Portland cycling club earns national honor as ‘Best Community Builder’

The Club Roule in Washington Park.
(Photo © Bob Huff Photo 2019)

“You don’t actually build a community if you’re constantly trying to appeal to the same group of people and rehashing the same ideas in slightly different packaging.”
— Paul Wroblewski, founder

One benefit of cycling that’s often overlooked is how it can build community — something that has gained even more value during this year of social restrictions and isolation. Earlier this week Portland-based The Club Roule was recognized by USA Cycling, the sport’s national sanctioning body, as “Best Community Builder” for 2020.

“The Club Roule used the adversity that we all faced this past year as a catalyst for change to build a more well-rounded community in the Pacific Northwest. Turning strangers into friends, supporting local businesses through Community Partnerships, and supporting the growth of the sport by encouraging cyclists of all abilities to ride together and learn from one another,” said USA Cycling in a statement.

I reached out to the club’s founder Paul Wroblewski to congratulate him and learn more about what they’ve been up to.

Why do you think you won and what does it say about your club?

I think it says that we did a pretty good job of making the most out of a very weird year! It also says that we’ve been recognized for the exact thing that the club was created to do: building a strong community. It’s nice when the vision meets reality.

I started to put together a list of 2020 Club accomplishments back in early December and was frankly blown away. 2020 was a year that somehow managed to feel like 4 years long, yet it also felt like it flew by in a timeless “what the hell month is it already?!” way, so being able to tie accomplishments to actual dates and events was a therapeutic exercise. It also became clear that collectively, The Club Roule took on a lot of projects in order to keep our sanity!

What are some of those accomplishments?

— On March 15, 2020, in response to COVID-19, The Club Roule became the first cycling club in the nation to take specific steps to support local business communities through the creation of the Roule Together Challenge – a network of routes linking together small businesses that solo cyclists can support during their ride. Through the power of social media, the network spread quickly to include coffee shops, bakeries, delis, scoop shops, and other local businesses in Portland, Oregon; Corvallis, Oregon; Vancouver, Washington; Denver, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Phoenix, Arizona. We have now made this community-focused relationship a permanent part of The Club Roule through the creation of The Club Roule Community Partner Network.

The network is continuing to grow and we have local partners in Portland, OR, Corvallis, OR, Bend, OR, and Vancouver, WA. In addition to our local partners, we also have Online/National/International partners including Chapter2 Bikes from New Zealand, Scicon Sports from San Diego, CA, Roka Performance eyewear from Austin, TX, The Feed from Boulder, CO, HiFi Wheels from Portland, and many more. We have become a Club that supports community at both the local and international level.

— Created Roule Blend coffee (Roasted by our friends at Elevator Coffee). 5% of every bag sold in 2020 supported the Oregon Bike Racing Association.

— Raised over $1,250 for Portland’s Community Cycling Center Food Pantry Delivery Program.

— Members of The Club Roule participated in delivering food as part of Portland’s Community Cycling Center Food Pantry Delivery Program.

— Donated to The Street Trust for events such as their annual Love In Motion event and the Alice Awards.

— Stacy Westbrook of The Club Roule was elected to the Oregon Bike Racing Association Board of Directors.

— The Club Roule’s diverse membership includes riders in Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Alabama, Delaware, and South Carolina. In 2020 we also had a member in Taipei, and a couple members in Minnesota. Our mission as a community-focused club means that we have no geographic boundaries.

— The Club Roule is an unapologetic ally for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ humans through our words and our actions. Our Club strives to be a safe space for our diverse club members and community partners.

— Donated to PDX Protest Bail Fund, Don’t Shoot PDX, Reclaim the Block, and Black Lives Matter.

— Roule Cycling is a member of the WTF Bike Explorers Cycling Industry Pledge in order to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cycling community.

How do you define “building community”?

“Community building really just requires finding a common language to make those connections and relationships happen.”

I define it as creating opportunities for others to participate who have not been included before, or who did not realize that they actually are part of a broader community in some way. My wife, Nicole, says that my superpower is seeing relationships and connections. I see them with people and with ideas. And it seems to me that whenever the established cycling community talks about “growing the cycling community” the conversation always shifts to the familiar – appealing to the same groups of riders, the same type of person, the same “pain and suffering glory photo” mentality. But you don’t actually build a community if you’re constantly trying to appeal to the same group of people and rehashing the same ideas in slightly different packaging – you just end up with duplicates of the same community with slightly different hashtags.

Instead, we need to welcome and encourage new people. We need to reach out to new businesses and find new allies. We need to be empathetic and see people where they are. And then we need to determine whether they want to go to the same place we’re going, and how we can all get there together.

A great example of seeing relationships and connections in community building is the Roule Blend coffee. Cyclists love coffee (connection), but you don’t have to like riding bikes to like coffee; coffee is universal (relationship). The other thing that’s universal, at least to me, is wanting to help people. So we came up with an idea a couple years ago to create a coffee where a percentage of the profits go to a different organization each year. In 2019 the beneficiary was ASHA International, which focuses on mental health. In 2020, the beneficiary was OBRA. But what’s great is that coffee became a catalyst for building community because it gave people an opportunity to participate whichever way, and for whatever reason, fit them best – individuals purchased Roule Blend from Elevator Coffee because they liked it (seriously, it’s fantastic coffee), or because they liked Elevator and/or The Club Roule and wanted to support us, or because they wanted to support OBRA. But we also had different businesses and shops and supermarkets buy Roule Blend, and a lot of these businesses had never been associated with the “cycling community” before.

So because we found a way to appeal to something that they know, we’re now all part of the same broader community, and we’re now all supporting each other in a way that wasn’t happening before. Community building really just requires finding a common language to make those connections and relationships happen.

What has the pandemic meant to your club?

Pre-Covid group ride organized by the club.

It has meant a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of creativity. The Club Roule was hosting about 50 open-to-the-public group rides a year before the pandemic, and we stopped hosting group rides cold turkey. Doing so also meant that we could no longer support the businesses where’d we’d gather pre and post ride – which is where the idea for the Roule Together Challenge came from.

The Roule Together Challenge asked two main questions: 1. How can you still support the needs of your cycling community, while supporting local businesses who were devastated by COVID-19? 2. How can you still provide a sense of hope and normalcy, when the world around us feels so bleak and unpredictable? With the end of group rides and the start of the Roule Together Challenge, Club members were asked to ride solo or with members of their same household only — and their sacrifice to protect the health of our community, while so many others chose not to, really needs to be recognized. I know from talking with many Club members that all of the solo riding has really started to take a toll on them. So many of us choose to ride for both physical and mental health reasons, and not being able to ride with friends and teammates has gotten increasingly difficult. One of the best moments we’ve experienced during the pandemic is seeing another Club Roule jersey in the distance, and waving as we ride past each other; that two-second interaction can often be the highlight of a day or sometimes a week for our riders. It makes us still feel connected to each other, and offers a hopeful glimpse of future rides together.

I know life is hard for everybody right now, but I do sincerely hope that every time one of the BikePortland readers sees a Club Roule rider putting in solo miles, that they wave and smile at them. We’re all in this together, and The Club Roule has been doing our best to care for the health of others in our community.

What should we expect from Roule in 2021?

“The Club Roule Members Jersey is available only to those who embrace the Club’s empathetic, community-focused mission through membership.”

The unexpected! Ideally, we’d love to be able to start group rides again in late summer or fall, but we know there’s no guarantee. There are still too many unknowns with the vaccine rollout to circle a date on the calendar, but it does feel good to think that we’re now hopefully closer to the end of the pandemic than the beginning. I think you can also expect additional Community Partners to join the Roule community – our tagline “all are welcome” doesn’t just apply to cyclists. I would also like to focus on getting additional Club Roule Chapters started around the country. We’re starting to grow in Corvallis and Bend, but I see no reason why we can’t start chapters in other places, too. There are plenty of like-minded cyclists, and plenty of local businesses everywhere that could use some support!

Anything else you want to share?

The Club Roule 2021 chevron kits have been a huge hit! We’ve received lots of love and positive comments – and yes, the only way to get one is to become a member. However, I am working on the design of something special for those who’d like to support and rep The Club Roule without becoming a member. I think our Club Members are gonna like them too… stay tuned!

Check out The Club Roule on Instagram or at RouleCycling.com.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and [email protected]
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