Members of the LSU cycling club take a ride on River Road. The group is multi-faceted, as they cycle for competition and for leisure.
Cycling club forms bond through competition, commuting
The sky over the Mississippi River blushes as the sun rises, its rays caught in the clouds. At the edge of campus, the calm water reflects this picture, a scene taken in by the early morning visitors—walkers, joggers and cyclists.
Among them are a few members of the university’s cycling club. Some of them joined to compete, but a majority of them are there simply because they enjoy riding a bike.
For more than 10 years, the cycling club has been through ups and downs of membership, just recently becoming an active club in January. Today, the club boasts nearly 35 members, 15 of whom are active racers.
“We are still in the big growing phase,” said alumna Lisa Redmond, who still participates in the cycling club.
A $25 enrollment fee and regular attendance to meetings makes any full-time student a club member. Redmond, along with her teammates, stress the cycling club is multi-faceted—cycling for competition, riding for leisure and being social.
Cycling for competition, Redmond said, is a team and an individual sport. The competitors in the club are required by sponsorship to train at least 100 hours for races and wear the LSU uniform. The club participates in a majority of races through the collegiate division of USA Cycling. LSU is a registered club in the South Central Collegiate Cycling Conference, along with Tulane and several schools in Texas.
Redmond estimates 99 percent of these races are hosted in Texas, providing a great hurdle for the club’s competitors—funding.
“There’s the race entry fee, bike upkeep, travel expenses and gas to get there,” she said.
The club has attempted fundraising in the form of Friday Night Crits, a local race open to the public, with an opportunity for participants to donate to the club and win money. For the most part, though, the club seems to make friends with those who have a couch in Texas.
“We are very used to sleeping on floors,” said Dustin Drewes, a junior in kinesiology and a cycling club member. “It’s a part of team bonding.”
Drewes said many of the other teams in the conference have major sponsorships, which provide bikes and equipment, as well as a bus.
“We would like to see a company take us under their wing,” he said. “After all, we are showing up to races in a van.”
Aside from the dream of glitzy gear, Drewes said the club is fighting a misconception—that they are just competitors.
“If you like to ride your bike around the lakes, there are many other people that do too,” he said. “We train and race hard, but there is a balance. We’re in it to enjoy ourselves.”
Club members also enjoy helping out their fellow teammates and other competitors during races by volunteering. They hand out food and water to cyclists or help set up for races.
“Volunteering is a big part of cycling,” Drewes said. “We try and encourage people to get involved. It helps the community see us in a different way.”
The club also incorporates a social aspect for its members, such as BBQs and movie nights. In the past, they’ve ridden downtown together or taken a trip to the local farmer’s market on the weekends. They have also traveled to Tunica Hills and created a camp for themselves in Natchez, Miss.
The comradery among the team derives from the social events and helps the group succeed in many aspects of cycling.
“Cycling is such a competitive sport,” Redmond said. “I really needed a lot of support from my teammates to keep going out there. Having the support has helped me reach goals, become stronger and realize what I’m capable of.”
Redmond and Drewes approached cycling at different points in their lives. While Redmond is a tri-athlete, she gave cycling a shot even though she said the two sports are worlds apart. Drewes, on the other hand, got into cycling after arriving at LSU.
“I convinced my mom that I needed a bike to get around campus,” he said. “I stumbled upon some really expensive bikes and found out about a local race coming up.”
Now a seasoned competitor, Drewes looks back at his first race, naming it “the coolest thing ever.”
“From that point, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of,” he said. “Bike racing is a life long sport.”
Drewes uses cycling as an outlet for his competitive nature, describing it as cut throat, ruthless and unlike any sport in the world.
“It’s a chess game on wheels,” he said. “Being strong is a small factor, compared to knowing what you’re doing. It’s crazy to watch the pros do it—it blows my mind.”
As a part of the club’s mission, the members strive to make cycling part of their lifestyle. That idea means something different to everyone, encompassing the pros and cons of being a commuter—getting around faster, exercising, reducing pollution, getting rid of stress, enjoying the scenery, etc.
“There is an attitude that you have on a bike,” Redmond said. “You feel like a kid again.”
A large part of the cycling lifestyle is understanding the relationship between motorists and cyclists.
“If you like to ride bikes, we all deal with the same stuff: our right to the road,” Redmond said. “Other people don’t risk their lives every time they step out to do their sport.”
As a club, the LSU cyclists are working toward an agreement with motorists—each party respects the rules of the road in order to commute harmoniously.
“If you change the way people think, that makes a bigger impact,” Drewes said.
This point was driven home May 15, when club member and graduate student Michael Bitton was involved in a hit-and-run accident during his morning bike ride on River Road.
Bitton was found in a ditch by fellow cyclists, who called for help. Bitton suffered life-threatening injuries and is still recovering. Four days after the accident, club members held a fundraiser and a blood drive in his honor.
“I had a moment following Mike’s accident at the benefit,” Drewes said. “I was most proud of all my teammates.”
The cycling club spent time at the hospital with Bitton’s family. As a team, and with public support, the effort raised $5,600 and 125 units of blood in Bitton’s name. In the future, the members hope to dedicate a section of their club to bike advocacy.
“We want to keep this club in the university and keep it strong,” Drewes said.
For more information on the cycling club, contact Drewes at email@example.com.
Holly A. Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations