Recruitment, rollers, results all help the club growThe best part about running a cycling club in eastern Massachusetts, explains David Singerman, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cycling Club from 2009 until this past Summer, is that this area has a great bike culture, racing and otherwise. There's a huge community of cyclists, and I think that helps, and helps attract, new arrivals (which is what almost all of us students are at first).
"In particular, there are huge numbers of collegiate cyclists around. But it's becoming a very bike-friendly place in general. People see bikes everywhere, they see our email list abuzz with rides, they hear about local races. There are lovely routes that get you out of the urban areas, bike paths along the river, good mountain biking trails, the best cyclocross in the country, and even a velodrome in New Hampshire. I know I sound like a booster, but that's the way I feel—it's just a great place to race or ride.
"Except for the weather, which simply sucks for a large part of the academic year. From about Thanksgiving to the beginning of spring, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get on the road.
"We have a wonderful athletics department here at MIT, who very generously grant us the use of a space for indoor winter training, but there's no way around it: riding rollers and watching "Arrested Development" for the eleventy thousandth time isn't nearly as much fun as hammering to Concord and sprinting for town lines.
"There's no getting around the fact that the long, cold, blustery, wet winter is a disincentive. It's especially so for new students, who have just started seeing two and a half months of riding pay off when the climate sours. Still, we have plenty of people (like me) who tough it outside all year, and even more who keep riding indoors. And it helps, as far as racing goes, to know that all your rivals in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference are having to do the same thing.
"Of course, the flip side of the winter is that we have a good spring, a beautiful summer and a gorgeous fall. Eight great months of the year for riding is a pretty good; I'll take that deal."
Singerman says much of the club’s recruiting is done at the "activities fairs MIT hosts for first-year students each year. We are always sure to have a well-staffed table at all of them. We often try to show videos or have someone riding rollers (which always draws crowds). Even if only 10% of the people who sign up for the cycling team wind up racing, that's pretty good—plus there are a lot of graduate students who show up at school raring to race.
"The student body here is pretty male-heavy, so we're always making an extra effort to recruit new women to the team. I don't know any statistics but by ECCC standards we have a disproportionately large women's team, and they tend to be a close-knit group. Based on our women's outrageous results at nationals this year (1-2-3-5 in the road race, first in the crit, and the TTT), I would say we do a pretty good job on that front.
"Importantly, we front-load the beginning of the year. We have club rides every weekend, clinics with our terrific coach, Nicole Freedman [2000 Olympian and current Director of Bicycling Programs for the City of Boston], and we cap it all off with a "mock race" sometime in late fall. I think that helps people get excited and stay excited, and start the hard months of winter training on a high note."
MIT Cycling Club photos are posted at the club’s Flickr page.
Singerman says he has heard "a constant low-level buzz in the collegiate ranks about becoming a varsity sport rather than a club sport, but I think that cycling gets a lot more out of being a club sport than it loses by not being more ‘official.’
"The ECCC is unbelievably well run by a large number of people, from Joe Kopena on down. Sometimes we wish we didn't have to drive so far to races, but that's because we're almost at one end of the map. So I really have no complaints."
Asked how the various disciplines within cycling play out at MIT, Singerman’s answer is clear: "In order of popularity, it's road, cross, track, MTB. Well, at least that's true in racing terms. There are a large number of MTBers at MIT who are recreational rather than racers.
"Road is the biggest by a huge amount; it consumes the lion's share of our budget. It's the easiest to get into, it's the one people are most likely to have seen or to own a bike for, and it's the most developed in the area.
"The cross scene in New England is excellent, and people often wind up in cross after they've had so much fun in their first road season.
"Track is a lot of fun, but unfortunately there's no indoor velodrome around here, so we can only use [the one in New Hampshire] in the summer, and the track racing season is over the summer when a lot of students aren't around.
"Similarly, mountain biking is just at the beginning of the academic year, but, even given that, it is a little puzzling to all of us why it's not a bigger part of our program. We've made conscious efforts in the last few years to change that, and those efforts are finally bearing fruit."
Asked what advice he’d offer high school-age riders, Singerman offers the observation that "I decided my senior year of high school that I'd join a cycling team when I got to college, and I wish someone had told me to buy a used road bike and look around for races. When I'm behind a table at the activities fair in the spring for incoming students and a soon-to-be-freshman comes up to me and says they'd like to race in college, I want to say, 'why wait?'"
Singerman hopes the MIT club can "keep growing." In some ways we pay a price for our success—our club structure was built for a smallish group, and we now often have almost sixty racing members each year. But as the saying goes, we all should have such problems. At some point we may need to rethink how we're organized, but at the moment I just hope we keep growing and keep recruiting new racers, especially women.
"We're also thinking about ways we can become more a part of the general MIT community. We may have a hundred dues-paying members but there are more than 10,000 students here, and we'd like to reach that other 99%—many of whom, after all, are cyclists, for recreation as well as commuting. Last year we held repair and bike-building clinics, and it was a great success, so we'd like to make it a regular feature and add more programs like that.
"There have been terrific moves on the conference level in the past few years to increase the support for new racers and for women. I certainly expect and hope those to continue, and to continue to succeed. Every year the ECCC seems to set new attendance records, and just managing that expansion while building mountain and track race seasons will be a great achievement.
"Personally," Singerman says, "I'd like to see some crazier events. We have a number of velodromes in the ECCC area. How great would it be to have a race end in one of those, Paris-Roubaix-style? And did you know that the Tour de France used to have 60, 80, 100 kilometer individual time trials? I'm decidedly mediocre at ITTs, but I think it would be great fun to occasionally throw a ridiculous event like that (with proportionally reduced distance!) into the seasonal mix. After all, for all but a lucky and suffering few, we're just racing to have a good time."
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