On a Roll
The Ridgefield Bicycle Sport club: riding, safety, fun
Members of the Ridgefield Bicycle Sport Club enjoy food and drink following a regular Thirsty Thursday.
I’ve never been much of a joiner. Whether it’s a gym, a job, or a church, I follow Woody Allen’s self-loathing philosophy that I would never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member. So when I was invited to go for a ride with the Ridgefield Bicycle Sport Club, my first question was: “Do I have to join?”
Joining any club is an act of courage. No one likes to be the new guy. And biking clubs can be particularly intimidating—what with the gear, jargon, and tight, padded pants. Plus, I’ve invested too much time in judging obnoxious cyclists on the road to actually become one.
If you’re relating to me so far, I have two things to say: First, shame on you. You’re better than that. And second, meet Jacqui Dowd, founder of the non-profit Ridgefield Bicycle Sport Club. “Our goal is to make it easy to get into cycling,” says Dowd. “We want to include everyone, at all levels. We want to welcome everyone. This is about something bigger than cycling. It’s about being part of a community.”
RBSC began six years ago, not long after Jacqui and husband Sean bought the grumpy, little bike shop on Catoonah Street, eventually expanding it and moving to its current location on Danbury Road. They began organizing a few casual rides—nothing too formal. And the group quickly coalesced around experienced road cyclists and racing enthusiasts.
But Dowd didn’t want the group to become elite or clubby, so she organized RBSC around all skill levels, from beginner to Breaking Away—or A, B, and C levels as the club puts it.
She also preaches strict adherence to safety and following the rules of the road. This culture of responsible riding permeates the club. “I’ve actually seen drivers look at us sideways when we stop at a stop sign,” says Mitchell Fink, a founding member and Thirsty Thursday ride leader. “They’re just not used to that.”
Thirsty Thursday is perhaps the best representation of the ethos of RBSC. These are weekly rides for all levels of cyclists. They are led by experienced riders, last about an hour, and finish at a different local business every week. Drinks are served, food shared, and revelry ensues. It’s nothing but good, clean fun.
On a recent Thirsty Thursday, I rode with the beginner group, led by Dowd herself. Dowd is a mother of three and a former third-grade teacher, and her nurturing nature was evident throughout the ride. She educated us on group etiquette, communication protocols, and, of course, road safety. Dowd is on a one-woman diplomatic mission, hell-bent on brokering peace between cyclists and motorist with a steady diet of smiling, waving, and rigidly obeying all traffic signs. “It’s kind of my thing,” she says.
Her thing is working. Today the club has 400 members, a full house of sponsors, and hosts road rides, trail rides, clinics, flat-tire-changing classes, destination rides (to places such as Kent, Lime Rock, and the Walkway Over the Hudson), and “century rides”—100 miles in length. It offers members supplemental insurance. It partners with Ridgefield Running Company on runs and track workouts.
RBSC members find it hard not to sound corny when they describe the impact the club has had on their lives. Vinny Liscio moved to Ridgefield to be closer to the club. “It’s no exaggeration to say that this club changed my life.”
And Mark Mischenko went from overweight and out of shape to entering an Ironman Triathlon this summer. “When I started, I was huffing and puffing, bringing up the rear,” says Mischenko. “But here were these other riders, patiently waiting for me, encouraging me, talking to me about nutrition and health. What other riding club does that?”
True to form, Dowd is quick to spread credit for the club’s success around. “There are a lot of people contributing time and good energy to make this happen,” she says. “It’s not about who’s winning, but about who’s getting out there. And that’s what we’re trying to celebrate.” Now that sounds like a club I wouldn’t mind taking for a spin.