You’ve made the first important step; you’re considering being a “joiner.” Even if you don’t typically sign up for clubs, classes, and clinics, do sign on the dotted line when it comes to cycling. Increased motivation, higher skill, and more enjoyment is nearly guaranteed if you band with others. I can speak from experience with my years on Petunia Mafia Cycling. Some of my favorite people I met through this team. It’s inevitable to get to know someone when you ride side-by-side for hours. Yes, fitness and skill will improve. But it’s the relationships that women talk about the most. Following is a breakdown of what to consider when joining a women’s bike club.
What’s in it for me? It’s the most basic of questions, and the most. How many rides are scheduled per week or month? What coaching, training, or sponsor perks will you have access to? What can you expect as goals or successes at the end of the membership?
Do rides have official ride leaders? An official ride leader takes pressure off newcomers to have to make decisions. Leaders should organize and communicate in advance so riders have a solid idea of what to expect. What’s the route? Pace? Difficulty? Expected finish time? Is it a drop or no-drop ride (will slower riders be left or will the group reassemble at points along the way)?
Are there off-bike events where I can meet teammates? It takes some gumption to show up to the party if you don’t know anyone. A social event, meet-and-greet, or team meeting will help you get to know people. Then it’ll be easier to motivate for a ride when you can expect familiar faces.
Is it co-ed or women only? There are benefits to both. Riding with males has a testosterone-fueled, competitive feel. Even on “tempo” rides (cycling with a cardio – not anaerobic - pace, not vying for a win) guys tend to flaunt their feathers. It’s a great way to get in their minds, especially for training and racing. However, women are different in the way we learn (think skills clinics), communicate, and in the way we desire community (the whole social/fitness/inclusion package).
Are you seeking a hard-core race team or social club based around bikes? You can go to either extremes or find something in the middle. If you want to surround yourself with racers, a “team” – in which you must be accepted via an application – is probably the way to go. They’ll have rides, clinics, and training programs to head you toward the podium. Or, if you want to join recreational rides where you can spin at your leisure, there are clubs where all are welcome. Some organizations have both a race team and a recreational club component.
What's mandatory? Read the fine print, especially with race teams. There may be mandatory attendance, kit purchases (hopefully it’s a SheBeest kit!), volunteering minimums, and participation points to be in good standing.
Are you a roadie, mountain biker, or both? Many, if not most, clubs and teams focus on one type of cycling. But if you’re the type to mount whichever bike calls to you that day, you may want to find a team that offers both rides (or even triathlon/cyclocross sections too). If you go in this direction, be sure you’re clear on whether you can bounce back and forth or if you need to “join” two teams within the overarching group.
When do you need to join? Due to apparel kit orders, lots of teams and clubs stop allowing new members after a cutoff date. Find out when that is. Also, ask whether the membership is based on a calendar year, year from sign-up, or cycling season.
Where does my registration fee go? It costs money to run an organization. Operational costs (business licenses, website and newsletter costs, taxes, etc), hiring pro coaches for clinics, party food, road trip lodging, race reimbursements, and paying heads of the team are all valid uses of member and sponsor fees. The key is to spend smartly and invest in the member's experience. Good leadership will do that, or the club will fold.
What if I have other questions? The team website, social media pages, and/or leaders should give you the info you need to indicate it’s a good fit. If you can’t easily find answers, reach out and ask – how quickly and graciously they respond is your first clue into the character of the organization.
Joining a women’s cycling team is kind of like buying a house. You should know all the questions you’re supposed to ask before making a decision. In the end, the house – and the club – will feel right in your gut if it’s meant to be. Sign on the dotted line, and get on the saddle!
Laura Wisner, President
Petunia Mafia Cycling