Monday, January 08, 2007

Venerable bike club closing

There's disappointing news this week out of Palm Beach County. The West Palm Beach Bicycle Club, once among the most active and productive in the state, is closing. It had 300 members as recently as three years ago. Here's how longtime member Linda Leeds tells the story:

CAUSE OF DEATH: APATHY – A Cautionary Tale

It is with regret and sadness that we announce the disbanding of what was perhaps the oldest cycling club in the state, the West Palm Beach Bicycle Club, on Dec. 31, 2006. Founded in 1963 by Bob Husky, who passed away this past summer, this once-great club slowly died of apathy, disinterest and the unwillingness of most members to take responsibility for running the Club.

For most of its 43 years, the Club was very active in many aspects of cycling: regular weekly rides, a time trial series, advocacy, social events and touring. Touring included three major events: the Tour of Sebring, the Cross Florida Tour and the Lake Okeechobee Lark. The Tour of Sebring began in 1982, growing out of the September Century program by the League of American Bicyclists [then using the term “Wheelmen”] and was attended at its peak by almost 600 cyclists. It was tremendously successful both in popularity and as a “cash cow” for the Club, allowing it to make substantial donations to many worthy causes involving cycling or children. Hurricane Frances in 2004 caused its postponement, and by the next year, no one wanted to take responsibility for producing the event. The host hotel, the Kenilworth Lodge, graciously ran it in 2005, donating the proceeds to the Club, with the arrangement that the event would “belong” to the Lodge after that if the Club was unable to organize it. In 2006, that’s what happened. The event continues successfully, but no longer under Club auspices.

The Cross Florida Tour began in the 1960s as a stage race across the state, and nationally-known racers came to participate. The route varied, but for many years went from the East Coast to the West. In later years, as it became harder to produce a race due to increasing traffic, the event evolved as a tour. It always included a century, and sometimes went from Okeechobee to Punta Gorda. It was discontinued several years ago, because no one wanted to organize it or even help.

Bob Mohr started the Lake Okeechobee Lark, a one-day 120-mile road ride around the Big O, in 1989, with eight riders and one support vehicle. It grew to over 100 riders and was successful for several years. It later was dominated by racing groups from other counties, making it very difficult to run properly and safely. Then the same old problem reared its ugly head, and that event, too, was discontinued.

The Time Trial Series was tremendously successful for quite a while, drawing riders from all over South Florida. Most took place on A1A, with a few longer ones out on State Road 80 near 20-Mile Bend. Traffic management became difficult. Without this, it’s not possible to run a safe and effective race. And then, too, the same old problem.

Several of the weekly rides go on as self-sustaining events, but these don’t require much effort or commitment, and people want to ride, so naturally, the rides go on.

Interest in helping with Club administration dropped to almost nothing. The Club was on life support for the past two years: no president or vice president, very few directors, and no one offering to step up despite repeated pleas to the general membership. Many wanted to have a club, but no one wanted to help make it happen.

Club assets have been split evenly between the Florida Bicycle Association and the Boca Raton Bicycle Club’s A1A Legal Defense Fund.

PLEASE don’t let this happen to your club. Do what you must to maintain interest and participation in not just activities but in administration. Bring in new people to keep things fresh. Make it fun. Most of all, instill a sense of responsibility in your members, and urge them to "own" part of cycling’s future.
Linda Leeds,
WPBBC member since 1975

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