How Spinning® Classes Helped to Build a Community
By Linda Freeman, Star 3 Certified Spinning® InstructorSpinning® training is cycling training. Time spent on a Spinner® enables students to transfer skills and passions to the outdoors.One autumn, three years ago, one of my regular Spinning® students made an offhand comment that lodged in my thoughts and teased me throughout a long, cold Vermont winter.“Why don’t we take our class outside? I’ve always wanted to ride on the road but don’t want to go alone,” she said.I realize that this is not a new concept, but it has worked so well in my relatively small town that I’d like to share the process with you and, if you have not already done so, to try it for yourself.Starting a cycling club or leading group rides is not for the faint of heart. It takes many hours and much careful attention to detail, to logistics and to legal issues of safety to make it work. It means constantly guarding your chicks, so to speak, and leading with as much care for the first rider as the last. Building a team is important. The more ownership each feels in the venture and in each ride the more collective support is there to sustain the endeavor.As the leader, you must be a ready advocate for each participant. We must be current on everything from local cycling laws and practices to road conditions and training techniques. If our cyclists come from Spinning® class, we should be vigilant in relating the studio to the road.Five short Vermont cycling seasons ago, I tentatively embarked on a quest to ride a bike. I had ridden so seldom before that I might as well have considered it a brand new activity. I bought a specialized tricross bike that would be good on dirt roads as well as paved and spent the first weeks in parking lots before braving seldom used back roads. I gradually added on the miles, leaving the dirt roads behind and finding a strip of road with a wide shoulder, about 15 miles out and back, that I would ride over and over because it was the only place I could tolerate the traffic.I was afraid of everything: cars, trucks, motor cycles, pot holes, cracks, wet pavement, gravel/dirt, ascents, descents and getting lost (hard to do on the same route every day.) I worked up to six round trips, a total of 90 miles, then rode my first century. It took over eight hours of riding time. Not only was I the last one to return, except for my son and his girlfriend who cheered me at the finish, everyone else had gone home.Why I did not sell the bike and remain resolutely in the Spinning® studio is an unanswerable question.My second season on the road was dramatically different. I found a training partner and with him following me the jeers and taunts of passing motorists were severely reduced. It was a miracle to know that someone would notice if I had a problem long before my failure to return home would be discovered.As I trained almost daily in Spinning® class the following winter, I thought often of my student’s comment and said, “why not?”As the summer approached, a growing number of students heard about my plans to begin a group ride and signed on. I donated my time, connected with a local bike shop who helped by offering maintenance advice and an umbrella under which to function, designed a release that each rider was required to sign before riding and supplied a support rider to help me guarantee our no-drop policy.The group was quickly defined as a group meant for novice riders seeking to become comfortable on the road. Our plan was to meet every Tuesday after work on the parking lot of the local high school and be on the road by 5:30 p.m. I maintained an email list of interested participants and made sure that I contacted everyone after each ride and then again before the subsequent ride to suggest a proposed training plan or concept and confirm the route. I also answered individual emails throughout the week and saved some questions to be discussed by the group pre-ride.It would have been perfect, except that it rained every Tuesday for six weeks. The group shriveled to about six of us who finished the season together when the weather finally cooperated.Undaunted, we began again the next year. We dubbed the group Cycling 101 and found that we collected some pretty amazing cyclists along the way. Enthusiasm was building and so was our group. One racer who rides weekly (his recovery day) loves the way we are bringing the sport to so many who might not have had the courage to try alone or as part of a more aggressive club.Over the months of that second year progress was quantifiable. Participants traded in old bikes and bought new ones. Several participated in a century ride sponsored by the local bike shop. Even more jumped into events and rides offered all around the state. Group size increased to 20-30 each week.Throughout the summer, riders continued to attend early morning Spinning® classes where they could deliberately train as they needed without the stress of terrain and traffic. Reluctance to put our bikes away in the colder weather of fall was replaced by the eagerness to throw ourselves into Spinning® training in preparation of next year’s group rides outdoors. It became a constantly enriching and emboldening continuum.Thus, our Spinning® community strengthened and thrived by heading out the door to the streets and roads in our area. Rather than dilute the Spinning® program, doing so added new meaning to training and brought other cyclists to class as new students introduced to Spinning® technique.That’s how we began. Look for Part 2 to see how Spinning® skills transfer from a flywheel to two skinny tires.