KOOCHELLA

FTW Racing in Minneapolis/St Paul

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Image from Clif BarImage from Clif Bar

As I finished up my third long discussion of the day with women who want to start bike teams, I realized that I’ve been handing out essentially the same recipe and advice over and over.

Rather than wait for women to approach me, I thought: man, I should just put this stuff out there. Maybe it will get around. Maybe it will get in the hands of the right woman who can start another rad women’s team (though the advice works for any kind of team). I’d be really into that.

Why should you start a racing team?

There are a lot of reasons why you would want to embark in this endeavor. My personal feeling on the topic is that the greater the diversity of teams in the world, the more attractive racing is for more people.

And racing is fun. It makes you strong. Strength is beautiful and powerful.

From my personal experience, I wasn’t compelled by the teams in my community for whatever reason. I didn’t identify with them. They weren’t what I was about. So embarking on Koochella was an exercise in building the team that I wanted, and that my teammates wanted, to see in the world.

So why should you start a women’s racing team?

As someone who had very few women friends until I joined a women’s team, I would be asking this exact question right now. I went to college for an extremely male-dominant major. I work in an extremely male-dominant industry. Most of my friends in the Beforetimes were men (or identified as men). And I was totally content with that- and many of my teammates were in the same boat.

Really, we didn’t know what we were missing.

Women have a lot of shared life experiences as a result of just being women. We face similar problems negotiating the world as adults. We share similar experiences from childhood (toys, cartoons, Lisa Frank folders of our relatively gendered upbringing). It’s a kinship that I didn’t know I was missing from my friendships with guys. And there is something to be said for training and growing strong with other women. Other women are, after all, your direct competition in racing. They are who you bike-fight for a place on the podium.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Most critically, though, bike racing can be an unsupportive place for women in a lot of ways (but that’s for another post). Having the backing of the women on my team in navigating the racing landscape has been critical for my success and enjoyment within the sport. When you roll up to a race with ten of your best friends in matching kits, you’re going to have a great time no matter the tone that’s been set. And if your community isn’t as supportive of women’s cycling as it could be, you and your teammates can rely on one another for support. It’s huge.

What you should know before starting a developmental women’s racing team:

No experience is necessary. You don’t have to be a professional racer or team manager to start a team. Heck, you don’t really even need race experience. You just need to have a group of women who want to go for it… and go for it.

You will probably have to build a women’s field along with building your team. I’m generalizing a little here, but depending on your discipline (road, track, cyclocross, or mountain) and where you live, there probably isn’t a massive established women’s racing community. In our case, there were too few women racing at our track to even substantiate a race, so we had to consciously recruit our competition in the process of just figuring out how to race ourselves. It was extra hustle and we were happy to do it.

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It’s totally worth it. I love my teammates with all my heart. And I love what we accomplish together. It’s so fun. I wouldn’t trade my experiences in the past two years on this team for the world. I mean that 100%.

Alright.

So how do you build a team?

Photo by Ben Hovland

Photo by Ben Hovland

Get some women together. If you know some, cool. I didn’t. If you don’t know any either, put it out there to your friends to recommend candidates. Go to any number of bike events and make friends (alley cats, casual rides, parties, movie fests). Or, crap, put up some flyers around town with pull tabs. I really didn’t know any of the women recruited to Koochella until after they joined the team… and they’ve all been awesome.

Keep your team a manageable size. There are teams that disagree with me and prefer a large, super-inclusive team model. That’s cool- different strokes for different folks. We’ve found that our smaller team makes meetings easier to have, communication simpler, and it makes it easier for us to hold each other accountable. Small teams also have the benefit of being easier to sponsor because the scale is small. I’d keep it under ten for your first year (if you want a small team, know that skinsuit/kit manufacturers often have minimum orders of five or six).

Decide what you want your mission statement to be. The Koochella mission statement is in the About section of our website. If you like it, steal it. If you don’t, write your own. It’s important to understand the scope of your mission before you get too far in so that everyone is on the same page. And remember, teams change. You can always revise it.

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Pick a focus. Definitely, keep scope small the first year. Figure out a discipline that you all can do together. Koochella focuses on track as a main sport- it’s worked out well for us. Maybe road or cyclocross is your thing. When you keep scope focused, you have a bigger impact on your main sport from a presence standpoint- which is good for your message and great for sponsorship collateral.

Pick a rad name. Choose something you can rally around, something that gets you excited. You should also probably sketch this out and vectorize it so you can start using it in materials.

Start an Instagram and Facebook Page now. Like, right now. Even if it’s just pictures of you and your teammates riding around and having fun, it’s a start. Make sure that if you’re training or having a meeting or chilling out, someone is taking pictures and posting. Start building this presence early.

Establish team member expectations early on. Make sure that everyone knows what is expected from them in terms of training and number of races they are expected to do. Also, make sure that everyone has a defined role on the team (marketing/PR, treasurer, outreach, captain, manager, etc.) so that work is allocated, everyone is hustling together, and everyone knows what they are getting into. From experience with my team and from talking to other teams, animosity manifests between team members when a few team members hustle in training, racing, and team management stuff and others do not.

Find a bike shop sponsor. If you have a team, it will be critical for you to have a shop that you can rely on for technical or equipment support. They can give you discounts on parts. In some cases, they might help you build and service your bike. They help keep racing costs reasonable.

Sit down and figure out a budget. Understand what it costs per woman to race each year. Racing can be expensive. There are USA Cycling (the governing body of American bike racing) club enrollment fees, individual license fees, race fees. Bikes cost money. Shoes, helmets, pedals costs money. Skinsuits and kits cost money. If you can articulate the costs of racing, you’re in a much better position from which to approach sponsors for help in mitigating these costs.

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Put together a sponsorship packet. Include your mission statement, a specific description of what you’re asking for (bikes, a specific amount of money, a discount on apparel), and be able to tell the sponsor what you can do for them in return. This last part is huge. Sponsorship is a two way street. And, now that you have an established social media presence (because you started a social media presence early on), you can blow up your sponsor online. Look for sponsors in your neighborhood. Have casual rides that end at their spot. Write thank you cards. Give them sets of images for them to use of your team using their stuff. These are all great ways of supporting the people who support you. If you can demonstrate that you can take care of your sponsors well, you’ll get more sponsorship. And don’t be afraid to ask for things. The worst thing that will happen is that people will say no.

Get Legit! Register your club and team on USA Cycling (usacycling.org). Once you are registered, you can start purchasing your racing licenses… and declaring your club to the world feels pretty gosh-darned good. If you’re focused on unsanctioned racing disciplines such as gravel racing or if you live in a part of the world where bike racing is unsanctioned, determine whether other licensure/dues needed. The more you take yourself seriously, the more others will too.

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Design a fucking awesome kit. The more obnoxious, the better (in my mind). Go bananas. If you have an artist on your team, turn them loose. Know that custom apparel takes 4-8 weeks to produce, so make sure your orders are in early enough.

Train. Do group rides. Have trainer nights. Facilitate team members training on their own if that’s their style. If you have no idea what you’re doing, get a book and learn how training works (I recommend The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel). Trainingpeaks.com has some excellent articles available. Selene Yeager of Bicycling has written a ton of really great articles about basic training concepts (including some workouts) that you can look up. Educating yourself on training and nutrition is important for having a long-term, positive relationship with the sport. Training is also a great team-building activity.

If you can’t find a resource, become the resource you need. Apply that however you want.

Figure out how you’re doing to deal with money. Understand how you’re going to organize so you can have a team bank account (where you deposit sponsorship money). Depending on your program, you could be eligible to structure as a non-profit (if you go the extra mile). Also, have an organization treasurer who tracks the books for you.

Get involved with the local racing community. Learn about your USA Cycling local association- maybe go to a meeting or two. Volunteer at events. Get to know your race promoters and organizers and make sure that you thank them when they’ve put on a good event (because they take a lot of time and energy). Reach out to other women in the community. Be a positive force. It’s all good karma stuff.

Ask for help. If you don’t understand how to structure all business-like because that’s not your area of expertise, reach out to an accountant or a lawyer. If there are teams you respect, ask them for advice! Reach out when you need to. And please, if you have questions, hit Koochella up. We’re happy to be a resource for you. It’s part of our mission.

So yeah, that’s all pretty overwhelming, but it’s all completely doable. Koochella did a lot of this over the course of the first year just blindly feeling along.

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If we can do it, you can do it. And it’s worth it… 100%.

Get it.

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn
Captain, Koochella Racing

Star Cross & Wirth CX 2015

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

“Star Cross was pretty cool, literally,” “Fancy” France Barbeau said after shivering her way through the first half of Fulton’s two-day event. While she enjoyed racing at Aquilla Park in the dark, she was a bit intimidated by the lack of sunlight. The course’s steep hills and technical turns didn’t help matters, keeping France on her toes all night. “It was the hardest race of the season,” she said.

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Photo by France Barbeau

Teammate Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe found the course just as challenging:

Overall this weekend highlighted exactly what I know my strengths and weaknesses are as a rider. Both Star Cross and Theo Wirth CX featured relatively long stretches of straights where I knew I could pick up speed, and then technical features like off camber downhills sections or 180-degree turns in sand, which really slowed me down.

Photo by Matthew Pastick

Photo by Matthew Pastick

For France, things started heating up the next day at Wirth CX. “It was the perfect warm November day for the Theo Cross race,” she said. “Though I mountain bike, I found some areas difficult for a cross bike, since I never ride as fast as when I race. There were a couple climbs that were hard, but everything else was nice and flowy.”

After her race France stuck around to watch teammate Tiana “T-Bits” Johnson in her element.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Theo CX is one of my favorite races. There is a sick single track section that can really break up the feild. I tried to ride the hairpin drop with just my foot down and totally failed. I crashed pretty hard. I decided to follow Deidre’s lead and just run it from there on out. I went 100%.

Tiana ended the day wiped, but proud of her results adding, “I still hate mud.”

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Sarah “Beezy” Bonneville was stoked on Theo’s single track, switch backs, and steep sharp turns. “I definitely would never have tried these without blindly signing up for cyclocross,” she said.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

The next weekend Emily “Eagle Screech” Wade joined Sarah for Star Cross II: Daylight Boogaloo. The course was mostly grass with several tight turns, short, steep hills, and off cambers. A wooded section marked the middle of the course, beginning with an uphill barrier and ending with a steep climb riddled with exposed roots and a matching descent on the other side.

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Today was one of the first cross races where I really, really had fun. Riding our new 853s is magical. They handle so well. Just having a nice bike motivates me to be a better rider. Even though it was just Sarah and I racing, I was feeling the love from her and France, who came to cheer us on, along with a few other friends. Combine all that goodness with sunny skies and 60 degree weather and you have the perfect day for a cross race.

While France was too sick to race, spent the morning navigating the course with her camera taking all these seriously incredible shots:

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

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Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

Photo by France Barbeau

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The food drive on two wheels – Koochella style. It all started a few months ago when Sunrise Cyclery owner & all around knight in shining armor Jamie McDonald was on the lookout for a 2015 Cranksgiving organizer. In the shadow of a successful 2014 event hosted by Lilah “Fratboy” Guertin, the Koochella babes were first on Jamie’s list. Keen on food, bikes, and friendship, Crisi “The Fox” Lee and Sarah “Beezy” Bonneville jumped into action.

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With a venue squared away, the pair started with stops and sponsorship. Together Crisi and Sarah put together a diverse manifest including an Aldi, Seward Co-op, the Wedge Co-op, two Cub Foods locations, and a bonus stop at “That damn Kmart.” They also rounded up a slew of all-star sponsors who showered them in rad gear and treats for the speediest and most generous Cranksgiving riders.

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Crisi and Sarah collected All-City chainrings, coveted Hub Co-op caps, free beer from Eastlake Craft Brewery, lube from the Smitten Kitten, technical tees from Venture North, 10 bags of beans from Peace Coffee, merch & service gift cards from Cherry Cycles, a massage from VillaBee Healing Arts (THAT’S SARAH!), and $300 in services from local acupuncture goddess Amy K. Oh, and there were a few pairs of socks, too.

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On the day of the race-food drive-fundraiser the entire crew of first-year Koochella babes (Baby Ducks for short) came together for the first time since the Team Retreat more than a month earlier. The team greeted tandems, trailers, track bikes, and commuter teams as 70 riders prepared to empty their hearts and wallets in grocery aisles across Minneapolis.

At 3:00 it was time to roll out. Sarah gathered everyone in the parking lot outside Sunrise, threw her hands in the air, and yelled “Go!” at the top of her lungs.

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56 minutes later Lee Penn rolled back to the shop with a backpack full of holiday goodies.

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Lee credited her first place finish in part to her decision to purchase the same item at every store. In addition to leading the pack in speed, Lee also won most generous individual rider, spending $96.91 on Tampon Tower.

Yet the grandest receipt total came from the incredible folks at Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles. In addition to running one of the raddest community shops around Mike and Benita designate 10% of their income to charity. The couple said they dog-eared a good chunk for Cranksgiving. $527.79 – a good chunk, indeed.

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All told the riders donated 1,140 pounds of food and care products to Second Harvest Heartland. The total value of these donations landed at $2,902.02. Sarah and Crisi could not have been more humbled.

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As the Koochella babes tallied receipts riders enjoyed a surprise keg biked in by two racers after they completed their manifests. Rather than leave right after awards, may of the riders stuck around to help load Crisi’s truck with the bounty they collected. Laughter and singing rippled up and down the assembly line, lit with bike lights from Sunrise to the pickup bed.

Shenanigans followed the friends back into Sunrise where the group of cyclists basked in their glory one last time before packing up. At least until next year.

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Night CX p/b Koochella

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With new gear from Knog and Paul Component Engineering Koochella racers needed a setting to put the Qudos Action Video Light and MiniMoto break to the test. While local sanctioned and unsanctioned races challenged the Koochella babes’ skills, the team needed just the right combination of dirt, friends, and darkness to make conditions perfect. Naturally they decided to throw a race of their own – Koochella style.

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On race night Koochella Queen of Fun Lilah “Fratboy” Guertin began the quick work of setting up a rogue course through the urban landscape. Armed with a handful of Knog blinders, Guertin joined teammates Renee and Emily in lighting the most technical parts of the course so racers could clearly spot obstacles after darkness fell.

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Photo by Matthew Pastick

Meanwhile, a slew of riders streamed across the pedestrian bridge into Bryn Mawr Park.  Cross celebrity and Koochella Classic award winner Lee Penn made sure to arrive with plenty of time to get to know the course.

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By dusk dozens of local crushers congregated in Bryn Mawr. The Hub Cycling Team’s Holly Windschitl came hot off the Green Acres CX podium sporting one of the raddest kits around.

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Once every Knog light, glowing pink cone, and scrap of course tape was in place, Lilah led the racers to the far side of the pedestrian bridge connecting the Cedar Lake Trail to the park. After a neutral lap for riders to get to know the course, Fratboy broke out her best heckling voice and set them off on a six lap tear.

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The course started with a sprint up a dizzying ramp to the pedestrian bridge and a matching descent on the other side. From there racers maneuvered through a tight, wooded single track dotted with fallen trees lit by Knog. Winding out of the woods the course hooked left under the pedestrian bridge into a construction zone where racers navigated building materials strategically placed as barriers.

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After shouldering their bikes across railroad tracks under a pitch black overpass, racers blasted through a gnarly straight away atop a torn up asphalt trail. At the trail’s end riders sprinted back into the woods forming a figure eight with their competitors rounding the bend.

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By the end of six fast laps through Lilah’s dirt dream several racers found themselves pulling tools out of their bags to tend to their bikes’ wounds.

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A few flat fixes later the crew corkscrewed their way back over the pedestrian bridge, hopped on the Cedar Lake Trail, and descended upon Sisyphus Brewing for local beer as dynamic as Fratboy’s course.

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At Sisyphus the Koochella babes turned to the very serious business of reeling new women into the local sanctioned race scene. And learning to hard style like a pro.

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Green Acres CX 2015

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Photo by Matthew Pastick

“To say that course isn’t single-speed friendly is an understatement,” Crusher Queen Beth “Treasure” Franklin said after Saturday’s races. With a steep climb up loose asphalt, double barriers among tight turns, teetering off-cambers and sections through woods and a cornfield, Green Acres CX posed one of the most challenging courses of the season. But that didn’t stop Koochella from tearing it up.

Photo by Matthew Pastick

Photo by Matthew Pastick

“Rolling up to the course on Saturday morning I looked at the off camber on the hill and was terrified. Thinking I would have to ride up it, I dreaded the climb, and my exposure to spectators,” Emily “Eagle Screech” Wade remarked, “Yet once I raced, the course was my favorite of the season.”

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Attempting not to worry too much about her finish position, Wade tried to tailor her race into a set of personalized challenges. “Going in to day 1 I set three goals for myself,” she said. “One of them was to make it up the asphalt hill every time. Though my finish position wasn’t stellar, I accomplished all of my goals and left the race pleased with a much better understanding of my gearing – I’ve never shifted so much in a race!”

Racing her second sanctioned cyclocross race, Sarah Bonneville also surprised herself. There were “what seemed to be impossible switch-backs down a big hill face,” Sarah said. “However, upon further investigation, they were quite possible with such knobby tires. The technology is truly amazing.”

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But steep hills and slippery inclines weren’t the only challenging features at Green Acres. Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe found herself thankful for all the hours of training she’s put in so far this season. “I got to put my cornering skills that we did at practice this week to use this weekend and it felt awesome!” She said. “It was a big course with lots of different features, which required a whole slew of different skills.” 

One of these features was a tall, wooden fly-over that propelled each racer high into the air and immediately back down into the corn field.

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Photo by Matthew Pastick

Second-year racer “Fancy” France Barbeau’s love for mountain biking helps her be comfortable zipping through technical twists. Yet France’s crusher status does’t keep her from seeking out opportunities to improve. “I love feedback from other racers while I’m racing,” she said. During the race another rider advised France to shoulder her bike at exactly the right time. 

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Photo by Matthew Pastick

Catch Koochella this weekend as they return to their beloved NSC Velodrome for Velo CX 2015. While they won’t be bringing their track bikes with them, these racers always have a few surprises up their sleeves.