Flutterby™!: Making a bike club work

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This is my first attempt at trying to build a Wiki-like knowledge base on top of the Flutterby content management system.

This is a place for explanation, description and static links on a topic that's either too broad to be covered under a single link, or that you're just too lazy to find the real link to.

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by:Dan Lyke started: 2006-07-17 19:17:16.153752+02 updated: 2006-07-17 19:17:16.153752+02

On Sun, 16 Jul 2006 16:34:25 -0700, Paul Heally wrote:

I'd like to know some of the things your club does to promote and increase membership.

I've only been a member and doing serious road biking for half a year, but already I'm helping to coordinate volunteers and running a rest stop for the big organized ride. I don't have a whole lot of experience with what makes the club as a whole tick, but I can tell you what's made this one work for me:

  1. Have a regular ride that everyone can participate in.

We've got a 20 mile mostly flat loop that happens 5 days a week in the mornings that ends up at a bakery, so even people who don't go on the ride drop by the bakery for a pastry. 5 days a week is a lot to ask a club to maintain, but my experiences with other social groups is that if you can get two people to commit to a regular event, even if it's one day a week, and show up even when nobody else does, you'll get other people tagging along.

We have two people who do that loop year-round. In the summer, when more people show up, the ride forks on Tuesdays and Thursdays and more advanced riders do different routes, but even in winter, as long as the rain seems like it's going to hold off, Harry, Marsha or Gary will be there.

  1. Encourage leadership.

One of the things that struck me when I started going out on the regular morning ride was that on my first day out when there were three of us and we were all together, there was still a strong emphasis on "this is a regroup point", "we turn here because we miss that intersection", and so forth. The expectation is that no matter how new you are, at some point you'll be leading this ride, and we have these rituals for a reason, so we start to pass this knowledge down as soon as possible because it's important that we keep this ride going.

This also helps with the "they should..." attitude. Shortly after I joined I was on a ride where someone pulled a corner too fast, hit some gravel and went down. One woman said "they should sweep that", several of the rest of us said "I'll bring a broom next time I'm in this area in a car."

  1. Teach group riding skills.

I'm awful in the lead of a pack, but I know this because various people have taken me aside and told me so and also told me why. And it's never been a "don't let him in front" thing, it's been a "don't bolt when the leader pulls aside, find your own pace and stay steady" thing, but the atttitude about this has been very supportive and very welcoming.

There's a regular group riding skills clinic that one of our members puts on that I've meant to go do, but haven't gotten to yet. However, that both gives you an excuse to put a flyer up in your local shops (see #5) and a formal context in which to help people out in a pack.

  1. Keep your overhead low and your focus clear

It's easy for clubs to become power trips or grow into non-profits with the primary purpose of supporting the most active leaders and losing focus of what they were started for.

Marin Cyclists seems to have done a really good job of keeping dues low (how much do you need to maintain a web site, provide a little seed money for when you start putting on your organized rides, and cover a little liability insurance?) and giving those people who want to do more the opportunity to do so with things that are perks for volunteers and cost more for those that aren't volunteers. I haven't gotten to any of those events yet, but apparently there's a killer holiday party, for instance. And these events are either funded with money left over from putting on our big organized ride, or by additional fees.

Here in Marin we're also blessed with a good division of labor: Marin Cyclists is a social group for road cyclists, not a political force or a mountain bike access group or any of those other things, and there are separate groups for those tasks.

  1. Recruit your local bike shops and eateries

Good local shops realize that symbiotic relationships with bike clubs helps everyone. Mention the local bike shops, use bakeries or coffee shops as start/end points, make them conscious that you're bringing them business. Then you can ask 'em to put out a tray full of business cards with your website on it, or post ride schedules, or whatever. Don't ask them to put up 17"x24" posters, figure out what works well in the context of their store and stay within that format, and also go by regularly and help pull down the stuff that's now obsolete.

I discovered Marin Cyclists because I've been a regular at a particular coffee shop for years, and when I mentioned some other regulars that I was getting into road biking they said "you need to join...". That the owner of that coffee shop has been friendly to cyclists, including pushing for his town to have good bike parking facilities in front of his shop, meant that I was more likely to be hanging out with bikers even when I didn't ride.

And another bakery (Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station) just opened a branch in a new town (Fat Angel Bakery in Fairfax), and the buzz through the club meant that the owner's efforts in making sure that there were great facilities for cyclists out in Point Reyes (I took some acquaintances from Fresno on a ride out there this weekend and they were shocked and amazed at more bikes than cars in a tourist town) gave her an instant customer base in Fairfax.

  1. Publish ride schedules early and often

This is one of the things we could be doing better. Our schedule is published at the beginning of the month, which means that people are committing a month ahead, and it's hard to say "hey, nobody's put together a "C" ride for the first weekend of next month yet". I've seen other cycling clubs that have more interactive online schedules so that people can commit to leading a ride and you can see it as soon as they do.

My life is a little more hectic right now, and sometimes I'd like to see an email list or something with a little less lead time so that I can say "hey, I'm going to be able to ride tomorrow, anyone else?"

We've also got "Google Earth" tracks of our big organized ride, but something I want to do is develop cue sheets and route maps for the regular rides, so that there's a little less lore. Santa Rosa Cycling Club has 10 Great Sonoma County Rides, which is a start, but maps and distances for some of the regular rides both make more text on a web site for people to find, and help let people gauge before a ride whether they're up to it.

One of the problems I've noticed with at least one "A" level ride that I went on recently is that it was "12 MPH average" because it had four thousand feet of climbing in a few miles, and a few beginner riders saw the "A" on it, thought "great, slow ride with lots of regroups", and... it was a long day with a lot of people turning back early. Getting more information out there so that people can look at the ride course before hand and make more informed decisions will be a good thing.

  1. Preach to the converted

I think the best "clubs" are those that provide the minimum framework necessary to enable what they do. Don't over complexify things, if you want a place to find people to ride with, set up an email list or a web site, print up some business cards, and start telling your cycling friends that you'll be telling people when you're riding on that forum. Yeah, if it costs you a couple of bucks other people will be getting a free ride, but sooner or later they'll pitch in and you can formalize things a bit more, but only as much as you need to.

Carry those business cards with you *everywhere*, and had 'em out to cyclists, even those who aren't in your area. Heck, I've driven through Tracy a number of times, I'm sure there are some scenic rides in the delta area, it'd probably be worth a little driving some morning to meet some new people and explore some new terrain.

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Dan Lyke
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