cycling club Uncategorized Women's Cycling

Starting Over, AGAIN!

If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that you came here looking for Spoke Haven, the cycling club. I’m sorry to say that Spoke Haven in that iteration is no more.

After 6 years of of planning rides, designing kits, hosting events, teaching clinics, creating routes, wrangling ride leaders, sitting on boards, being a brand ambassador, working in the cycling industry, not working in the cycling industry, returning to the cycling industry, and all of life’s events in between…I’ve decided to end the club under the Spoke Haven name.

I know, it’s a bummer. The good thing is that there is still a Madison based women’s cycling club that can be found HERE.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, I’ve never been one to hold back on my thoughts or experiences. I’m sure there will be flack and I know that I’ve severed ties with women whom I used to consider friends, but when you work so hard on something for so long and see it turning into something that doesn’t represent the spirit of how the thing started, it’s time to end it.

The first cycling event I hosted officially was CycloFemme in Madison. You can probably see photos of it in the archives on here. It was an amazing event and I had many women who attended telling me they wish there was a cycling club for women in Madison that didn’t center around racing.

At the time there was the Capitol Velo Club which was a women’s club focused around training for competitive cycling. The club was dying and the leaders didn’t want to take on the responsibility any longer. At the time I didn’t understand why, but I now know thanks to my experience.

Spoke Haven was born shortly after this time. It was a way for me to offer social rides to women in the area and to build up a potential customer base for a bike shop I was hoping to open. I had written a business plan to open a more women’s focused bike shop. One that was approachable, offered more women’s options in bikes and clothing. One that made those who didn’t fit the affluent white male archetype that the cycling industry had catered to since the dawn of cycling, feel welcome!

Unfortunately the shop didn’t pan out. Adequate retail space was difficult to find and expensive. We also had two brand new shops opening in our area that would add to the already very saturated market in Madison. So I opted to work in shops and continue on with Spoke Haven as a means to continue to foster a community of local women to ride with.

The first few years were a grind. I poured countless hours into building the branding, building a website, and building up a social media following. I started a Meetup.com group to charge members to help cover the cost of marketing, insurance, kit design, printing route maps, printing stickers and business cards, fees for route planning apps, costs of having a business e-mail, etc. I never actually made any money off of the venture, in fact I lost a lot of my own personal money, but it was a labor of love and I enjoyed offering something to the community.

I was lucky enough to continue to have support of our community and had a handful of wonderful women who really stepped up and helped with leading and planning rides. They would also help out at events and represented the club when I wasn’t able to.

They spread the gospel of Spoke Haven and we had grown basically every year we existed.

This is where things started to go downhill, not for the club necessarily, but for my own personal involvement. Two years ago I had experienced incredible burnout. I had been working in a bike shop, was running Spoke Haven (still doing the majority of the back end work of it all), took on a brand ambassadorship for Liv (an experience I am ever grateful for), had been doing events for the shop, sat on the board for the WI Bike Fed, and had almost zero time to actually enjoy my life outside of the world of cycling and the commitments that came with it.

I had met with the core group of Spoke Haven ride leaders to let them know I wanted to take a step back from my duties. I let them know things in my life were changing and that I needed some time away from running the club. This was never going to be a permanent move, just something to give me a bit of a break.

I had started a new job, I wanted to focus on getting into better shape mentally and physically. I wanted to spend more time with my partner and family and not have to dedicate my time off to planning and organizing and meeting.

It was decided that those who had been ride leaders wanted to continue to run the club and I had advised that I no longer wanted Meetup to be a part of the equation because it was too time consuming to manage and wanted to simplify the club. The idea was to make it a little less official and more accessible. Meetup was costing me money that wasn’t being covered by dues and it was frankly a pain for when people wanted to renew because it wasn’t on a set annual schedule from the start of the year, instead it started whenever a new member would join.

With that, the club was being run solely off of Facebook with some info on the Spoke Haven website directing people accordingly. That format seemed to simplify some things and yet also complicate it in other ways. Ride leaders were given permissions on the page to create events, add people, share events, and post. A special secret ride leaders page was created for those of us who had the permissions to communicate with one another.

At some point I had advised our club that they had an exclusive discount at my shop for being a part of Spoke Haven. In my mind that meant that you then show loyalty to the shop who is extending that discount and don’t promote other shops or events in conflict with that support.

I hadn’t been working at the shop for a year or so (left for a couple of years to go work in insurance) and had only heard third-hand that the discount wasn’t being extended and that some people had poor experiences shopping there. It was never brought up to me directly to communicate nor negotiate with the shop to address these problems. Instead I was met with ride leaders telling people to shop elsewhere or posting events promoting rival shops over our partner shop.

My general ask of the leaders was that we as a club not promote such events or other shops and that if there are issues, to keep me in the loop.

The same went for addressing questions, comments, or concerns about the club. I requested some general updates for anything the group was planning or marketing as my name had been so closely tied with Spoke Haven not only as the club’s founder, but as a brand.

The leaders and myself had met a couple of times to help address issues. The leaders (generalizing, some- not all) thought I was putting too many restrictions on them without being more involved in the club’s week to week rides and I expressed lack of communication from them with me to keep me up to date on what was going on with the club. Literally everything for me boils down to communication.

For awhile it seemed to be alright. I had offered to lead rides as I could on days the club didn’t have a ride already scheduled. This meant the occasional brunch ride, social event, or demo event through the shop. None of my events were being attended by the leaders of Spoke Haven with the exception of one or two people. This was a pretty clear sign to me that things were not going well, there was still some feelings of hostility or something for whatever reason.

I also found that when I returned to work at my shop, a few loyal women still came in the patronize the shop, but others went and shopped elsewhere. Purchasing new bikes and accessories from other shops, ones that offered no incentives as I would have to them for being a part of the club. That is also a pretty large red flag- a blow that I realize meant it was probably time to start letting go of the club and moving on.

At first I had every intention to give Spoke Haven to them. It was a strong identifying factor for so many of the women who were part of the club, but at some point there were women who were riding with the club that had no idea what the origin even was of the club. They didn’t know who I was or how many countless events and rides we had done prior to them joining a random Tuesday night jaunt around the Olbrich area.

That didn’t bother me. What did bother me was hearing from people that the club was becoming something that didn’t reflect the spirit of creating a space for any person who identified as a woman or feminine being to come and ride. Beginner, new riders I had spoken to were put off by a couple leaders of the group telling them that if they wanted a certain type of ride that, good luck…you can plan that yourself and get people to ride or if a Tuesday didn’t work for them that they would have to start up a ride on another night because Spoke Haven doesn’t have time for that.

What had also started happening in co-rides with other groups in the area who were co-ed and having riders from those groups essentially man-splain and take over the ride, negating the whole reason why Spoke Haven existed. I also felt general resistance to opening ourselves up to promoting ourselves to being more trans and queer friendly.

The club itself does have a fair share of queer women, but the average rider could be profiled as a cis, middle-aged white woman. I was actually on the younger end of the spectrum for the club. Again, didn’t bother me much as we had a fairly good representation of age diversity. I’ve also always befriended people who are older than I, even when I was a kid.

I had one woman who I spoke to who asked me if our club was only queer people, because if so, she didn’t want to then ride with us. WHAT?! Not the type of image I wanted. Meaning, don’t come ride with us if you aren’t open to queer folks on bikes!

The straw that really broke the camel’s back was when I had planned a ride on an open date on the calendar. I had known it fell on the week of a holiday and there hadn’t been a ride event created for that date. I messaged the ride leaders and let them know I had a limited timeline to plan a ride for that day, but it was going to be cool event with a nice route. The other leaders acknowledged that usually there would have been a ride that night, a Taco Tuesday ride (which, btw I coined that term for our monthly ride and eat tacos event and they still use that ride name for themselves with the new iteration. You’re welcome, you can keep it. Yeah, I’m a little salty.) It was confirmed though that they would not be planning a ride for that evening because of the holiday.

Awesome! I was going to host a Tuesday night ride. It had been forever and I was excited to see my cycling friends again. So what ends up happening? The other ride leaders decided to plan another competing ride on top of my ride after I had exclusively worked it out with them to plan something special, something cool for the club to do.

It was this occurrence that led me to my decision. I was going to end the club as Spoke Haven. I didn’t like this weird, power play, catty, non-sense. I decided to pull all permissions from the ride leaders and close the ride leader page. I had posted, basically stating that it was a crappy thing for them to plan another ride on top of mine, even after we all had agreed that there wasn’t going to be one that night. It’s just something you don’t generally do. That’s like me knowing that a competing shop is trying to host a women’s night and then planning something to directly compete with it, you just don’t do it. It’s poor taste.

It’s like hooking up someone at my shop and then having them refer all their friends to the direct competitor, oh wait…that actually kept happening. No tact. I guess I went the eye for an eye route, guilty as charged.

The sad thing is that I really didn’t want things to get to the point that it did. I really loved meeting so many wonderful women and loved knowing that there was this entity that offered support, encouragement, and a safe space for them to ride and make friends. Many of the women hangout socially outside of just riding bikes and it’s awesome to know that my little event of CycloFemme snowballed into something that made that exist

I’m not blaming all of the ride leaders for what happened. I know part of it was my own fault. Ideally I would have made the decision two years ago to part ways and recommend they start over with something of their own. I know my actions weren’t the most noble. I was hurt though. I felt like I was being bullied by my own club. I felt like I had let in people who took advantage of my hard work and what I had built, to only shut me out when I wanted to come back and add to what the club was offering.

A couple of the leaders had asked to continue to use the Facebook page as that’s how they were communicating the last few rides of the season. I declined. I pulled all authorizations and also changed passwords of shared accounts for anything the ride leaders were using (mapping apps). I was still paying for that out of my own pocket, not massive expense, but still an expense.

I identify so strongly with Spoke Haven and it has been my baby for so long. Therefore, I want to breathe new life into it. I want to create and build and expand on what it was before. Not in the fact that I want a club, but to create content, engage with the online community, and use it as my outlet to talk about things I enjoy and have a passion for.

This will likely lead to a rebranding, meaning a new logo, a new Facebook presence, and wiping the slate clean. I’m keeping all of the old blog content on here as I know folks have reached out and found it helpful for my reviews and such.

Just know there will be a lot more new content to come and it will expand beyond just the realm of cycling.

I’m sorry to anyone that I have disappointed with my actions, but I had to do what felt right in my heart. For those of you who reached out to me or stopped into the shop after the fallout, thank you. Thank you for understanding the situation and still supporting my endeavors.

I hope to move past this and hopefully someday I’ll be on good terms with the few people who I’m sure to have upset, but if not and they never speak to me again, I guess we just weren’t meant to be.

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