This feature is part of the CN&R’s 2023 Bike Issue.
When cyclist Jenn Alexander joined the Chico Corsa cycling club in 2013, she went on one of her first long-distance rides, setting out with a spirited group to tackle a 65-mile ride along the Unknown Coast on day one of the weekend trip. As she approached a particularly steep hill on the route, struggling to keep going, she listened to her body and stopped pedaling.
Alexander loaded up her bike and climbed into a Corsa support and gear (SAG) vehicle, there to provide snacks and water but also to pick up any riders who were unable to continue. Later that night, she joined her fellow club members for a lively dinner.
Though the rest of the ride continued the next day, Alexander wasn’t physically ready to finish the route. During the trip, she felt nothing but support for her decision, she said, and it’s why she has continued to ride for Corsa and became the club’s vice president.
“There was absolutely not any shame …. This group was happy I was there doing what I could do,” she said. “It’s what made me want to get more involved in it. I think there’d be a much higher level of interest in cycling if people felt supported instead of humiliated by what they can do.”
Indeed, the experience Alexander had exemplifies one of the core values of Chico Corsa: creating an inclusive, supportive cycling community that includes riders of all skill-levels, body types, ages and interests, she said.
“[With Corsa], it’s not about being competitive. It’s about supporting each other,” she said. “It was a welcome relief to be seen by a group of people as somebody who wanted to be on a bike and be included. My weight or physical appearance was never a part of it. It was, ‘Yay, you want to be on a bike! Let’s go.’”
The first ride
When David Klein’s family first moved to Chico, he met the late Ed McLaughlin, former president of Chico Velo, who invited him to rides. Klein took him up on his offer, and quickly dove into the local cycling scene, racing for several clubs. He often ended up riding alone, however, and soon desired to form his own team for “the camaraderie and to get people who have been on the fence to start racing.”
In 2005, Klein, with the help of friend Dan Bogan, assembled a group of about 18 riders, and they trained together and rode in the Wildflower Century—which also garnered them their first major sponsor as the Chico Corsa club. That year, the group also launched the Long Steady Distance (LSD) ride, which is still held every Sunday, October through January.
After that first year, under the leadership of former club president Geno Gruber, Corsa held a criterion race in downtown Chico, which eventually became the Chico Stage Race, later managed by members Michelle and Michael Painter. The club stopped hosting it a few years ago, passing it off to a racing-based club, Klein said.
Current Corsa President Shawn Hughes came on board in 2011, helping the group form a not-for-profit 501(c)(4). At the same time, they expanded their efforts to become a broader cycling club, with more offerings outside of racing.
When Hughes joined the club, he was a rusty cyclist dusting off the spokes after decades off of two wheels. In 2007, he hopped on his wife’s old bike and “hardly knew how to shift,” he said with a laugh.
But soon enough, one of his good friends got a road bike and the pair started riding together, which then evolved into a small, close group of riders. He started getting more involved in the local cycling community, riding every day with different clubs. The first he joined was Chico Corsa, and he discovered a “super friendly,” supportive group.
“I didn’t know anything, and there was a whole group of riders who were proficient and patient.”
Cycling for all
Over the years, Chico Corsa has maintained a social club vibe while also focusing on educating cyclists on safety and creating inclusive opportunities for folks to ride.
Today, Corsa has about 70 members, but membership is not required to join rides. Though some rides have a registration fee, many are free/donation-based. Optional memberships are offered at $40 a year, and cyclists of all ages and skill levels are welcome to join for a variety of rides.
Though most of their members are in their 40s and 50s, Klein said, with Corsa, college students will ride alongside business owners, and their members includes cyclists in their 20s up to those in their 80s.
Hughes added that the club often puts on rides or events to support the interests of their members. Corsa hosts multiple weekly rides, including the Thursday Night Cross (or TNX) gravel/dirt-based ride, the Friday Coffee Ride that ends with conversation and coffee, and the Women On Wheels (WOW) group ride.
Women on Wheels can be a great entry point for some female cyclists, Alexander said, because it gives them a chance to join a social, non-competitive group dedicated to women. Before joining Corsa, Alexander had been belittled for her experience or ability level during some predominantly male rides, which had a “culture of mansplaining.”
“I’ve never experienced that with Corsa or WOW,” she said.
For some women who have experienced those kinds of environments, it can be easier to ask another woman for coaching on how to tackle hills, for example, because it is “way less intimidating.”
WOW cyclists are “supportive of each other and getting women interested in the sport and maintaining those connections,” she said.
Corsa also puts on a two-day ride events, weekend events like the Tour of the Unknown Coast (which will be held in September this year) and the Bidwell Bump, an Upper Bidwell Park mountain bike race first held in 1970s. Through the Bidwell Bump last year, Corsa raised approximately $4,200 for On the Road to Rescue, a local nonprofit that helps dogs get fostered and adopted.
In the club’s more recent history (approximately the past four years), Corsa decided to bring back some old beloved rides that were no longer being organized by the local cycling community, Klein and Hughes said. This includes the Unknown Coast and Sutter Buttes rides. They also began working with multiple bike shops in town (rather than having one exclusive shop).
Corsa sponsors bike maintenance courses through local shops, as well, and as part of their Wildflower training course, cyclists learn how to safely ride on the road in a group. Every ride is an educational opportunity: with LSD, for example, cyclists who haven’t yet ridden in a group can learn from experienced riders “at a set pace” that is about “being steady versus high intensity,” Klein said.
This applies across all rides with Corsa, Hughes added. Even with rides that are at a faster pace, he’s a big proponent of “no drop rides,” where no rider is left behind.
While on a bike ride last month with a small group of cyclists, he noticed someone falling to the back, pedaling at a slower pace. Hughes eased up on his speed and joined her, and the pair talked—she was just getting back into cycling.
“I stayed with her the whole time and I said, ‘Go at your own pace, it’s the only way you’ll get better. If you try to chase, you’re going to get frustrated or hurt yourself.’”
Alexander related to this moment: When she first started out all those years ago, it was empowering for her to be included regardless of her ability level: Chico Corsa treated her the same then as they do now that she is an experienced cyclist.
“Everybody has a starting point. One of the things that’s hardest to overcome as a new cyclist is feeling like you’re dragging everybody behind. We make sure we let people know that’s not the situation at all—we want you to continue to ride.”
Chico Corsa’s next ride: Unknown Valley North, 76-mile loop, April 16.
For more info, find Chico Corsa Cycling Club on Facebook or visit its site, chicocorsa.com