The London Motorcycle Riders Club is one of the country's largest riding clubs. Ian Malone, Editor of Biker & Bike and one of the club's Ride Leaders, talks to its founder about how the club started and what makes it so successful.
I'd been riding with mates for over 20 years but, after yet another trip with the same guys riding the same roads, I was looking for something more when I came across the LMRC, as the London Motorcycle Rider's Club is more usually known.
The club, which currently has around 800 members, puts on two to three 150 mile+ rides per week, mostly at weekends, nearly all of which don't actually start in London but in the surrounding Home Counties. They also organise longer trips in the UK, Europe and even North America, with Wales, the Yorkshire Dales and the French Alps being particularly popular trips with members.
After a few years' riding with the club they asked me to become one of the Ride Leaders who organise rides and social events. On one of my recent ride-outs I chatted with the club's founder, Paul Hayden, about how the club started and what makes it successful.
When you started the club, how many people did you start with and how quickly did it grow?
"We started with an initial membership of just over 30, made up of people that I had ridden with from other groups like McForum, London City Bikers, London Motorcycle Touring Club, Southern Knights. By the time we ran our first event, on the 29th June 2014, we had just over 120 signed-up members, 26 of whom came on the ride.
"We quickly grew to a size of 500 members in the first year and by year three we were up to over 1,000 members at one point, but not all of them were active. Over the years we've found we need to regularly cull inactive accounts if they haven't been on a ride for 12 months. It means we run with an average of 400-500 regularly active members which continually grows, so we are now at around 800 signed-up members. It's about time we trimmed the membership again, but running the club is almost like having a second job!"
How did you get word of the club out there?
"In the early days it was all purely word of mouth and we made sure we ran events to and from all the major biker hangouts like Rykas Cafe, 1066, Whiteways, Wessons etc. We knew people would be curious about seeing large groups arriving or leaving and start asking who we were. We also knocked up posters which we left dotted around cafes and meeting points and we got a fair bit of traffic signing up through the search facility on MeetUp. In those days there were only six motorcycle groups in the South East on there and we were always the highest rated. We set the Facebook group up in June 2014, just before our first ride, so that we could then use Facebook to post the pictures of our rides, help members and get our name out there."
800 members is a lot, but we don't see them all on rides...
"On one day a couple of years ago, we had to run five groups with 25 members in each group just to satisfy demand. But in the last year or so demand has certainly dropped. I'm not 100% sure why, perhaps it's all the thefts making biking too expensive or people are keeping the mileage down due to PCP deals?
"I've spoken to other clubs and they are experiencing the same thing, but we still can have 100+ riders coming on our biggest annual rides, like our BBQ events. Most of the day-long rides, like yours today, have around 15-25 members and often have a waiting list if you have set a ride limit." [Ride leaders often limit numbers so everyone gets served in time at fuel, coffee and lunch stops]
"We also have over 2,300 people interacting with the club on our Facebook groups. We don't advertise the rides on Facebook, we use groups.place for that, but we do put up photos and videos of the ride-outs on Facebook. We don't use MeetUp anymore as they took away a lot of the features that made it easy to put rides up."
Even with a slight drop in demand, the club is still very successful. Why do you think that is?
"It's got to be a combination of having some great people in the club - I love the banter at the fuel and lunch stops as much as I do the riding - and the great places we ride to. The Ride Leaders put a lot of effort into finding great roads, more than members realise I think, and we don't just ride around the South East. This year alone the club has been to the Nürburgring, done the North Coast 500 in Scotland, Yorkshire twice, been to the Alps a couple of times and even this weekend we have a group heading down to the Pyrenees.
"We do other stuff, like trying out speedway, off-road days and even workshop days for members who want to know more about how their bike works. These events are always really popular.
"I think the real secret is the rides are actually planned, not just a case of 'follow me'. A lot of work goes into making sure the roads are interesting, there are enough fuel stops and decent places for refreshments and lunch. We also use the cornerman system so that nobody gets lost. As well as the Ride Leader, each ride has a sweeper [known as the Tailgunner in LMRC] to pick up people pointing the way at turnings and roundabouts. So everything is very organised on a ride.
"We are also clear on what we expect from people on rides. We have some basic rules around observing speed limits in built-up areas, not crossing white lines etc. and generally not riding like an idiot. More non-idiots are always welcome!"
Starting your own club
To emulate the success of the LMRC there are a few tips you can borrow from them on organising successful rides:
Have dedicated ride leaders
Establish ride leaders who will be responsible for researching and organising rides. This helps maintain the quality of the rides and helps to go beyond just following someone ‘who knows a few good roads.’
Use a buddy or 'cornerman' system
The LMRC’s ride leaders rarely give out the route as different sat nav systems can plot different versions of the route, potentially sending riders off in different directions. Instead, the ride follows the ride leader who signals to riders to stop and mark changes in direction, so the people behind them know where to go.
Use a platform for organising rides
Organising a ride on Facebook or Twitter is OK, but then just about anyone can turn up, or not. Using a website specifically created for organising events means people can sign up for an event and it makes them more committed to turning up for the ride, plus its easier to get key details like ride distance and planned fuel stops across to the riders.
Make the rides about something
Nearly all LMRC rides have a focal point, even if it’s just a visit to a biker café. People want to have something to forward to.
The London Motorcycle Riders Club organises rides and events north and south of the capital nearly every weekend of the year. For more information see their website.