by Matt Birnbaum
In what seems like another lifetime, I was once in graduate school studying public economics. One of the classic issues in this field involves the “free rider problem.” Stated simply, if you cannot stop anyone from paying for the group benefit, everyone in the group will undervalue the cost of this benefit and pay too little. And if everyone pays too little, the benefit loses value in the long term as it gets over-consumed. While it has been many years since my time in academia, this public economics issue remains in the forefront of my mind in helping reposition the Club for a stronger future footing.
Our bike club is in the business of offering free rider benefits. These include our group rides and our communications. I belong to our club because of how much I value these benefits. I enjoy all of the Club’s rides that I can do (and think about doing) with so many other kindred spirits. I value the communications in helping remember the time we spend cycling together on our bikes as well as exchanging other ideas and feelings associated with our pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Until I became active in the Club’s Executive Committee several years ago, however, I could not fully appreciate the fiscal challenges of operating our Club given our free rider benefits. It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a detailed fiscal breakdown but I want to share a bit of time in this article discussing some of the organizational implications to help you all know about and better engage with those of us volunteering on the Club’s Executive Committee.
Let me start with some guiding principles in how I frame these issues. I start by thinking about what it is like when I am considering doing a recreational ride. I generally prefer group rides since I rather not ride alone. I consequently go our Club’s ride calendar since we are the only ones offering multiple rides every day of the year and thus most likely to find one that meets my interests. In addition to looking for a preferred route, I am envisioning who also might be doing this ride in anticipating what it will be like to be spending time together on our bicycles. Since I care about remembering these ride experiences, I additionally am thinking about ways we can share the stories, photos and even ride statistics of this time together in enriching my life is richer because of the bonds forged with so many “ride buddies” during and after these club rides. My ride buddies not only enjoy the same type of group rides as me, but they also want to lead a healthy lifestyle, help others grow in their lives’ journeys, and also minimize the impact of our footprint in celebrating and conserving our region and elsewhere on our planet.
Those of us volunteering our time on the Executive Committee have been spending lots of time working on ways to better meet the needs of current and future members in improving these shared experiences during and after our group bike rides. We have been doing lots of soul searching of what we can do as volunteers and what we need to pay staff to do. We also have been contemplating about the things we need to do differently to better address the diversity of our membership given socio-cultural differences between the Baby Boomers (our Club’s historic base) and the Millennials as well as between men and women. We also are examining how our offerings correlated to our region’s continued expansion into the exurbs and regeneration in Washington, DC, as well as with the continued rapid advances in information technologies. These deliberations have led us to make some significant long-term shifts in investing our resources to help us better respond to needs of current and future members, including:
- Hiring of Brenda Ruby last year as a part-time director of communications to help us begin to revamp our publications and social media presence.
- Hiring of Sand Glass last April to build us a new web platform, including creating a more user-friendly ride calendar (and virtual rider sign-in sheets) with greater portability for allowing folks to better access the information on their smart phones and tablets.
- Migrating the one day Back Roads Century event in Berryville to a weekend bonanza in the biking tourist mecca in and around Shepherdstown.
- Targeting resources to improving the Club’s “DNA” with systematic trainings and mentoring for ride leaders as well as periodic multi-class tailgate rides in creating new traditions for supporting our ride coordinators to sustain and enhance our Club’s footprint throughout the region.
Throughout this process, we have tried to be transparent and respectful in emphasizing strong cooperation and team work as well as treating others as we want ourselves to be treated. We strive to be practical in our aspirations as we reconcile the numerous demands with our limited time and funds as we govern and administer principally through volunteers.
As we head into the depth of the summer, we are basically locked in for the rest of this calendar year for prioritizing our Club’s short-term operations. We continue to build out the Back Roads weekend and Farm Tour while also moving to preparing for piloting a new ride calendar and sign-in sheet with our ride coordinators and selected ride leaders this autumn. This simpler, decentralized scheme is intended to more easily let ride leaders schedule rides on an ongoing basis and allow participating riders to register (sign in) virtually using their computer or smart phone.
For better and worse, the Pedal Patter is going to have a big change soon. It is the Club’s biggest non-event expenditure with about half of our dues needing to pay for this product. To save substantial costs through lowering production costs, we will be eliminating the ride calendar from this paper product and enhancing its presence virtually.
We also are launching a new committee to study our approaches to governance and administration of the club under the leadership of Paul Huey Burns, an at large member on the Executive Committee. We need to figure out better ways to get more members engaged in volunteering on tasks needed to operate our Club. We also need to figure out ways to better diversify our revenue streams.
To help all better know about everything that is going on, we are going to be doing more systematic outreach through the rest of the summer and fall. This includes a member survey and public meetings. Stay tuned for more details!
If you can spare a little bit more of your valuable time, please chip in and team up with us on our many committees and events to make our club more awesome! We need more folks who will lead rides, plan special events, write and market, offer financial expertise, research, survey and mine data, and more. Please do not hesitate to contact any of us on the Executive Committee members for how we can plug you in as we ride and celebrate freely together.
Happy spinning, Matt