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The evolution of cycling clubs

Cycling is quickly becoming the major baby boomer sport of choice, as many middle-aged athletes migrate away from high impact activities such a running or racket sports to embrace the bike. After all,  it is impact-free and joint friendly and unrivaled as an endurance and cardiovascular sport. As well, it can be a highly social activity when done in a group. Three or four hours in close proximity with a group, or peloton as we call it in cycling, on a casual Sunday morning can make the miles on the road and the time on the clock pass with remarkable ease. However, the adrenaline and emotional high lingers long after the bike is put away.

The emergence and popularity of the cycling club is a natural extension of this phenomenon. Every year at season-opening meetings of most major cycling clubs, the rooms are becoming increasing packed with not only returning members, but new people who are eager to get into group riding or perhaps simply find out what the cycling fuss is all about. A Google search will easily identify hundreds of cycling clubs.  Most of these clubs are well organized, with a full corporate-like infrastructure in place, while some newer cycling clubs are completely web-based.

The sport has come a long way from the leather helmets, wool jerseys, and 28 pound steel bikes of the ’70s. The evolution is well underway. In 2013, the average baby-boomer is more likely to train with a coach or a spinning class in the off-season or take a cycling vacation to Europe of the American Southwest in an attempt to maintain the fitness gains of the prior season. They are more likely to spend significant amounts of money to buy the latest weight saving carbon technology and aerodynamic wheels. There is also a new emphasis on the performance-based aspects of club membership , in addition to the traditional emphasis on the social aspects of a club.

Another significant evolution in the sport has been the powerful emergence of cycling related charitable initiatives, as baby-boomers leverage their love of the sport to give back to the community. Most cycling clubs have also adapted to these evolutionary changes.

Gran Fondo New York

I have always owned a road bike. In 70’s, they were called 10 speeds. The French Canadian  kids rode Peugots and Merciers, the Italian kids rode Torpados, and these were our primary mode of transportation. Angelo Minichiello and I would ride our 28 pound steel clunkers up Camillien Houde, long before it became a popular training ground for coaches and serious cyclists. No spandex shorts or carbon-soled shoes; just gym shorts, running shoes and rat traps. Angelo always beat me up the mountain wearing his trendy Italian  loafers. No intervals or repeats, just one lap up and down, then later, espresso in Little Italy. It was our Saturday afternoon ritual for many years.

In the mid-nineties I was introduced to group riding when an Italian neighbor invited me to join him and a few of his friends on Sunday mornings. I remember thinking how different a sport group riding was from riding solo; the camaraderie made it infinitely more enjoyable and and the aerodynamics, faster.

In 2001, tired of the chronic joint pain I experienced  from impact sports like jogging , tennis, squash, and downhill skiing, I decided to embrace cycling and group riding in a serious way. That was a great decision, and I have never looked back.

I enjoy climbing the Hood for a few laps after a rough day at work and group riding with my friends. I love watching my son compete at an elite level, and the whole  cycling racing culture. I value the cycling friendships I have cultivated in other cities, and I prefer to watch the Men’s Pro tour above all other sports. There is no question in my mind that Pro cyclists are the toughest and fittest athletes on the planet.

And until this weekend in New York City, I did not think it was possible to love everything about this sport any more than I already did. But having taken in the magnificent Italian global cycling culture that is the Gran Fondo, I feel totally humbled to consider myself a serious student of this amazing sport.

It was incredible to see serious cyclists from all over the world at the GF Expo. Most of the cyclists I ride and train with work very, very hard to maximize their performances. It takes a certain degree of mastery in your chosen discipline to be able to comprehend and recognize the subtle differences in  those that have taken it to an even higher level. Standing at the start, one could not help but feel impressed by the international caliber of the field.

If you were looking for an epic ride, the GFNY did not disappoint. The event lived up to its reputation and hype, and in the final scheme of things, it delivered. It was every bit as tough as it looked on paper. People have asked if this was the toughest ride I have ever done. For now, the 10,023 foot climb up the Haleakala volcano in Maui goes down as the most epic ride of my life. Was the GFNY tougher than the 255 km Day 2 of the CIBC 401 Bike Challenge ?  Very tough to say, it is comparing apples to oranges. Day 2 into a head wind such as we experienced on a couple of occasions can break the resolve of the most gifted cyclist.

All of this to say that if I thought I was a true student of cycling heading into NYC this weekend, I can say without reservation that I have more to learn, more training to do, and better days ahead.

This is the greatest sport in the world in my opinion, but as a participant and baby-boomer sport, it is the greatest sport in the world without question. Cyclists enjoy a camaraderie that can not be explained, and not coincidentally, they also happen to be the nicest people I know.

There is a saying that states “where there is hope there is life”. Almost all serious cyclists I know strive to get better every day and push themselves harder, and that is the fuel that fires up the spirit.

Special thanks to my cycling friends at CIBC, 401 Bike Challenge, and the coaches at Toguri Training Systems for helping make this weekend one I won’t soon forget.

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