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

Posted by on February 4th, 2021 at 2:30 pm

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.

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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!

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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.

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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 jonathan@bikeportland.org
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RHjered l bogliIanJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)Hello, Kitty Recent comment authors
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N.C.
Guest
N.C.

This is a great article, thanks for taking the time to highlight the hard work the Roule Crew put into 2020, it’s great to see them trying to support PDX businesses and beyond. Looking forward to when we can ride again!

con_tot
Guest
con_tot

Wonderful article Jonathan!

A small aside: do you see the person with a mustache in the bottom left of the included group photo? This person is wearing a half American flag half Gadsden flag jersey.

I know the Gadsden flag has been often co-opted as a racist symbol recently, but has a long history. However it is legally* considered a (potentially) hateful symbol in workplaces since 2016.

I am not trying to call this person out, but I am curious how the commenters at BP feel about this symbol. I know I’d certainly never be caught dead anywhere near it! I lived in a small rural town when Obama was president; many of the most racist folks in town who explicitly rejected having a black man as their president would fly this flag.

Is this symbol somehow acceptable in today’s Portland?

* https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-shifting-symbolism-of-the-gadsden-flag

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I am not trying to call this person out

It sounds exactly like you’re calling this person out.

con_tot
Subscriber
con_tot

I’ll admit my last sentence was a little heavy handed. But I am really trying to gauge the level of social acceptability of this symbol in Portland.

I had honestly assumed this person’s intention was irony given the mustache pairing and that this isn’t a small town.

BarnOwl
Guest
BarnOwl

Why would you think that BikePortland members should be the arbiters of what is socially acceptable in Portland?

Personally I’ve always thought that an American flag or NRA jersey would be helpful to dissuade pick-ups from ‘rolling coal’ on me when out on the rural roads past Oregon City and Corbett

con_tot
Subscriber
con_tot

It’s just the most active local forum I frequent on the internet. I have asperger’s so I don’t always ‘get’ these subtle things in real life so I often ask very explicit questions on the internet to help provide me with context. And I’ve seen ‘symbols’ discussed frequently on BP (thin blue flag, that celtic cross thing) so it felt relevant to me.

The comments so far imply that I was wrong about my feeling around this symbol, which is why I asked the question above! Seems my comment was more distasteful than the symbol, but I really do appreciate the dialogue from everyone.

Smart idea BarnOwl! People are always yelling ‘f*ggot’ at me when I bike tour add I’ve been coal-rolled many times. I should learn to hide my identity better!

JJ
Guest
JJ

Barnowl…exactly. So many times when I get buzzed or coal run it is a huge truck with a flag stuck in the bed. I hate that the American flag has been co-opt’ed physically and in our conscious as a symbol of hate. I purposely put an American flag on my house in a take back the flag effort. Not sure it did much but made me feel better.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

KHS, the parts catalog and not the bike manufacturer (though it’s the same Taiwan-based multinational company – they also make motorcycles), carries a brand of bike jerseys called World Jerseys. Among the many designs they carry is a “Don’t Tread On Me” jersey (not the one in the picture above, but still based on the Gadsden flag), a “Second Amendment” jersey, a “Constitution” jersey, a “thin blue line” (police) jersey, a “thin red line” (firefighter) jersey, various state flag jerseys, beer jerseys, several “biker chick” jerseys, various popular Italian and other European team jerseys, the lion of Flanders, and numerous others that may or may not be offensive to various groups worldwide. The main point is they are colorful, provocative, are available in 4-6 sizes, and typically sell $32.77 wholesale with an MSRP of $59.99 – welcome to the world of commerce – if there’s a profit to be made, someone is going to sell it. Your low-end neighborhood bike shop that can’t get an account with Quality because they don’t have enough annual sales, probably has an account with both KHS and J&B Imports, the bottom-dwelling distributors.

I have met many Mamils who go out of their way to offend other riders with provocative (but colorful) jerseys – liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Evangelists, even goddam normal people – just to get a bit of buzz. And it’s soooo easy these days to provoke people…

con_tot
Subscriber
con_tot

Thanks for the context David. I am pretty young so I don’t often (never) ride with the Middle-aged crowd. And I ride my bike for transportation around town or ‘party-pace’ cycle touring so I don’t hang with the lycra folks either. Was not familiar with that culture of ‘peacocking’, until now!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Bike jerseys for bicyclists are a lot like bumper stickers for car drivers – oftentimes they represent the core values of the rider (politics, a favorite bike company, a Tour De France team they root for, etc) and sometimes it represents an alter-ego of that same rider (shock value, a color of their mood that morning.) But most of the time it’s worn for comfort and because it fits so nicely!

Richard Herbin
Guest
Richard Herbin

It’s time for everyone to go over that photo with a fine tooth comb to look for evidence of other thought crimes. Body language and facial expressions must also be considered. North Korean methods of detection can be used.
Maybe con_tot can recommend a re-education camp for that rider. Complete ideolological purity must be enforced. A new Party Apparatus may be necessary, under the direction of someone like Suslov.
I can see how red, white and blue garments might be considered hateful by some folks, such as those whose wedding parties have been droned in Afghanistan or who have been visited by USSA sponsored Death Squads in Central America.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

All because *someone* might be offended. If someone is offended, they are allowed to speak up.

Otherwise, it is a Fool’s Errand trying to guess who might be bothered by what and taking on the responsibility of pleasing hypothetical others.

one
Guest

It is used at Proud Boy Rallies, 3% rallies, Patriot Prayer rallies, and at the Jan 6th insurrection. Also, according to some BP commentators (Richard Herben), criticizing racist flags is a “Thought Crime”? I know that I had a neighbor in Portland who used to fly this flag with a confederate flag. I didn’t feel safe near that house.

From Wiki:
Far-right ideology
The Gadsden Flag has also been used as a symbol by far-right groups and individuals. In 2014, the flag was used by Jerad and Amanda Miller, the perpetrators of the 2014 Las Vegas shootings who killed two police officers and a civilian.[22] The Millers reportedly placed the Gadsden Flag on the corpse of one of the officers they killed.[23][24]

The Gadsden flag was featured prominently in a story surrounding the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol where 34-year-old Rosanne Boyland was allegedly trampled to death while brandishing it over her shoulders.[25][26][27][28]

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

What makes a flag “racist”? Is it enough that someone uses it in a racist way? Can racists simply lay claim to any symbol they want and make it uncontestedly theirs?

I think that, with all things, context and intent matters. Just as the same words uttered by different people in different contexts can mean very different things, I don’t accept that a flag can mean only one thing, or that it can be “owned” by one worldview, especially if markedly different than its original intent.

I’ve always seen that flag as a symbol for the little “l” New Hampshire style libertarians who just want to be left alone. And despite its use by the radical right, I still see it that way.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Also not mentioned – the Gadsden flag has been flown by others without any of those intents.

But obviously best to assume the most malicious intent possible, when possible.

Ian
Guest
Ian

My father, a Vietnam veteran, has a gadsden on his truck. He also has a “Dump Trump” sticker. I can understand why some might consider the Gadsden to be hateful. A lot of people consider the rainbow flag to be hateful (for the record, I do not). A symbols significance should be determined by the least common denominator.

Stacy Westbrook
Guest
Stacy Westbrook

I was most likely the ride leader on the day that public group ride photo was taken. Thanks for the opportunity learn about the Gadsden Flag, I honestly had no idea about its meaning and associations.

One of the things I love about The Club Roule, and the power of values-based communities, is that we can talk about these things together and help everyone learn and grow. When we have public group rides, we get folks from all backgrounds with a shared interest in cycling. On rides, I’ve had conversations with people about sexism, transphobia, racism, classism, white privilege, and what each of us can do about any of it. Instead of calling someone out for their jersey if it’s a racist or offensive symbol, I’d ask them what it means to them, why they wore it today, what they intend to say with it. My goal would be to help them see a different perspective and advance in their anti-racist journey.

I’m looking forward to a time when we can all ride together again, meet new people, and build an empathetic cycling community that helps each other be and do better.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

What is your opinion on individuality and expression?

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

Pretty disturbing what has happened on this forum considering it was just a simple story about a cycling club. No wonder the country is dysfunctional mess.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

This went “Peak Portland” in a hurry.

qqq
Guest
qqq

Why is it disturbing?

Mike
Guest
Mike

Perhaps it’s because this forum can’t ever be just about bikes.

qqq
Guest
qqq

It’s never been presented as just about bikes. So it wouldn’t make sense to me to be disturbed that it’s not something it doesn’t seem like it was ever intended to be.

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

It’s disturbing because someone is always lurking the shadows just waiting for that “gotcha” moment where they can condemn and cancel. It seems to be a prevalent theme on BikePortland.

RH
Guest
RH

The “Club Roule” is not a club. It is a clothing business. There is only one “member” who controls the entire operation. Participants in “club activities” are not permitted to dissent from business policies.