Tips for growing/starting a cycling club

Ahoy hoy,

I met 2-3 guys who lived near me and we started riding together every Sunday. We decided to form a club, name it, make kits, create a facebook group, launch a website, etc… The guys I started the club with have kinda moved on, but some new riders have moved in to keep it going with me. We have grown our Facebook group to about 60 members (about 10 who are very active) and we have a weekly semi-competitive 40mile Sunday café ride that gets anywhere from 2-12 riders every week.

I would love to get to the point where we could do things like host a sanctioned race event, get some local sponsors and all that stuff. In order to do that, I feel like we need to grow the number of riders who participate by a lot over the next few years.

I’m looking for

  • Advice on how to grow a club
  • Tips on keeping members engaged
  • Ideas for fun things clubs can do to keep things fresh
  • How to nicely deal with riders who show up but can’t hang. (This happens a lot, and most of them never return, and it’s sad.)
  • What you guys all like about your clubs. And what you don’t like.

Any ideas are welcome!
Thanks.

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The best way to grow a club is have regular scheduled group rides and a kit, something its sounds like you’re already doing.

A clear path on “how to join” and flat out individually, and repeatedly, inviting everyone who shows up at your ride(s), is also key.

On slower riders, if you can, have “B” and “C” groups with leaders. Those can be slower folks or fast guys who are down with using those rides for recovery days. Once you get enough slow people to stick around, they’ll have a group within the group and be happy.

Occasional, or regular :wink: beers after rides is also great for building a community.

On the race hosting, you can team up with an established club who already has a local race going and volunteer your club’s services to shadow and help out organizing the race (not just day of corner marshaling). That’s a good way to learn the ropes. Everyone wants more races, and more race promoters, so they’ll love to help you get into that game.

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One more thing, it can help to have an identity for your club. In my area we have a club that went from 0 to 40+ members in just 2 years based on their focus on doing 5:30 am weekday morning rides. Another grew to decent, but smaller, size almost overnight by being the new home for the race focused mid 20’s crowd. Its hard to be all things to all people unless you are a huge group.

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Great tips – I’ll def. keep that all in mind. Thanks!

Decide what sort of club you’d like it to be. The more diverse a club’s remit, the broader the range of people it can attract, the larger it can become, and the more sustainable it will be. As you’ve already noticed, if it’s a turn-up-get-dropped club, you are going to limit the pool of people who will want to ride with you. From your post I’m not sure if you want those people who ‘can’t hang’ or not. If you would like to see them again, consider what you can do to make it rewarding for them. (Clue: it’s not lasting 5 minutes more each week!)

Think carefully about the preference for speed: what will happen when you attract some riders who are much faster than you?

If you advertise regular rides consider including the following:

Indicative speeds, both on the flat and average.
Pre-planned routes that people can examine beforehand.
Visible/audible set of rules about whether people will be dropped or not. (Will you regroup after sprints or hills?)
Someone in charge who introduces themselves to new riders and spends time chatting.
The purpose of the ride: is it race training, social time, development work?
Go for a drink afterwards and buy new folk a jar!
Organise social rides where the group just goes for coffee at the speed of the slowest rider.
If someone can’t keep with the group, drop off with them and ride back together.

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What’s a “semi-competitive cafe ride”?

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Ohh we ride socially for 20 miles and race each other for 20 miles then regroup and drink coffee.

I think successfully answering this question is hugely important, and is a big win for growth as well.
When I think about wether I want to go ride with a new group (and I rarely do) one of the very biggest hurdles is my nervousness about what to expect from the group. Pacing, yes, but also attitude, style, ‘experience,’ etc etc. It’s like a job interview: there’s not always a right or wrong, but everyone needs to fit.

Setting clear expectations about HONEST pace including ride profiles (17-19mph means two very different things depending on flat MUP or hilly city riding), what to expect if you gret dropped, group dynamics, etc, etc, will 1) help fewer riders showing up once and never returning and 2) I actually think might help grow in the first place, and people are more confident in what to expect. Just my 2c

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I’m going to throw out the counter argument.

The best bike “club” I was ever in had no jerseys, no officers, no dues, and no BS. Just show up on Sunday and do a great ride.

Eventually people wanted jerseys and all that and the club expanded. Everything got more complicated. The club grew and then factions formed. We had century riders who like to cruise. We had racers who wanted to race. The cruisers would complain that the Sunday ride was too fast. Racers would complain when money was put towards some non-racing cause. Where was the sponsorship money going? Some club officers liked their petty power.

Think about what you want the club to be and stick to the philosophy. Don’t try to be all things to all riders. Maybe it’s sad when a newbie rider doesn’t show up for a 2nd ride but maybe they weren’t into the gentlemanly 20 miles of racing. If you guys like that then you probably don’t want to change the ride for newbs.

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I’m fortunate to be a part of a nice niche club in Oslo, Norway, that’s now into its 6th season, and we’ve been steady at 40-50 members over the last few years. For what it’s worth, here are my observations that I believe are the hallmarks of a successful club:

  • Define your unique value proposition. In most major cities and town, you’ll find that there are quite a few cycling clubs. If you want to create a sustainable cycling club, offer something special that makes your club stand out from the rest (this is Marketing 101!). Some clubs are good at the social weekend rides, some offer fantastic training opportunities, some are aimed at racing, others at including children and youth, etc. You can’t be all things to everyone, so be something insanely good for those who want to be a part of your club, whatever that may be.

  • Make sure that members who join the club, fit into the club’s culture and values. Prospective members should be invited to attend a couple of rides before signing up, so you’re both sure that there’s a fit between the parties. The club’s only as good and fun as it’s members make it; you want everyone to pull in the same direction. Most of us have limited spare time, so when we spend it on the bike, it should be thoroughly worthwhile. You want your members to go home after club rides with a good feeling.

  • Make it easy to connect and communicate. For all its flaws, Facebook’s group feature works very well, primarily because “everyone” is on Facebook. A closed group is advisable. The poll feature is very useful for several purposes, such as a weekly poll to survey who’s coming to the training session.

  • Have a clear, predictable and well communicated plan for rides (where, when, what, how long). E.g., if everyone knows that every Wednesday at 18 o’clock you meet at the local bike shop for a spin, then it will quickly become the norm. Revise the plan on a regular basis, both to improve and vary the club’s offering.

  • If there is a big difference in level between riders in the club, a good training session is often intervals in a 5-10 min hill, so even though everyone is riding at different paces, you’re still “together” and can catch up regularly at the foot or top of the hill. For weekend rides, always decide beforehand what pace and type of ride it will be.

  • Mix up the weekly training with club competitions, e.g. monthly club competition with points that are collected throughout the season. Variations and creativity in the competition - flat ITT, uphill mass start, etc. - can make it a lot more interesting. Don’t fall into the “this is the way we’ve always done it” trap. Be inventive.

  • Strava can be used to create unique club competitions. If you know someone who can do some programming, set up at website that uses Strava’s API to make unique competitions and challenges. E.g. pick 5-10 segments in the region and create leaderboards etc. based on times logged by club members in a certain time frame (“the club’s best times over the last 6 months on Hill X”).

  • Find a good designer and put together a great kit. If you create a design without sponsor logos, your kit is more likely to be in vogue for several years. Black shorts are always the correct choice. Choose a clothing supplier that makes good stuff. Your members should be proud to ride in the club colours, and life’s too short for second rate cycling stuff. I’ve found that Castelli, Bioracer and Rapha offer great custom clothing.

  • Organize an end of year party with award ceremonies etc. make for a good finale.

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Ah, ok, for me a cafe ride is a social ride at a slow pace.

Each club will have a slightly different way of doing things, and you’ll have to find something that works for all members. In my club, we have club rides and training rides, club rides always stay together as much as possible and regroup when we get split. Training rides, you can get dropped. This mixture that you have is a bit odd to me, but its your club and has to work for you.

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I used to be involved with a downhill mtb club and we would run regular events that got tons of riders, but only a small number would join the club, we ended up changing the pricing so members got a discount, and the non-member price included membership :smile:

We also teamed up with a local bike shop that would give a discount to members, and gave us prizes for the races, helped us a lot to grow the club so we could have the numbers in the club to be able to apply for funding from charity groups etc to buy things we needed to run bigger and better events, as well as sponsor riders etc.

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I am heavily involved in our club that is now 25 years old with 200 members (including a 35 person race team) and a mailing list of 2200. I have been on the BoD, am involved in numerous club decisions, I run our elections, lead group rides, etc.

With that as a background, IMO the # 1 issue you need to consider about forming an “official” club is liability. As an informal group of riders, there is little you need to worry about other than the usual hazards of riding on the road. Once you decide to formalize it, such as getting a kit and representing the group as a club, you now take on the risk of being sued by anyone participating in the ride should there be an injury.

These risks can be avoided if you: 1) incorporate your club, and 2) get your members to sign liability waivers.
If you collect dues (e.g. for the purpose of group purchases of kit and other club expenses), then you should register your club with your state as a non-profit (in the U.S. its a 501©(4) - social welfare corp) to avoid paying taxes.

All other decisions (e.g. growing membership, building group ride attendance, sponsoring races, etc.) are secondary to this primary decision. Happy to provide input on these other matters.

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There are so many good replies already, but I am going to double down on a regular schedule of rides of known qualities (distance, speed, etc).

The glue is the activity itself.

Don’t worry about sponsors. Develop relationships that are good for you and also good for the other side. A shop that will drop what they’re doing to fix your shifting while you wait is worth way more than 15% off gels.

The guys that get dropped: encourage them to form a B ride.

Have shorter more digestible rides during the week. Getting dropped on a 2 hour ride can make it hard to get up at 7am, but getting dropped on a 60 minute ride isn’t that bad, especially if they can catch the group on the way back.

Training on hills or loops where people of all levels can come and train and ride back to the start together. This is what we do tuesday and thursday, and I would have forgotten to mention it if some other guy in this thread hadn’t.

Develop group ride skills together. Be known as a safe group. Know the right way to rotate into the wind. Don’t let dicks penetrate your ride and turn it upside down. Be nice, say hi.

Facebook is cancer as a company and it’s our duty to stop using them. Setup an email list, get a chat group using WhatsApp (I know I know, it’s facebook owned) so that people with iPhones and also people using burners can communicate with everyone. Use slack. Use something to make it easy to BS and chatter all day and night.

Lastly, talk to veteran promoters before you dip your toe into that water.

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That is a great point. It’s super important to just avoid all the bullshit and just keep it really simple… even it isn’t for everyone. Thanks.

Wow.

So many great replies. I definitely have a clearer picture of how to move forward with my club.

Thank you all so much for your time. Looking forward to discussing all this with everyone after our next ride.

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Good luck and have fun. Clubs with happy people in are the ones that thrive.

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Hey bobmac,

Can you define the levels of participation between the team, club and mailing list.

I am a co-founder of a club that is growing quickly, and we want to put some levels and verbiage into place to be prepared for increased growth

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Congrats on the growth of your club. Sure, happy to try to answer your question. Feel free to follow-up if I haven’t answered it below:

Mailing list: Anyone can join our mailing list, provided they agree to abide by rules of behavior (you know the drill). There are two big drivers of the size and continued growth of the list:

  1. Given the long history of the club (founded in '92), there are many former members that have “aged up” or moved out of the area that want to remain affiliated with the club for a variety of reasons.

  2. Given the club’s performance/skills orientation, our 4+ weekly club rides are very popular and routes are announced via the mailing list. The email distributions also include other resources, such as training, equipment sales, etc. (sort of a mini forum). As such, there is a large # of members of neighboring clubs and non-club oriented cyclists that join the mailing list.

Team: The club’s roots began as a mens and womans race teams, including one of the top U.S. pro continental womens team at that time (hence “racing club” is part of the official club name). As these early racers stopped racing, they wanted to remain with the club and hence started the non-racing component of the club (see below). The race team leads our Sunday A ride open to anyone (generally requires ~4WpKg to stay with the group), but also has its only training rides, and hosts its own Slack workspace for discussions, race planning, etc.

Club: The general club membership is open. As noted in my earlier response, members are required to agree to proper behavior and sign a liability waiver. While there are a small number of members that join just for the social component (e.g. annual banquet, picnic, social events, club meetings for education), the majority join the club for performance and/or bike handling skills improvement in a congenial environment (camaraderie ranks #1 in our annual user survey). Club membership fee (currently $100) includes the club jersey.

Note: 4 years ago, a fellow board member and I did a strategic analysis of ~25 cycling clubs in our area dividing them into 3 buckets: 1) pure racing teams, 2) pure recreational clubs, and 3) hybrid (race + non-race). The least expensive and easiest to operate are recreational clubs (by an order of magnitude). Pure racing teams can be costly financially (depending on the level) but are highly focused. Hybrid clubs, such as ours, take a lot people to do well due to the diverse needs required to support such a club.

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My club team after college benefited from leading shop rides. The shop advertised the ride. We organized the route and broke out into A & B groups as others suggested previously.

Not sure how much this added to our race roster but I think it helped with getting the name of a new (at the time) team out there. Also saved a bit of money via the shop sponsor. They got an easy place to send people who were looking for road rides.

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