As the newest club in the country, we would propose that what we lack in longevity, we make up for in organization and participation. These are two of the essential ingredients for a successful club. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to be located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, home of several tandem builders!
We began by recognizing the need. The previous tandem club had been store-affiliated and had fizzled to an email list with a gathering once a year. After all, the store owners had a business to run. So first we met with them to be sure they were okay with us moving forward. We also met with leaders of the major bicycling clubs in the area and some of the key players in the tandem community. Everyone agreed the community was fragmented and that they’d love to see a region-wide club.
We began collecting email addresses and compiling a survey to determine the interests and needs of the community. This survey was emailed in late October 2000, to all the names we’d been collecting at events, through Tandem@Hobbes, and the old club list – a total of more than 100 names. We had a phenomenal 30% response rate. We asked about interest in the club, style of riding, years riding, involvement in other bike clubs, interest in hosting a tandem rally, having winter workshops, having club jerseys, frequency of rides, etc.
One of the survey questions was “Would you be willing to work on the organizing committee?” All the people who said yes were contacted and we started holding monthly planning meetings in November 2000, with about 10 couples attending. During these meetings we determined that we would be better off not affiliating with any existing clubs, but rather to build working partnerships with all of them and also with tandem builders and stores. What we agreed we wanted most was to build a community of tandem riders and to promote the joys of tandeming, offering a wide range of club rides during the riding season and educational workshops over the winter months.
Once that decision was made, we worked on naming the club and found an illustrator who rides tandem to donate the logo design. We established the necessary business elements of a bank account, post office box, voice mail and domain name, then went about getting inexpensive business cards. We decided on our membership fee of $25/tandem per year. And we decided we wanted to offer a charter membership incentive, free shirts for each team. We were able to get the silk-screening donated so that the cost for a pair of t-shirts for each team was a nominal $5.
The biggest bike club in our area, Cascade Bicycle Club, coordinates the annual Bike Expo in the early spring. One of our earliest goals was to be organized as a group in order to participate. We were very fortunate that another area club that has many tandem riders, Redmond Cycling Club, generously donated seed money, and a local tandem builder was so excited about the club he offered to sponsor our Bike Expo Booth. In order to have a presence at Expo we purchased a banner and made a 3 panel tabletop display with club ride photos. We also purchased a dozen Lucite stands that hold an 8.5×11 flier about ETC with a pocket for our business cards to place in local bike stores.
We are internet-centric so promoting the website on business cards is our primary marketing. In addition, we have placed a few print articles and send out monthly e-mail press releases with our ride schedule. We decided not to do any regular printing or snail mailing. We felt it was critical that we have a vibrant, easy to navigate, and frequently updated website for our members. The site includes a ride and events calendar (of course) and photo pages updated after each club ride. There’s also a public classified section that only members may post to. Members have a password protected area where they can dialog on a message board, search member profiles to find riding partners, rent a tandem case for travelling with their tandem, sign up to lead a ride, etc. If someone doesn’t have access to the Internet they are assigned a “web-buddy” who prints out the e-mailed newsletters and snail mails them. And our voice mail hotline fills a gap for those who are not Internet users.
The ETC website was launched February 12th, 2001. We sent out an e-mail to the list that had doubled just through word-of-mouth and told folks it would be their last e-mail unless they joined, which they could do online. Within a week we had 35 teams signed up. As of May, membership is three times that, and includes about half a dozen single bike members. (We welcome singles but they pay the same membership rate.)
We produced a Kick Off Event which we promoted at the Bike Expo and on the website. The idea of the event was to build community by having fun, and engaging in get-acquainted activities with donated prizes and food. We had a brief program introducing the board and a presentation on planning overnight tandem trips. This event brought out about 100 folks, more than fit in the REI meeting space! We used this event to promote the next one, coming up June 10, our Pacesetting Ride, Picnic and Rodeo.
It’s really helped to have such committed and skilled folks involved in the administration. After all the initial decisions were made we pared the organizing committee down to a smaller board with a President, VP (next year’s President), Secretary, Treasurer, Rides Chair and At Large members. Our Treasurer is semi-retired and not only has book-keeping skills but database skills so our membership data is all maintained in one place. It’s ideal. We also have a graphic designer on the board who is our webmaster, and a professional photographer who documents all the events.
Our long-term goal is to host the Northwest Tandem Rally in 2004. To do that, we’ll need a strong membership base and strong relationships with the other clubs in the area. We’re well on our way to both of those goals. So in answer to the question, what makes a great tandem club?… Organization, participation, and FUN! You have to plan for the fun and focus on community building so that everyone feels ownership of THEIR club. Check out our website which moved in 2013 to Meetup.