How We Began ‘Riding with Friends’
By Margaret Cabrinety
In 2005, I belonged to a bike racing team composed mostly of men older than 50. There were only two women and a few younger men, and the team didn’t seem interested in recruiting more members from among those demographics. All the bike rides in Howard County at the time were hammerfests—basically, if you weren’t fast enough to maintain an 18 to 20 mph average, you would be dropped during the first mile of the ride. Nearly all the people who showed up to those rides were men. I was a strong cyclist but often would get dropped.
To me, it seemed like there was a need for a local no-drop ride that would be less intimidating to newer cyclists and women.
I lived in Howard County, Md., and attended spin classes at Columbia Gym, so I asked women from spin classes if they had an interest in biking together outside. Because I had been racing, I also knew many experienced male cyclist friends, so I asked several of them if they would attend and help out. I told them I had a lot of interest among novice cyclists who would benefit from their experience, including riding basics.
With that, HoCo Cyclists was born, and those were our first few members!
While I initially hoped to create a racing team, it quickly became clear the need was for a recreational bike club with no-drop rides focused more on fun than competition.
I started with weekly Wednesday night road rides. The first year, we had a mostly novice group. I think the longest ride we did that year was 28 miles. I set each ride up with three pace levels—a system the club continues to use to this day—and a ride leader for each pace group. The ride leader would drop to ride with the slowest person, so each group technically was no-drop. I also encouraged people to buddy up as the pack spread out so people would have a friend to ride with, and that worked pretty well.
Jen Browne was an early member, and it was her suggestion to meet for food and drink after rides. This social aspect was popular, and the club grew quickly by word of mouth. It helped that I knew a lot of athletic people, as I played other sports and regularly attended all the Columbia Association gyms. People would approach me in the gyms and ask about the club, and I would hand out business cards so people knew how to sign up.
Those familiar with the club’s ride schedule know we organize evening rides on the network of trails in Columbia during the fall and winter months. Before starting HoCo Cyclists, I often rode those trails when I lived in Columbia—solo during the day and with a couple friends at night. During the club’s first summer, I invited Reid Gurnee to join me on a nighttime ride along the Columbia trails. He was amazed how far one could go just by using those trails, and he volunteered to help me lead a ride on the trails so HoCo Cyclists could continue Wednesday night rides after daylight savings time ended. I suggested the 12-mile route from Oakland Mills Village Center to the Savage Mill and back. It was an immediate hit with club members, and that was how the night rides started!
By its second year, the club had grown much bigger and people had a greater range of ability and experience. We started weekends rides, too. Jen Browne designed the first club jersey, and Cynthia Kramer helped her design the HoCo Cyclists logo. Randy Nixon let us hold the club’s annual banquet at his facility on his farm, and Chris Tsien helped people ride safer, such as in a paceline. Bill Foster learned the night ride and volunteered to lead one of the groups. Mike Borisky would call the restaurant with the attendance headcount. Eventually, we had a handful of people interested in racing, so Mike Birner, who was a USA Cycling coach, would put on free skills clinics to teach bike skills (useful for all of us, and most everyone attended). He also invited the handful who wanted to race to do a Saturday ride with his whole racing team, All American Bicycling Club. However, the focus of HoCo Cyclists stayed recreational. The club also attracted sponsorships, including Princeton Sports and Race Pace Bicycles, which hosted “how to change a flat tire” clinics.
So many members pitched in during the club’s early days. Leaders who deserve special mention for their contributions during the club’s first 10 years include Jen Browne, Reid Gurnee, Kristina Adams, Tom Lewis, Deb Taylor. and Liz Robson. I offer my sincere gratitude to them and to the many others not named here. Their hard work and dedication—and love of cycling and riding with friends—helped make HoCo Cyclists the fun and welcoming club it is today!
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