The existential crisis of bicycle clubs

I always thought bike clubs were dumb. Why does anyone need an organization to ride a stupid bicycle, drink beer, and pedal around outdoors in your underwear? These things can all be done unaffiliated.

That’s why even though I’ve belonged to many clubs over the years, they’ve been racing clubs that got me a $5 discount on a pair of socks, a couple of free bottles, and the Always Promised But Never Delivered Race Reimbursements At The End Of The Year.

Your club is probably a lot better than the ones I’ve always belonged to, but it’s still dumb. I mean, think how goofy you would look if you went to dinner with your family and everyone was wearing identical clothes. Now multiply it times a hundred, and make it matching underwear worn outside. Really.

Also, you don’t need matching undies to make friends, although I certainly understand that there are situations in which it helps.

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My outlook has changed, though. Over the years I’ve noticed that bike clubs really can have a purpose other than underwear coordination. One of those should be education. As I’ve noted before, the Old Ways Have Changed. Cycling is no longer a lunatic fringe activity where a few newbies join each year and are carefully disciplined by grizzled old-timers like Jack and Phil and Jeff who teach you the rules with sharp words.

The newbies are everywhere. They’re in your club. They are swirling around in traffic, mostly oblivious to how badly they can be hurt. Some of them may have even joined a club–your club–under the illusion that they’ll get some friendly instruction. (Note: Screaming “Hold your line!” followed by a wheel chop isn’t instruction.) Often, they assume that the skills they had at age 9, plus SRAM Rred and a bunch of carbon, are all they need to stay alive.

This is of course not true. The full carbon actually makes you go faster, and we all know what happens when you put lots of speed and money and carbon at the fingertips of not much skill and even fewer brains.

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Since we can’t scream riding lessons anymore (I’m too old and tired, and the newbies mostly look like they know how to throw a right hook), what’s left is education.

It’s time for your club to assume the position and start teaching, and to do so formally. Why can riders join a club without mandatory training? Why can they join a club without classroom education? Why are we enticing people to be members of a fun activity that really isn’t any fun when you’re experiencing it through a breathing tube?

Our club held its first ever Cycling Savvy class for our members. It was my third time to take the class and I was absolutely electrified by it.

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Over forty people showed up on a Saturday afternoon to, yes, learn how to ride a bike. Much pride was swallowed and surprise, much was learned. Following the lead of clubs like BCCC and the Long Beach Freddies, Big Orange has not simply made education available to its members, but it’s started down a path where education will be a requirement for membership. “Life over underwear coordination!” or something like that.

In addition, the club has taken the radical step of offering group ride training on its Sunday rides. This means rides with actual leaders who provide actual instruction based on many of the techniques taught in Cycling Savvy. My personal favorite technique is called “Control from the rear.” Pretty awesome, huh?

Whether you’re a race club, a riding club, or a baby seal club, if you’re pedaling a bike you need skills to survive. Implementing club-wide education doesn’t make you any more of a bike dork (or any less, I should add), but it makes cycling just a tiny bit safer. As Fireman pointed out, “Even if 90% of those dorks don’t get it, all you have to save is one life and suddenly it was all worthwhile.”

Cycling Savvy is offering a free course courtesy of the Orange County Wheelmen on August 4th. In typical cycling planning fashion, I got notice yesterday, but if you can make time for it, and if you belong to a club, and if you think making it home from the ride alive is a good thing, take a couple of hours out of your Thursday and invest it in the future. You can even wear your favorite garish underwear to the meeting if you need chamois time.

It’s something every underwear club in America could benefit from.

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33 thoughts on “The existential crisis of bicycle clubs”

  1. Your club is way advanced! I’m in favor of education before membership but no one else around here is going to sign up for that. Of course, we haven’t had as many get killed as you, either….

    1. We first had Gary do a presentation to the board–we took the course to see what it was. Now it’s being paid for by the club and offered to members on a voluntary basis. Ultimately it will be a requirement.

  2. Paul Sotherland

    Good one, Seth. I passed this along to folks in the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club, which is already (sort of) heading in the direction you’re promoting. Thanks for the additional nudge.

    1. Welcome. Let them know that their advice has really helped with our advocacy efforts here!

  3. This is just the beginning of providing high quality, relevant and empowering traffic cycling education to bike club members throughout the USA, including the fast “full carbon” crowd. The interest of Big Orange and Long Beach Freddies leaders in enhancing the safety of their members has provided an impetus for CyclingSavvy to begin the development of a special course for bike club members.

    The feedback we’ve been getting has been invaluable in this development. Anyone interested in getting involved in this important educational endeavor should seriously consider coming to the
    I Am Traffic 2 meeting this October in St. Louis hosted by the American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA).

    I’ll be there. And I hope that we can get several other SoCal cyclists there, too.

    1. I have to choose between a trip to Vienna to visit my son and an underwear trip to St. Louis? Now that’s a tough one. Maybe Jack from Illinois (not his real name) could draw up a list of the pros/cons.

    1. It was, indeed! Had I not Donutted that morning and been thrashed from stem to stern I would have been perkier.

  4. I can’t really think of many clubs up this way (NorCal) that are organized enough to pull this off. It may be something worth pitching to NCNCA as an association level effort. A few years back, there was a local group hosting clinics, but they seem to have vanished.

    1. For us it’s been one club at a time, typically resulting from a death or bad collision. Racing clubs are the worst. Freddie clubs are much more receptive. Start with a family member of a killed or badly injured rider who also rides and see if that person will help make your case.

      Most clubs have the stupidest budgets imaginable: Time and $ dedicated ad infinitum to underwear discussions, “sponsorship” crap, the details of the next century ride, and similar nonsense. Get Gary Cziko or one of the Cycling Savvy wankers up there to do a class–it’s a lot cheaper than a funeral.

      Or just shame them, as in, “Those doping dopers who dope in SoCal are beating us to the punch on bike safety, for dog’s sake!”

      Save one life and it suddenly just got worthwhile.

  5. Good call on the Freddie club. One of the local groups (Cycle Folsom) does make a genuine effort to get their folks squared away on the bike before releasing them to the wild. They have a weekly, 9 (maybe more??) ride series that gets riders comfortable on bikes.

    I sent an email to the local association Prezzy to see if we can get something moving. We do have a decent set of on the bike skills clinics during the Early Bird crits, but having a non-January option could bring out more riders.

    1. I would drive from Vacaville to Folsom for a clinic. Monticello Cycling Club needs this. I’ll bring it up at the next meeting.

      Excellent point re: Early Birds. If you like leaving your warm bed pre-dawn, driving 2+ hrs. to ride your bike around an industrial park in the cold and/or rain, then EBs are your jam. (I say that having done so in past seasons.) Warm weather would bring out even more riders.

  6. Often, they assume that the skills they had at age 9, plus SRAM Rred and a bunch of carbon, are all they need to stay alive.

    Apostate! Burn him! BURRRRNNNN HIM!!

    Everyone knows more carbon is always the answer.

    1. I didn’t say it wasn’t the answer. The real is answer is, of course, more carbon. Now, back to our irregular deprogramming.

  7. A little off-topic but still vital: Cycling education for youngsters just getting on bikes.

    Kids beginning to ride think it’s like running around only on wheels. The extra speed makes a big difference. Lot of other issues.

    I think this needs to be provided by the communities: (under funded) schools, or under sponsorship of the city, police department of fire department.

    This became glaringly obvious to me when I nearly re-arranged the body of a pre-teen gal, ironically as I was driving away from the Breathless Agony Century. Hadn’t gone a block when I approached this intersection. She had gained speed going down an embankment and swooshed right in front of me. Put my car in full-ABS and just missed her.

  8. Worst thing about bike clubs or bike racing? Grown men calling other dudes their teammates.

    1. Makes it more awesome when you chase them down so they get swarmed in the sprunt.

  9. Jack sez he only chopped you a handful of times, and that no amount of shouting ever seemed to sink in.

  10. Phil once yelled “What the fuck are you doing?” at me when I once made myself the threesome in a 2-up pace line. Obviously still haunts me to this day.

    1. My first year I was voted “Most Likely to Be Killed by a Car.” The only award I’ve deserved, not won, and not regretted.

    1. You don’t need “control from the rear” with only two people. Instead, you should both be side by side at the front and enjoying each other’s company laterally.

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