A cycling club is an instant group of friends. That’s probably reason enough to join a club in your neighborhood, but the practical benefits play out in a number of ways.
The fastest route to getting stronger is by training with riders stronger than you. Joining a club will give you instant access to a number of riders who can drop you faster than an ex-friend on MySpace. Most riders will tell you that committing to meet club members at a group ride will also help get you out of bed on early mornings when the will flags.
Riding with more experienced riders will introduce you to roads you never knew existed. From steep hills to flat roads with no traffic, riding with experienced club members can increase your vocabulary of cycling-safe roads.
News of the Local Cycling Community
Most clubs offer a newsletter, Web site, and an e-mail distribution list. Increasingly, e-mail distribution lists are becoming one of the most valuable ways to interact with the club. From meeting up for impromptu group rides to equipment for sale and special deals from club sponsors, the e-mail list can be one of the most valuable club benefits. Large clubs will often include reference material about area rides, local bike shops, and links to sponsors on their Web sites for new or visiting riders.
Through the course of each season, most clubs will sponsor a few social events where members can get together as normal adults, that is, in cotton and in shoes with laces. Many clubs will have an annual awards ceremony where they recognize riders who have made significant contributions to the club or advancement in ability.
Many clubs relish their role in the cycling community as an opportunity to increase the skills, fitness, and enjoyment of their members. Some clubs will offer weekly group rides for riders just becoming accustomed to riding in a peloton. Other clubs will offer clinics for beginners that teach them everything from fixing a flat to riding in a paceline.
Whether you are heading off to a charity ride, century, or race, traveling with friends makes the drive more enjoyable and affordable. And riding the event with friends makes the event itself more memorable.
Some clubs organize annual trips to destinations farther afield. Traveling with friends to a tour in Europe can cut many of the logistical issues and, again, make getting there all the more enjoyable.
After tubes and tires, cycling clothing is most riders’ largest annual cycling-related expense. Club cycling clothing is generally high in quality and usually less expensive than the top-shelf clothing available through most shops. Wearing your club’s kit can help your friends find you in a group where many clubs are present and give you a feeling of inclusion as well.
A unified cycling kit has a much sharper look that most off-the-rack clothing because of the coordinated design. Many clubs will not only offer shorts and jerseys but vests, windbreakers, arm, knee, and leg warmers, and sometimes even gloves, cycling caps, and winter jackets. You may not be as fast as a pro, but at least a club kit will make you look like one.
Discounts on Cycling Gear
Most clubs enjoy sponsorship with some of the industry’s manufacturers. Members usually receive opportunities to purchase bikes, equipment, sports drinks, and energy bars at a noticeable discount. Typically, a club will also feature sponsorship from a local shop, and members will often receive a discount on bikes, parts, food, and sometimes even repair labor. The exact nature of the discounts can vary substantially from manufacturer to manufacturer, shop to shop, and even club to club. Usually, the bigger the club, the better the deals.
Club friendships can offer another valuable resource: referrals. From looking for cycling-specific needs such as a coach, chiropractor, or physician to such non-cycling things as a new vet or auto mechanic, your cycling friends often understand your needs in a way few others do.
Each club defines itself differently and will offer a broad array of benefits. Some clubs are so large (400 or more members) that they have taken the step to purchase equipment that can be loaned out to members for special purposes, such as disc wheels or bike carriers for travel.
How to Find a Club
So long as you don’t live under a rock, at the bottom of the ocean, or on the moon, it won’t be hard to find a bike club. Heck, Wyoming, the most sparsely populated state in the unionnnn, has more than a half-dozen bike clubs. A Google search for “bicycle club” and your city should net great results.
There are a number of advocacy groups that work to promote cycling as a safe and green alternative form of transportation. If you want to help ensure cyclists are represented well in Washington or want to become more involved in touring or racing, consider joining one of these organizations.
Adventure Cycling Association (adventurecycling.org)—This group’s nonprofit mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle for fitness, fun, and self-discovery. Founded in 1973 as Bikecentennial, Adventure Cycling is the premier bicycle travel organization in North America with 44,500 members nationwide.
The association researches and produces cycling maps for its Adventure Cycling Route Network, one of the largest route networks in the world at 38,158 miles (and growing). It publishes Adventure Cyclist magazine for its membership, leads bike tours, works on bicycle advocacy projects such as the U.S. Bicycle Route System, sells bike travel gear, and provides trip planning resources for bicycle travelers. As a nonprofit organization, all proceeds from tours, sales, and membership go directly back into supporting its mission and programs.
Bikes Belong Coalition (BikesBelong.org): Works to put more people on bicycles more often. From helping create safe places to ride to promoting bicycling, they carefully select projects and partnerships that have the capacity to make a difference.
Bikes Belong concentrates its efforts in four areas:
• Federal Policy and Funding
• National Partnerships
• Community Grants
• Promoting Bicycling
In addition, they operate the Bikes Belong Foundation to focus on kids and bicycle safety.
League of American Bicyclists (BikeLeague.org): Exists to promote bicycling for fun, fitness, and transportation and work through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America.
People Powered Movement (PeoplePoweredMovement.org): Formerly known as Thunderhead Alliance, this group is the North American coalition of grassroots bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations. They unite advocacy leaders to help them become more effective by sharing best practices and innovations. They strengthen organizations through resource sharing and training opportunities. They help advocates create organizations in underserved communities. Alliance organizations are working together to transform communities into great places to bike and walk.
USA Cycling (USACycling.org): Governs road, mountain, track, cyclocross, and BMX bicycle racing in the United States. In addition to sanctioning the races through permits, it licenses racers, officials, mechanics, and coaches. USA Cycling develops athletes through the National Team system and selects the athletes who represent the United States at the Olympic Games.