Every once in a while I come across something truly novel that makes me stop and take pause. With a lot of "the same old thing" going around the cycling and endurance world, it's nice to see something that stands out, goes against the grain or innovates.
The Winter Bike League (WBL) out of Athens, Georgia, does all of the above. The WBL is a group ride that happens each weekend between the first weekend in December through some time in February, depending on how grandmaster Briggs Carney decides to play it. But before you say, "so what," let me explain why I find this ride in particular to be so novel.
For one, it has always amazed me when local group rides resemble races, regardless of what time of the year it is. Often, unless you want to hammer like you're in a race, group rides cease to be an option for those who follow some semblance of a periodized training plan or who just want a break from bleeding from the eye balls and competing for a little while.
However, that's the beauty of the WBL. Not only does it provide all of the great things inherent with group rides—such as practice riding in a group, spending time with friends, race-simulation training, and good, old fashioned fun—but it actually follows the progression of an off-season training program.
The rides start off slower and shorter in December and then gradually increase in intensity and duration throughout the off-season. In the beginning, they are mostly leisurely paced, two-abreast, endurance pace lines that cruise for about three hours. Gradually, the pace picks up along with the volume, ending at around 120-plus miles and full-on race intensity for a good portion of the last few rides.
Here's where it gets really interesting. The WBL is organized by a long-time local cyclist and supporter of cycling, cyclists and the rights of both. In their infinite wisdom, the organizer and his supporters have done the following to make the ride so popular over the years:
- The ride is a different route every week.
- Cyclists ride two abreast unless it's unsafe to do so. Some rides are even sagged.
- Route maps and details are constantly updated to the "zealots" who attend.
- There is a website and a mailing list where stories are posted about each ride and where smack is talked in volumes before, during and after each ride.
- There are various sprint zones on each ride where riders battle it out for first, second and third in various categories. (You can't attack outside of a sprint zone, and the zones are usually anywhere from three to 10 miles.)
- Points are tracked on the site throughout the series. There are jerseys for the leaders in each category, and prizes for each zone and the overall win each week.
- The ride is sponsored by local businesses who put up money and prizes for primes, winning rides and placing throughout the series—providing the support to make this event happen each week as well as a marketing vehicle for local businesses and sponsors.
And this isn't even the half of it. What began as a way for friends to get together for a fun ride on Saturdays during the winter has evolved into a major cycling phenomenon in the Southeast. Riders come from hours away just to attend this weekly happening, and many treat it as one of their major goals for the year, especially once the pace starts picking up.
It's not unusual to see over 120 riders on WBL rides, with local professional and amateur team members riding side by side with racing beginners. And it's become a favorite stop off for top cyclists visiting from around the country. It's typical to see team jerseys from Jittery Joe's, Aaron's Furnishings, Myogenesis, Health Net, Colavita/Sutter Home, Nerac, the U.S. national team and more in the peloton each weekend, along with such big names as Tina Pic, Nathan O' Neil, Trent Wilson and more.
Though I live over 3,000 miles away in Portland, Oregon, (one of the most bike-friendly and prolific cycling scenes in the country) I still get e-mail updates from the fearless leader himself and keep tabs on what's going on. What they have put together is an example of what can be done with a little initiative, a sprinkling of creativity and a bit of hard work.
It's certainly one of the best things I have seen done on the local and grassroots level for cycling and should serve as a model to help bring fractioned team rides and individuals together to share the very sport they love.
Maybe there's an idea in here for the cyclists in your area? Interested parties should check out what they've done at winterbikeleague.com. Find out what it's all about, read the zany ride reports, join their mailing list, and kick the idea around and see what you come up with.
Do you ride in the WBL or is there a similar group ride in your area? Tell us about it on our discussion board.