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Unsung Hero: Jim Riches, Royal Dean Forest Cycling Club

All Areas > Sport > Cycling

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Friday, 22nd December 2017, 09:00

Jim Riches at the age of about 55. It was sent to The Local Answer by his daughter Terina, who added: “It was after a steep climb of about a mile and a half. Needless to say I used to hate going out on the bike with him as he wouldn’t let me get off Jim Riches at the age of about 55. It was sent to The Local Answer by his daughter Terina, who added: “It was after a steep climb of about a mile and a half. Needless to say I used to hate going out on the bike with him as he wouldn’t let me get off

“I’ve just bought myself another bike,” said Jim Riches.

Nothing too unusual about that, of course, except that the president of the Royal Dean Forest Cycling Club is 82.

And whisper it quietly, but the new acquisition is an electric bicycle.

“Yes, I do feel a bit of a cheat,” laughed Jim, who has been in love with the sport from the time he first sat on a saddle in the days when this country was caught up in the Second World War.

And he still rides out every Sunday morning around parts of the Forest of Dean – he lives in the small village of Allaston between Lydney and Yorkley with his wife of 60 years Patricia – although you have to get up pretty early to see him because he likes to go out and about when the roads are quieter.

“It’s the second electric bike that I’ve bought,” said Jim. “I bought the first one a couple of years ago but this one is much better. It’s much lighter.

“It’s got eight gears and I practically get up the hills before I hurriedly have to seek electricity!”

For Jim, it’s really important to get to the top because he claims never to have walked up a hill. He’s never driven either, for him it’s a bicycle or nothing.

Born in Hewelsfield in the Wye Valley, he was raised with his brother Peter in the tiny hamlet of Park Hill which was just a short bike ride away from where he started out on life’s journey.

“During the war not many people had bicycles,” recalled Jim. “We had one bicycle between us and we borrowed another from a neighbour – there were no men in the hamlet – and we’d go out all day. We’d go to youth hostels as well, it was a wonderful childhood.”

Like all good things, of course, nothing lasts forever and by the age of 15 Jim was joining the Army.

“I wasn’t old enough but my mum signed the consent form,” he remembered, “and I became part of the Royal Engineers.

“I served for nine years but I didn’t like it at first. It was tough and the training was very hard.

“I was still an adolescent schoolboy but I became a man overnight!”

He may have been quick-marched into adulthood but it took Jim a little longer to grow into some aspects of Army life.

“I was the worst shot in the British Army,” he laughed. “I couldn’t hit a barn door at 10 paces with a 303!

“I did eventually fare better with the Bren gun on the firing range but never the 303.”

After spells in Korea and Germany, Jim returned to this country and was initially stationed at Devizes in Wiltshire and it was here that he rekindled his love affair with cycling.

“I bought this dropped handle bar bike,” he said. “It was brilliant. I used to cycle to the Forest of Dean and back in a day.”

On leaving the Army, he returned home and was soon working as a signwriter and painter and decorator.

It was around this time that he met Bob Ruck and a 50 years-plus love affair with the Royal Dean Forest Cycling Club began. It is a passion that still burns brightly today.

“The club was formed in 1949 by Reg Berrows,” said Jim, “but it was Bob Ruck who got me involved. In those days we’d only get about 12 people if we were lucky to take part in the rides, the youngsters didn’t like all the hills.”

The club has grown hugely since then, of course, with well over 100 members covering the entire age spectrum and most cycling disciplines – off-road, audax, time trial, racing, track and leisure rides.

Jim’s speciality was time trials and although he says he wasn’t winning championships, he loved to compete and see how far he could push himself.

“I was always after PBs in time trials,” he explained. “I used to say to anyone who would listen that you could only have one winner.

“The thing was to just try to do your best. It’s you versus the clock so just go out and enjoy it.”

And Jim certainly did. He was a middle distance time trialler but would take part in club runs on Fridays, Sundays and any other events that he could get involved in.

“We were always very strict when we took youngsters out on bike rides,” said Jim. “We’d shout ‘car down’ and ‘car up’ to get them into single file.

“They all had to have mudguards, saddlebags and food in the saddlebags.”

Jim was clearly a good teacher but that wasn’t all he did.

“I used to promote events, I’d do the time-keeping and I’d marshall,” he said.

Five years ago following the death of his friend Reg Berrows, Jim took over as president of the club that means so much to him.

“I was the oldest man left,” he chuckled. “I’m the next man to fall off his perch! I didn’t ask for the role.”

He may not have sought the job but Jim, who clearly tells a very good story, is delighted to help the club that has brought him so much happiness.

“It’s the friendships,” he said. “I’ve got so many friends through cycling. It gets you out of the house and it keeps you fit.”

His wife likes to keep fit as well, but her big hobby is walking.

“She absolutely loves it,” said Jim, a dad to two girls. “She can ride, but she chooses not to. She has done some marshalling though.

“We had a pact that when we went on holidays, it would always be a walking holiday to places like the Lake District or Austria.

“And when we were home we’d go for a two-hour walk every morning. That was payback to her for driving me to all the cycling events and lugging my bike around on her car roof!”

It’s a pact that has obviously worked. Their daughters have long since left home, of course, and even though Jim is one of the fittest 82-year-olds around, he clearly isn’t as active as he used to be, so what does he do these days when he’s just mooching around the house?

“We’ve got an exercise bike at home,” laughed Jim, “I’m on that quite a lot!”

Other Images

Jim and Patricia in Paris for the Tour de France

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