Join the Club
Get the skinny on how to start rolling with your local cycling club this season.by Chaz
Winter has cracked. Temperatures no longer rest below freezing, and the lack of snow finally justifies swapping out the 'cross tires for the more efficient 23-mils. Your commuting layers have peeled down to shorts and knee warmers, lightweight gloves and softshell jackets. Yes, winter is quietly slipping out the back door, and spring is taking over like a bottle of Goldschläger does at prom.
The arrival of spring also brings new motivation to get out and ride, and for you, motivation is in no short supply. You aren't alone. Millions of riders out there are just like you, and many of them are joining local cycling clubs to improve their skills, interact with other riders, and celebrate all things bike.
Sure, you've thought about joining a cycling club before, but it's intimidating when you don't know where to start or what to expect. Is the club going to be competitive? How do you know which club is right for you? What are the benefits of riding with a cycling club? Is it expensive to join? Lay your worries to rest—we're going to bring you up to speed.
The most logical place to gain information on joining a cycling club is your riding partners or cycling friends. If you don't have a riding partner—or friends, for that matter—that's OK; there is still hope. Consult a local cycling publication. You can find these grassroots, mini nickel-type newspapers at your local bike shop, café, or pizza joint, and they contain an abundance of info about local cycling events, clubs, and races. Local cycling publications are the best bang for your buck—especially because they're usually free.
If you're completely lost on where to start, or if you'd rather not page through publications, just mosey on down to your local bike shop and ask questions. Don't be shy; you aren't the first person to come in with questions about joining a cycling club, and you definitely won't be the last. Of course the internet is always a good place to reference too, but keep in mind that not every cycling club has a website.
Questions to Ask
Which club is best suited for me?
Some clubs are geared toward the recreational rider interested in Saturday-morning group rides with breakfast and sights along the way. Other clubs are packed to the gills with tarmac-crushing kids interested in nothing but racing. The rest typically fall somewhere in between and, depending on your preference, you can choose accordingly.
Are there club fees? If so, how much?
Most clubs charge a membership fee. Club membership fees can range anywhere from $50 to $150 a season, and they are typically invested back into the club to pay for everything from travel expenses to end-of-the-season parties. However, some clubs are free to join, and if your club has some great sponsors behind it, you may get a lot of perks without having to shell out cash.
How do I join a club? Who should I speak to? What is the proper protocol?
Get the contact email or phone number of the person organizing the team. The contact person may be somebody at your local bike shop or an outside source; either way, you need to contact the right person to join, so just make sure to ask around.
It's also good to ask the correct protocol for joining the team. For some clubs, this may be as simple as signing up and paying membership fees online. Other clubs may ask for a brief letter stating your goals and ability level. If this is the case, don't worry; it's not an interrogation. Just like you want to make sure a club is a good fit for you, club organizers want to make sure you are in the right place as well.
Inevitably the most noticeable aspect to riding with a club is the kit. Most kits aren't free, and emptying your wallet for a season's worth of spandex isn't easy—but neither is convincing your spouse that you didn't use her new pink razor to shave your legs for the third time this week.
Although club kits can get pricey, they still tend to be less expensive than the hideous Lampre kit you purchased last season. Club kits are usually less expensive because many manufacturers offer group discounts, and these savings are usually passed along to members. Keep in mind that because discounts are usually only given on large bulk orders, some clubs may order kits only at the beginning of the season. If you plan on sporting a club kit, make sure to find out the club's order deadline; otherwise, you may find yourself wearing blue in a sea of red.
Benefits of Joining a Cycling Club
Tangible benefits might include coffee cards (maybe your team is sponsored by a coffee shop), discounts on cycling gear or repairs (local bike shop sponsor), or maybe a sample pack of Viagra (we always wanted to ride for Viagra). Benefits vary from club to club. Some clubs reimburse members for race entry fees or organized rides. Other clubs may simply set up a tent at an event for members to grab some shade, coffee, and good old-fashioned camaraderie.
The intangible benefits are the main reason for joining a cycling club. When you join a cycling club, do it for the camaraderie and experience, not for coffee cards or discounted tune-ups. If you do get a few tangible perks like coffee cards or free pizza, treat them as just that: perks. The experience, skills, and friends are what count.
Group Riding & Pace
Group riding is a necessary skill to learn. If you've never ridden in a group before, the first experience may be a bit daunting, but don't let that deter you. Remember it's much less intimidating learning to ride in a group on a Sunday afternoon club ride than at a race, so take advantage of the opportunity.
Also, know that you're not going to get thrown to the lions during your first club ride. More often than not, more experienced riders will step up and act as marshals, offering pointers to less-experienced riders as well as looking out for the safety of the group as a whole. If you have questions, ask, and remember everyone was new to cycling at one time.
The pace of the group often directly correlates with the club's goals. The speed of the group may pick up and slow down based on who's out in front setting the pace. If the pace goes too hard for your preference, you can employ a little technique called backsliding to prevent getting dropped off the back of the group.
Before the pace picks up, move toward the front of the group. As the pace increases, do your best to hide in the middle of the group where the draft is greatest. As you begin to reach your threshold, just allow riders to pass you. If backsliding is done correctly, you should end up in the back of the group when the pace slows with plenty of wheels to grab—as opposed to three hundred meters off the back in no-man's-land.
Ps and Qs
No, we aren't going to identify all the unwritten rules of group riding—that's no fun. However, there are a few things you should know before your first group ride.
Don't overlap wheels.
If you are overlapping wheels, and the rider in front of you decides to suddenly change course to avoid broken glass, it's all over for you and most likely for the riders behind you as well. Crashing sucks (especially when your significant other just approved your new carbon machine), so make the world a safer place, and just avoid overlapping wheels.
Communicate to others about obstacles and debris.
A simple flick of the hand can let riders behind know a parked car is in the bike lane, and a gesture to one side or another can warn of a pothole, broken glass, or upcoming stoplight. Accidents occur less often when everyone knows what lies ahead—so be a peach, and point out potential hazards to others in the group.
Know your route.
Why, you ask? Imagine there are 38 riders in the group, 37 of which made a right-hand turn after the traffic light while only one attempted to go left. The results are, at best, embarrassing, and at worst, dangerous. If you know the route, you can avoid becoming the center of attention for all the wrong reasons.
Yes, we know that Spandex Sally looks good in her kit, and even better when you're riding behind her. But just remember, Spandex Sally is not going to be impressed when you crash into the back of her new Pinarello because you weren't paying attention to the upcoming stop sign. Keep your head up, and avoid embarrassing situations.
Nowadays there are so many cycling clubs that you have a good chance of finding one that suits your riding style and ability. Support bikes in your community while having the time of your life. No zero-sum game here—it's a win-win situation for all.