So You Want To Start A Women’s Bike Racing Team

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

Cranksgiving 2K15!

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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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A Closer Look: Koochella Edition All-City Nature Boy 853

They’re bold. They’re fast. And they may just remind you of a certain artist whose work graced the front of your folders in elementary school.

Thanks to our friends at All-City Cycles, Paul Components, and Sunrise Cyclery, the women of Koochella are now getting rad on a brand new fleet of custom Nature Boy 853’s with custom Paul hubs and disc brake calipers.

Perhaps even cooler than the paint job, is the fact that Mama Duck herself designed the dropouts to accommodate single speed gearing that would flawlessly work with a disc brake set up. Read more about her design process here, here, here, and here in a series of blog posts that appear on All-City’s website. For those of us who aren’t necessarily engineers, the challenge with single speed or fixed gear bikes is that, because of the horizontal dropouts (which are necessary to get the proper chain tension), the rear wheel can move forward and backward horizontally quite a bit. Most disc brake calipers don’t work well with this type of set up, which requires some unique engineering and a bit of creativity. That’s where this design came in:

Copyright: All City Cycles

The women took the bikes on their maiden voyage two weekends ago at Velo CX. Beth “Treasure” Franklin has already named her new whip.

On Sunday, got to debut the new whip, the Lisa Frank(lin) Nature Girl! And had so much fun. The thing just eats up whatever is thrown at it! I’m in love. – Beth

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Photo by: Blake Kelley

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Photo by: Blake Kelley

This bike just rips. Prior to getting the Nature Boy, I was racing on my commuter bike (a Bianchi San Jose that I love dearly!), which was fine, but definitely not optimal for cross. After just a few turns on the course at Velo CX, I totally had a new appreciation for cross bikes. This bike handles great, has way less toe overlap than my Bianchi, and climbs like a mountain goat. – Renee

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Photo by: Blake Kelley

 

 

Velo Cross

With fluttering hearts, giddy excitement, and brand new Lisa Frank-inspired cross bikes in tow, the women of Koochella flocked to their beloved velodrome last weekend. Rather than riding hard and turning left, however, they were racing through mud, over hurdles, and around sharp turns at Velo Cross, a two-day even held on the Velodrome grounds.

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Day one provided Lilah “Fratboy” Guertin with the taste of sweet, sweet redemption.

Lined up for the hole shot knowing I had a chance at this course due to my experience. Three years ago Velo CX p/b Little Guy Racing was my first ever sanctioned race. The barriers were shallow (about 7-8 inches) allowing experienced riders to hop over with comfort. I on the other hand had almost no skills coming into cross and was intimidated by the winding course, through ditches, over barriers, off camber, soggy patches, paved patches and spectators watching my every move. Well, this year I had it in the bag. My handling skills are dope, I saw the mud and was immediately excited. – Lilah

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Being surrounded by a bunch of new female racers, a supportive environment, and a velodrome with an existent future made the weekend for Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn.  This time last year, the NSC Velodrome was essentially shut down. Fortunately, however, with efforts from the Friends of the Velodrome Racing in Minnesota (FOVR) combined with work from individual teams and riders, the velodrome still stands today and has numerous seasons of racing ahead of it.

It was an overwhelmingly positive weekend for me. A year ago at this race, the NSC had voted to close the velodrome. The weather was cold and rainy. I was in mourning… especially with the track just sitting there. This year was great in contrast. Not only is the track still there, but I just had a fantastic summer of racing with a ton of new ladies… some of which were out racing cyclocross after having tried the track. –  Anna

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Velo Cross was an exciting weekend of racing for the team for more reasons than the mud, riding around the velodrome, and excellent competition…it was also new bike day! All City Cycles, PAUL Components, and Sunrise Cyclery all worked incredibly hard to make our dreams come true with our truly gorgeous Nature Boy 853’s and pink anodized custom brake calipers and hubs.

On Sunday morning I was stoked to race my new bike. I’d only ridden it a few blocks back and forth to Sunrise the night before, but I was already in love. As I rode with Renee to the Velodrome Lilah text me, “Get that new bike dirty!” She told me that the course was muddy and windy, but that I could ride it. The first time I went into the mud I actually had Lilah in my head telling me I could do it. Riding through the mud was a lot easier than I thought it would be – and super fun. That first muddy rut one of the spectators told me I rode it better than anyone before me – half shocked because of the gap between me and most of the field. I’m sure it wasn’t true, but it felt good anyway. – Emily

Photo by: Blake Kelley

Photo By: Blake Kelley

For most of the race on day two, Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe, Sara “Bee” Bonneville, and France “Fancy” Barbeau were neck and neck. With Renee’s dominance on the hills, Sarah’s barrier hoping prowess, and France’s mud riding skills, they each excelled in different areas of the course.

This course was really fun: lots of straightaways and mud! I also totally bunny-hopped over some shorty barriers for the first time which was pretty neat! I gotta say though, racing around the outside of the track? What a tease. – Sarah

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Beth “Treasure” Franklin raced both days of Velo Cross, adding yet another podium finish to her impressive cyclocross season.

I had originally planned on just doing the MWSSC [Minnesota Women’s Single Speed State Championship] race, but when I realized Denise was the only one racing in the 3’s, I figured I’d give her a little competition and signed up for that race as well! After she flatted out, I managed to get the top step on the podium…but I feel like I’ll save the celebrating until I really *earn* that top spot. -Beth

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While seeing the Velodrome, riding through mud, and cheering on our fellow racers are all things that make our Koochella hearts smile, nothing is quite like getting new ladies out racing for the first time. Our good friend, 11-year old Jaya (you may know her as the girl with the trumpet at cross races) decided she wanted to try out cross racing a couple minutes before the State Champ Single Speed race. Koochella sprang into action, switching out pedals, slamming a seat as low as possible, finding a helmet, and pinning numbers to get Jaya out on the course in time while her dad sprinted to the reg tent to get her all registered. Like a champ, she rode the full 45-minutes, plowing through the muddy pits, leaping over barriers, and mounting her bike better than most adults do, earning “Top Rookie” and her own podium. Way to crush, Jaya. We can’t wait to see you develop as a rider!

To see the full album from Velo CX, visit our flickr.