I’ve been in Belgium a couple months and riden with a couple different clubs and observed many others. I thought I’d share some observations on the club culture here in Belgium which is extensive – my community of 15,000 folks has four clubs and that is not abnormal at all.
1. Length of ride – rides are typically 35-60 miles depending on the time in the season. There are no regroups or stopping. Its good in that it keeps the rides to a reasonable amount of time for those with families or other commitments.
2. Routes – there are only 4-6 routes that are rotated. There are variations that cut off distance depending where you are at in the season. Routes change each year. But once you riden each route a couple times, if you do get dropped, you can find your way home and more importantly you know where the many turns are.
3. Racing/Sprinting or any other actions that split up the group. – strictly forbidden until last 6km of the course where it becomes a “free ride.” Keeps the group together. You have a pace and you stick to that pace. Only a select 3-4 folks are allowed to take pulls and this controls the pace. And the pace here is fast. We did 52 miles yesterday and averaged 19.8 MPH with zero breaks. The weaker riders could keep up because they didn’t have to take pulls at the front and where not expected to and the pace was absolutely steady so you didn’t get worn out early in the ride trying to keep up with someone you can’t keep up with.
4. Support vehicle – always present with first aid kit, extra wheels, air, tools. Protects the group from traffic approaching from behind.
5. Club kit – mandatory for club rides. Sold at a very reasonable price – certainly at cost. Clubs also get sponsors for the kit which lowers cost even more.
6. Weekend rides begin and end at a local bar. Brings in the social aspect of things. Strictly voluntary but 2/3s of those on yesterdays ride stayed for 90 minutes having a couple beers and watching soccer and generally kidding around with each other. It was all in Dutch but I still enjoyed it greatly.
7. Ability groups – most clubs have A-C groups and its really bad form to ride in a group you can’t keep up with. You typically start at C and earn your way up to B or A. Also, if you’re holding back the group by having a bad day, can always get in the support vehicle.
I’ve got to admit I really like the way they do things here. Now granted, Belgium has probably, absolutely the best biking culture/history in the world – per capita anyways. But I think there is much to be learned by the way they do things.