This week, I got the monthly email newsletter from the Austin Cycling Association, a group I belong to. One item in the missive caught my eye: it said participation in the ACA’s “classic” rides has fallen off considerably. These are group rides the organization (It doesn’t call itself a “club,” so I won’t, either) hosts every Saturday and Sunday. The locations rotate among a couple dozen different spots, and riders can choose from several different distances for each ride.
“Ten or 12 years ago,” said the newsletter, “a typical ACA suburban or country ride would draw 50 or perhaps 70 riders; nowadays, they draw only a dozen or so.” The newsletter expressed bafflement as to why this would be the case.
The ACA is the largest cycling organization in the Austin area, with about 1200 or more members. The rides have always been one of the group’s attractions, so the news that participation was down that much was unexpected.
However, I must admit that although I’ve been a dues-paying member for several years, I myself haven’t taken part in that many rides. When I have, it’s often been because they’re merged with a ride some other group is putting on, such as a training ride for an upcoming charity event. For a couple of years, I’ve resolved to get out on ACA rides more often, because they go to places I rarely ride, and the change of scene would be welcome. But those different places are often 30 or even 40 miles from where I live. In my part of the city, the group doesn’t offer many rides.
Those it does put on around my area are routes that I ride a lot — usually with my neighborhood cycling club, so I always go with my club rather than the ACA. And maybe that’s the reason for the decline in ridership. In the five years I’ve been riding, I’ve noticed lots of groups spring up that offer group rides. My neighborhood club is one example. We also have group rides on Saturday and Sunday, and lately, our Saturday rides have grown.
Then there’s the Austin Cycling Meetup group. Meetups are informal gatherings coordinated via a Meetup website — they exist for a wide variety of avocations. The cycling meetup sprang up about five years ago. I’m listed as a Meetup member, but I don’t ride with them anymore, for the same reason as above.
Several bike shops put on their own weekend or weekday evening rides. I’ve been on a few of those. And there are a number of other clubs in the area that all stage their own rides.
I can’t speak for any of the other groups, but my neighborhood club rides attract anywhere from a dozen to three dozen riders on Sunday mornings. That’s dependent on the weather, of course. In fact, I’d say our rides have grown over the last year or so by a little bit. Our Saturday ride had the reputation of being a “fast” ride, but some members will informally post that they’ll be heading out at about the same time, perhaps on a different route, at a different pace, and some of those rides draw decent numbers.
A bright spot in the Austin Cycling Association is the growth of so-called “hosted” rides. These differ from the “classic” rides in that a trained ride leader organizes the ride, they’re rated for speed and climbing, and they’re “no drop” rides. When you go to a classic ride, a ride “starter” furnishes you with a map and cue sheet, says a few words about the route and riding etiquette, and then the riders set off. They separate quickly, and it’s easy to find yourself on your own. I suppose that could be daunting for new riders, but anyone with some experience should be comfortable by themselves, especially with a map to help them out.
So, I don’t quite know what to make of this. Maybe it’s just that people prefer riding in smaller groups. Maybe it’s the early start time — most classic rides start at 8 a.m., which is another reason I’m not likely to drive 30 miles to get there. The ACA seems befuddled by the trend.
What’s your experience in your area? Have you noticed a falloff in group ride numbers? Or are yours flourishing? Are they large rides, or small? Do the routes vary, or are they repeated week to week? Let know in the comments.