What does it mean to be a part of a bicycle club?
February 17, 2016 6:19 AM   Subscribe

A friend wants me to join his small road bicycling team. I'm pretty set in my cycling ways and have not been a part of clubs or organizations of any sort for 20 years -- is this something I can just do to be polite without active participation?

I've been a fairly serious recreational/commuter bicyclist for about 10 years. In terms of organized events I do about half a dozen nearby organized century rides a year, but have never formally raced or had a license. I do enjoy competing against myself on Strava. Most of my riding is by myself or occasionally with a couple friends. I'm an old fat guy on a heavy steel bike with a busy family and work schedule.

Though I have a few cycling buddies who are in local clubs, I've never been part of one myself and I don't really know what they do, except for a vague notion that members participate in various events and their results benefit or reflect the group in some way.

My friend is just forming this club and I would be one of the first members. He's a bit eccentric and it's been hard to get details from him about what he would expect of me. So my basic question is: what is generally expected of a member of a cycling club? Can I be a passive participant, or would I be expected to do more group rides, etc.? Let's say another club asked me to join -- could I be in two clubs? Thanks!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total)
I'm a member of two active triathlon teams plus an additional two inactive/defunct teams (every few years someone from Team Q sends out the "HAY LETS GET THE BAND BACK TOGETHER" email and we have a group run and then back to nothing). Some of my teammates broke my stones because I wore "the wrong kit" to a given race, but it's generally all in good fun. During the last mile when Guy and I are both wearing Team S kits, we pull each other along; when he's wearing Team S and I'm in Team C, we're racing against each other. But either way, we're still pushing each other to squeeze a little bit more performance out, and everybody benefits.

Team S is older; most members have been racing for a long time, and we're lucky to have enough people doing the winter running series (loosely tracks Boston build). The last few years, there haven't been any other real formal activities. Conversely, Team C is more recent, there are at least two pro triathletes in the group, there's a lot of energy and excitement, so there are activities happening all year long (track series, open water swimming, group rides during fair weather; indoor cycling year-round; there's talk about going to a velodrome sometime). I'd guess because it's a new club it'll be more of the latter. But ultimately your friend will need to answer your questions.

Were I in your shoes, I'd probably send an email or something to your friend and say, yeah, I'm interested, here's what I can commit to [one group ride every weekend on Saturday before noon; pub night on Tuesday or Wednesday; $200 for dues/kit; Tuesday morning racing series every other week in the spring]. It's not like you're signing a large value contract, but at the same time you want to make sure your friend understands what you're willing to give.
posted by disconnect at 7:05 AM on February 17, 2016

Is this a club or a team? Clubs tend to have anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred members. They often have 2-3 organized rides per week, sometimes more, plus special events. They'll design and order club jerseys (sometimes shorts too) at the beginning of every season, though in my club there's no obligation to buy the kit. Participation is at whatever level members can afford, though I imagine a new club would require its charter members to be fairly active if the club is going to thrive.

A team is a smaller group that competes together in races. I imagine that a team would require a firm commitment to participate in specific races and to train for them.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:24 AM on February 17, 2016

My dad is a part of a cycling club for middle aged folks in his city. I believe he's the oldest member at 62. The club itself is casual (people show up, they don't, and that's mostly ok) but everyone in it is a pretty serious "casual" rider. They organize trips together, they go for long weekend rides together, they go to each other's races, that sort of thing, but at least from what I've been told there's no team component to it where what one member does affects anyone else. The thing they do that requires the most commitment is when they volunteer for events (usually these are things like 10Ks and half/marathons in the city, where having a few people circling around on bikes to assist in emergencies and shadow runners for safety reasons is very useful). My dad enjoys the club, he gets a lot of social utility out of it and it makes him feel good to know he can keep up with folks 20 years younger than him.

That's just one club, though, in a small city a thousand miles away. If your friend can't manage to give you a few short, cogent sentences on what this particular club is about, I'd suggest not joining up simply because that's a pretty good indicator the club will be an organizational nightmare and more of a headache than its worth.
posted by phunniemee at 7:33 AM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are all kinds of clubs. Some are more competitive (ie. they get together and do pacelines on fairly fast rides) some are more social (bunch of random people who go for rides and then sit around drinking coffee afterward). Personally I don't really like either of those things, and I generally just ride by myself, but I do ride with a randonneuring (long distance) group for the structure of their ride season. And while I'm kind of a bike loner, I do like not being alone on a course if it's 200-400 miles long. It also helps that I like a lot of the people, even though a lot of the people are several decades older than me, and it's a good way to find out about other cycling events from other cycling nerds that I might want to try.

So yeah, there are all kinds of clubs. When I try to recruit my friends for randonneuring my pitch is, "We do crazy long rides on really scenic routes, but it's not a race and everyone is super friendly!".

Surely your friend can give you a better idea of what this club is about.
posted by bradbane at 7:40 AM on February 17, 2016

I don't know bike clubs but tell your fried that you'll be happy to be listed as a 'president emeritus'. That gives him another name to pad his membership roll and your responsibility would be to show up if you're in the mood, let them buy you a beer, provide some rumination if inclined and leave early.
posted by sammyo at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2016

The club are as serious as the members want to make it.

I have friends in clubs that do Cat 1/Pro races, complete with a follow provided by their main sponsor. They have mandatory skills training, and part of the dues go towards hiring their coaching staff.

I also have friends in clubs whose "long" rides rarely make it bast the first taproom they see. Sometime they just cut out the middleman and just meet up directly at the bar.

So, yeah, the range is large. Just ask your friend, and I my guess it's closer to my later example than my former.
posted by sideshow at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2016

Just like everyone else has said, it depends on the club! I'm a serious and experienced, but also slow and non-competitive, cyclist who really enjoys riding solo, but I've appreciated being part of the two clubs I have been, and now that I've moved to a new city, I'm looking for another one. What I like about bike clubs: an externally-planned ride occasionally gives me a little more inspiration to get up early Sunday morning than just telling myself I'm going to go for a ride. :) Clubs that attend events together often have a good training ride schedule I can just join in on instead of planning my own, which is helpful especially if I've got a new challenge coming up. I also like learning new routes from people who've already ridden them, and sharing tips and stories with other riders. And I had a lot of support and help when I was a nervous newb, and I like to be able to help other nervous newbs out, too.

Large, established clubs (like the Grizzly Peak Cyclists in Berkeley, CA) will usually have something for everyone: beginner's ride series, long weekend rides, post-work rides, occasional group trips, training rides for upcoming events, and paceline rides for the more competitive, racy types. You can participate or not in whatever your area of interest and skill as you want.

Smaller, newer clubs may be more focused on something specific, like training for races or events, or randonneuring, or touring, or a particular group (women, beginners, an LGBTQ group) supporting each other. The other club I was a part of was a touring club, and we mostly planned tours, helped each other plan tours, and took occasional 1-3 day tours together. Depending on how small the club is, participation may or may not be important. If there are only 3-5 members, half the club not showing up for a ride can mean a very different ride than was planned, or a cancelled ride. Or if you're a founding member, there may be an expectation that you show up to most rides to help guide new members. It really depends on what your friend has in mind! Let them know the extent of your interest and see how that meshes with their expectations.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:05 PM on February 17, 2016

You say he's a bit eccentric? Then he's like most cyclists I know.

The club I'd join would be the kind in which would include only people I'd trust enough to paceline with, then we'd go out and ride in a rather un-paceline-like manner. There would be rides in the dirt, with long stops in the bakery, and occasional forays into a new part of town to try the new brewery. Maybe we'd have a jersey printed up that says something cheeky.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:09 PM on February 17, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the great advice and explanations of club culture everyone!

I'll dig for more info and set boundaries -- I think the whole thing is still developing in his head and I don't want to let him down by not living up to his expectations.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:37 PM on February 17, 2016

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