A quick look at the crowds that lined Montrose Street in Glasgow’s city centre for the road races at the Cycling World Championships, which concluded to great acclaim last weekend, and it’s easy to start believing the hype that these World Championships will leave a lasting legacy in Scotland

Maybe there will be; it’s not completely out of the question that these World Championships make Scotland into a cycling nation, or at least nudge it closer to something resembling one. Only time will tell. 

I remain sceptical, however, about the effect these mega-events can have on a nation. 

There is, instead, far more important entities that impact a sport in the long-term and that’s the clubs that don’t dip in and out of a country over a fortnight but rather, endure over decades, or even centuries. 

One such club that, it cannot be disputed, has played a significant part in Scottish sporting history is Glasgow Wheelers, a cycling club that’s produced more world-class athletes than many others could even dream of. 

The history of the club has been documented in a fascinating and incredibly well-researched book called: “The Glasgow Wheelers; A Scottish Cycling History”.  

It’s written by cycling journalist Kenny Pryde, will be released in the coming weeks and tells the history of this club that has produced so many of the greatest Scots ever on two wheels. 

The release coincides with the club’s centenary which, although the exact date of its founding is somewhat fuzzy, was, it is certain, in 1923. 

In the early days of the club, the riders, who were almost exclusively male, would ride the likes of a steel-framed Raleigh costing around £15, quite an investment when the average weekly wage of a Glasgow labourer was just 22 shillings. 

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Scottish cycling scene was growing rapidly and indeed, the 1934 Duntocher-Dunoon event was the first open road race held anywhere in Britain, with Glasgow Wheelers having a rider on the podium in that inaugural event. It was, incidentally, a race that was, so Pryde recounts, reviewed rather disdainfully by the then Glasgow Herald’s cycling correspondent who was much more of a fan of time trials. 

In the early days of the Glasgow Wheelers, the likes of Donald Morrison and Jackie Bone were getting GB call-ups but it was in the 1960s, when a certain William Bilsland, a 16-year-old from Milton, was first mentioned in the Glasgow Wheelers’ Membership Book. 

More commonly known as Billy, Bilsland remains one of the most recognised names in Scottish cycling history. 

An Olympian, Commonwealth Games and World Championships rider, Bilsland was not only significant as a rider but also in the part he played in the career of his fellow Wheeler, Robert Millar, now known as Philippa York. 

Bilsland mentored York, who was known as Millar when competing, to some of Scotland’s greatest sporting achievements ever, most notably the Tour de France King of the Mountains title polka dot jersey in 1983. 

There are several other giants of Scottish sport who either have in the past, or still do, call themselves Glasgow Wheelers: Sandy Gordon who, alongside Bilsland won everything there was to win in Scotland in the 1960s; Graeme Obree had a brief stint at the club in 1991 but was wearing the Glasgow Wheelers recognisable skinsuit when he set the national ‘25’ time trial record that year; and Neah Evans, whose most recent world title came just last week at the Cycling World Championships in Glasgow and became the Wheelers’ first-ever Olympic medallist after learning her trade at the club. Evans’ connection to the club endures, with the 33-year-old now honorary vice-president. 

However, for all the cycling success the club’s riders have garnered, it’s some of the more obscure gems in the book that are most fascinating. 

A particular favourite of mine was Bilsland claiming one of the biggest mistakes of his career was his insistence in wearing the Wheelers jersey as he attempted to qualify for the 1968 GB Olympic team because it was too easy to spot, making any break from him far too noticeable to the other riders. 

And the fact that in 1966, Glasgow Wheelers was selected to front an advertising campaign for Mars Bar, which created a significant storm as it contravened sponsorship guidelines in a sport that, at the time, retained a clear amateur/professional split. 

It’s impossible to tell what the next hundred years will hold for the Glasgow Wheelers. Given the nature of elite sport these days, and cycling in particular, it’s hard to believe the club will churn out quite so many truly world class athletes in the next century as it did in the last.  

Elite cyclists do not, in general, learn their trade in the club system any longer. 

Rather, at a precocious age, the most talented are enveloped within the British Cycling system and encouraged to develop from there. 

That’s not necessarily a criticism, it’s just the way things are these days. 

But the inevitable consequence of this shift means clubs such as Glasgow Wheelers will, almost certainly, never rediscover the vital role they played in Scottish cycling over, in particular, the latter part of the 20th century. 

Which is what makes this book such a vital read. And it’s not only worth reading for cycling enthusiasts, but also for people like me who are interested in Scottish sport but are entirely ignorant of the history of a club like the Glasgow Wheelers which has played such a massive part in the sporting success of this country over the past century. 

Here’s hoping that in another hundred years, there’ll be another volume in the pipeline.