Ride or Die: The Rise and Fall of the Richmond Punk Cycling Clubs

Cort Olsen
Contributing Writer

Though bike clubs appear to be dying, their punk-rock, DIY sensibility has not waned. Photo courtesy of Jose Dalta

The Richmond bike club scene is dying, or so Michael Gilbert, founder of the bike club Saddle Sores and cofounder of the organization Ride Richmond, said.

The Richmond punk bicycle clubs have slowly dwindled over the past five years due to club members graduating, finding jobs that require more of their time or moving out of the area. Because the clubs are so tight-knit, the leaders prefer to let the clubs end rather than recruit new members and new leaders when the old ones leave.

“Back in the day, there were maybe ten clubs in Richmond, and, yeah, there was some competition, but there was a lot of diversity,” said Gilbert. “If your club wasn’t hosting an event one of the other clubs might be putting on an event, which meant that there was a ride almost every weekend.”

That was five years ago. Today, not as many people are joining the clubs. People are moving out of the city and the clubs are just not as active as they used to be, said Gilbert.

Stephen Loughman, bicycle mechanic at Balance Bicycle, agreed with Gilbert on the clubs lack of involvement with the community, and their relationship with the local bike shops that sponsor the races and ally-cat events.

“There are some clubs that have been around for over a decade, but usually a new club crops up every year when new students come to VCU,” Loughman said.

Even though many new clubs are created each year, Loughman said most people that ride in Richmond believe the clubs are too exclusive or are just completely unaware that the clubs even exist.

“The clubs are made to look exclusive by design,” Loughman said. “If someone manages to talk to one of the members of the club, they will find that it is really not that difficult to get on a ride.”

The clubs like Cutthroats, Halloween and Dad’s House still put on events, but not to the extent that they used to. Gilbert said Saddle Sores would put on charitable events. Riders pay a cover charge to ride in the races or challenges, and all proceeds from the events would go towards a charity in Richmond.

When it comes to shops sponsoring the bike clubs’ events, the shops do not have an issue with the races being necessarily illegal.

The races and ally-cat events are completely legal, but it is up to the responsibility of the individual racers to abide by traffic regulations. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, “Every person riding a bicycle on a highway shall be subject to the provisions of the Code of Virginia section on motor vehicles and shall have the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle unless a provision clearly indicates otherwise.”  This means if a cyclist operates a bicycle on the street, they are subject to the same laws as any other motorist on the street like stopping at red lights and stop signs.  “If a racer can win a race and still abide by traffic laws that’s great,” said Gilbert.  “That is the responsibility of the rider, not the club or whoever coordinates the race.”

“Technically the races are not illegal,” Loughman said. “The races or events may not be sanctioned by the state and it is up to the club members to be responsible for traffic rules and regulations, but the shops sponsor many of the events that the clubs put on.”

Gilbert said he is hopeful that the clubs will pick back up to what they were a few years ago, and from the number of students that come to VCU every year with their bikes, it is bound to happen again soon.

“Bicycling hasn’t gone away, if anything it has gotten stronger,” Gilbert said. “If at least 20 percent of VCU students bike then that means we should be getting more and more cyclists each year just from the constant influx of students.”

Today, Gilberts says Saddle Sores has started to dissolve. Gilbert has teamed up with co-owner of Lamplighter Roasting Company Zach Archibald to create Ride Richmond, which puts together events to help inform new cyclists as well as motorists in Richmond about the rules and safety tips necessary for riding in the city. Gilbert also teaches a health and physical exercise course at VCU on urban cycling for students who are on the health and fitness education track.

“We just want … to educate (people) on what options are available in the city and how to (bike) safely,” Gilbert said. “We don’t see cycling as an alternate form of transportation, just transportation.”

The clubs might be lying dormant right now, but with such a high volume of cyclists in Richmond, it is only a matter of time before the clubs circle back to their former strength.

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