While I think CRCA does a lot of great things and could very well be the best club as well as the largest in the country, it is interesting to see how other clubs do things. I kept running into Ariel Amster riding in the park and found he used to be a member of Velo Club La Grange in California and got to talking to him about the differences between the clubs.
How long were you a member of La Grange and CRCA?
I was a member for 2 or 3 years.
I guess you first started racing with La Granger. What was it like getting started racing with La Grange?
I actually never raced for La Grange, but was a club member. I was living on the East Coast, so I only rode with them when I was visiting family in LA. But it was before I got involved in NY Cycling. I got started because, my older brother raced for La Grange, and I saw how fit and how much fun he was having. Because my brother was in the club, everyone on La Grange was extremely welcoming and generous, both with advice and lending me equipment when I first started.
What coaching support do they offer new members?
They have group rides 5 days a week, where everyone from CAT 5 to their elite riders ride together. This lets junior riders learn how to be in a pack. Also, the rides are over different terrain – flats, hills, hilly circuits, so members get a great variety in their rides.
They also put on club clinics for new CAT 5’s to learn skills. I believe there were a few private coaches on the team, when I was involved.
Do they have club races like we do?
They do not have club races, but sponsor open races. Their big event race is the Brentwood Grand Prix, August 9th. It is a circuit crit on the closed off streets of Brentwood in LA.
They have some club events that are interesting and competitive. Every year they have the Piuma Hill Climb, which is a climb up a local Malibu mountain of about eight miles and 2,000 feet. I did it one year. The cool thing is that they record your time and you can compare it every year, because they publish yearly to their web site. It is also usually held before their annual club picnic.
They also have regular timed climbs up Mandeville canyon, so club members can gauge fitness gains throughout the year.
How is La Grange organized? Do they have sub teams or elite teams?
La Grange is one large team. They also race in a variety of events – road racing, track, cyclo-cross and mountain biking. A good share of the team does track, because LA has the Encino velodrome and ADT Event Center in Carson.
They also have a strong Elite team that rides in the major events in So. Cal and even does some travel abroad.
A large share of club members also just participate in the group rides and do centuries or double centuries.
What support do they offer for members – coaching , equipment , payment of entry fees?
I am not sure about payment of entry fees, but they offer their members a great deal of support. They have local and corporate sponsorships, so I believe they pay for some aspects of their elite team. But I’m not 100% sure how it works.
Because of their size as a club, they are able to leverage some good equipment deals for the team. For example, through their bike shop sponsor Helen’s Cycles, they offer a yearly bike purchase program for members. They purchase a large number of bicycles with custom team paint jobs. They also have discounts on other equipment, such as pedals, sunglasses, etc.
They have coaching as I described above for CAT 5 riders and they have some organized rides for CAT 4’s and 5’s. Many members also pay for coaching by local coaches that ride for the team or have been affiliated with the team in the past with some discounts.
Whatever benefits the team has, I’ve noticed they do a good job and work hard at maintaining consistent relationships with their sponsors and affiliates over a long period of time. They tend to have the same sponsors and have developed quite a bit of structure in the way they do things. I believe they are pretty organized and do a good job of delegating responsibility within their leadership.
In New York racing is split between local races and regional races. CRCA organizes most of the major regional races in the area. How did this work in Southern California.? What races did La Grange put on?
La Grange puts on their major race as discussed above. My understanding of Southern California racing is that there are a lot of open events by category similar to the Northeast. You have to travel to Riverside or the South Bay, but there are tons of events in driving distance during the season on every weekend. They tend to have more crits than we do, based on the nature of more space and office parks. They do have a robust road racing scene as well. I also believe their season is a little longer, because the weather in February is better.
Without sub-teams how did La Grange members compete as a team in local and regional races?
La Grange members all wear the same La Grange uniform in open races and compete together as a team by category. For example, the CAT 4s race in their events and the CAT 2s race in theirs or an elite field, depending on how the race is organized. It’s pretty much the same as here.
What things do you miss in New York and CRCA that La Grange did?
I really like the way La Grange has set rides every day of the week. Everyone knows when they start and where they are, so every day you can ride with a large pack. In some ways it is safer, because you cars see a pack on the road. Generally, rides start at 6am. Tuesdays – the Marina Ride – flat and fast, Wednesdays – Mandeville – 5-mile climb, Thursdays – Riviera Country Club loops – real hilly hard race-like loops, Friday – Easy Marina ride. There are also long rides to the Malibu Mountains and on PCH during the weekends. Sunday they do a Nichols Canyon ride as well in the Hollywood hills.
While this may not be good for some people, who are on a program, I think it is great training. It lets newer riders see how fast and hard elite riders go. It pushes people in the same way as some of the “unofficial” rides out of the City here.
It also builds team camaraderie. If you do these rides, you see team members more regularly. It builds closer relationships and the group rides can be more fun. Also, it is more social. At the end of rides, teammates meet at Peet’s Coffee. Peet’s sponsors the team and members wearing a team jersey get a free small coffee every day. That’s a pretty good benefit. While this may be hard to do for some working stiffs during the week, it is easy to do on weekends. Of course, when folks are not racing.
.What does CRCA offer that was missing in La Grange?
Central Park is a great resource for training and racing. We don’t have to worry about cars at key times in the early morning and it is still not that crowded with recreational cyclists, bladders and joggers.
The club races are a really enjoyable benefit of being in CRCA. I find that racing within the club is much more fun than open races in the City, because people try more strategy at races. At least that’s my experience in CAT 4. I can say what it is like in the A group. I am also not a huge fan of crits, so I like that our local races are on a circuit.
And for someone like myself, who can’t train hard enough to do outside of the City road races, club races are a great opportunity to still keep racing. I feel very lucky and fortunate to have that possibility. Also, I’ve had good experiences with folks on other teams. We are still in the same club and most members just want to have fun and are good people.
Did La Grange have a lot of juniors racing? Did they make any special effort to get more juniors?
I think they had some juniors, but I am not sure if they have as organized a juniors program as CRCA. I think that is one of the huge positives about CRCA. I think we do a pretty good job of reaching out and getting younger, promising riders involved.
I think one thing we did well last year or the year before, was to get some sub-teams to take on junior riders for club races. I’m not sure if the juniors liked it, but it felt like we were helping them get more experience in races.
What was the social atmosphere of La Grange. Did they have club meetings and social get-togethers?
I think La Grange is a little more social than CRCA, just because it is one team. They have very well organized and consistent events: Daily group rides, yearly picnics/awards, hill climbs, purchase night at a local bike shop…
What sort of things did La Grange do in the wider community?
La Grange is really good at bicycle advocacy. They have had members die in accidents and have done a great deal in making particular streets – PCH specifically, safer. I believe they have direct links to the LA City Council to lobby on bike issues. They are actually a pretty strong force in the LA biking advocacy. I think we could learn a great deal from them.
I went on a Memorial Ride for a member that was killed. It was to raise awareness and money for a scholarship in his honor.
How was the cycling scene different in LA than in New York?
My feeling is that the scene in NYC feels tighter and close knit, because I think the cycling scene in LA is larger and more spread out due to the nature of the City being more spread out. But the La Grange club feels close knit, because they are one team and have more organized rides and training.
LA has more terrain, better year-round weather conditions and variety there – e.g. more track racing. It is just a little easier to be a cyclist there. Here you really have to carve it out of your life and figure out ways to train in the winter months. I also feel like here you have to justify being a cyclist more than LA, where outdoor fitness is more a part of the zeitgeist. But hey, these are all just my opinion. In general, I think both scenes are good, just a little different in vibe.