving up riding because you cannot keep up with the fast boys and girls, we are only a phone call away. If you would like to bring your children we would suggest eight to ten years of age is probably the youngest a child could keep up without being on a trailer or tandem. Call Diane and have a chat about meeting places and how we don't rush about trying to clock up the highest miles in the DA competition.