For the Love of Cycling and Riders

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Bike Show, Breaking News, Sports.


New York Cycle Club’s program leads to better skills and marriage 

By Grace Lichtenstein

A SIG Graduation ride 2011 at Bear Mountain Park. Photo by Bob Cowin.

The most significant contribution made by the 75-year-old New York Cycle Club (NYCC) to local bike riding and to thousands of riders is our annual spring series, called the SIGs. Each one consists of a series of weekly progressive training rides that increase in speed and distance. An acronym for special interest groups, the SIGs are perhaps the most valuable free benefit available to club members.

They are led by experienced volunteers, who teach their peers the skills they need to ride well in groups. Conducted from March through May, the SIGs offers cyclists an ideal way to build speed and endurance and to jumpstart their season. The first SIG, back in the 1980s, was the brainchild of Christy Guzzetta, an A-level rider and club activist, and it was truly an act of love.

At the time, hardcore male club riders—the ones with shaved legs, tight wool shorts, bikes with snazzy Camponolo components and shoes with cleats nailed to their soles—would zoom out of Central Park on A rides and those who could not keep up with the pack were dropped.

There were almost no women. Guzzetta, who was a bachelor, was eager to encourage, rather than intimidate, women who might be willing to give these difficult rides a shot. One particular woman was recovering from a bad knee injury. How could she ever ride with the guys?

Guzzetta came up with an idea. Why not invite Jody to start out early in March with a short, slow ride and continue the following week with a few more miles and a bit more speed? This would allow her to grow stronger little by little, so that after three months or so, she would have a rehabbed knee and be a faster rider.

She agreed; Guzzetta invited along several strong B riders who also wanted ride skills help. He put a notice in the club bulletin, and the first SIG was born. Forty riders turned up that first Saturday in March 1986. Seventeen weeks later, there were eight new pace-line-riding, speedy A riders, including the formerly bum-kneed Jody Saylor. To cap its success, Guzzetta and Jody had become a couple and they eventually got married.

The SIG series was so inspirational that it was repeated the following year and the year after that. Soon, so many club members wanted to participate that two additional levels were added: one for beginners and one for those aiming to go from the beginning C level to B.

By March 2012, the SIGs were the club’s signature series, with four levels: A-classic, for the fastest riders, plus A-19, B and C levels. There is such anticipation that sublevels have been devised within the B and C categories to accommodate as many riders as volunteers can handle while keeping groups at a reasonable size. Thousands of members have enhanced their skills and enjoyed the camaraderie of a SIG.

What’s more, scores of SIG graduates have repaid the club by becoming volunteer SIG ride leaders. A second series, dubbed the STS (Spring Training Series), with no education element but with the emphasis on simply building endurance, is now part of the club’s schedule.

Over the years, SIG graduates have become officers, leaders of regular club rides 8racers. Several have attended ride camps at the Olympic Training Center and others have added to their recreational activities by entering duathlons and triathlons. And more than a few SIGGies, as we call them, have followed the original model by meeting a mate and marrying one another.

As cycling’s popularity in the city mushrooms, the NYCC continues to refine what has become its most important tradition, the SIGs, a program that rewards members with better and safer riding skills while providing a benefit that’s priceless: lifelong friendships, on the road and off.

 

Grace Lichtenstein is the NY Cycle Club’s public relations director.

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