The existential crisis of bicycle clubs

August 2, 2016 § 33 Comments

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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