By Marc Sani
SEATTLE, WA—Three employees from Dave Guettler’s River City Bicycles were swamped with work as hundreds, if not several thousand cyclists, clogged a major food stop on the annual Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic—best known as the STP.
Guettler and his staff have supported the ride for years; Guettler calls it an amazing event. “When I first got to Portland I couldn’t believe what a big deal it was. I was amazed. So many people from Portland were either doing it or supporting it, that nobody was coming into the store that weekend,” Guettler said.
The Classic, organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club, fields more than 10,000 riders for the two-day event, a 204-mile trek from the University of Washington in downtown Seattle to Holladay Park in northeast Portland. And this year’s 32nd annual event was no different—thousands of riders of every ability, riding every conceivable type of wheeled conveyance, stretched for miles through the lush valleys, rolling farmland and deep green forests of western Washington and Oregon.
For Chuck Ayers, the club’s executive director, the ride signifies the impact cycling can have on communities big and small when organizers, volunteers and sponsors work together. It’s also a financial shot-in-the-arm for the club, which boasts 14,500 dues-paying members and annual revenue projected to top $3.5 million by year’s end. It’s safe to say that the Cascade Bicycle Club is the biggest regional cycling club in the nation.
One member benefit is a shot at early registration for the STP before it sells out. Members trim $10 off the $100 entry fee and kids register for $47. The club also offers add-on services like a $62 bus trip back to Seattle from Holladay Park, a $31 shipping fee for your bike, a $10 daily parking fee, $10 for a timing chip as well as late fees. And if you want to register by mail it’s $115 for adults and $55 for kids.
Fees to join the club are modest: $35 for a one-year membership, families pay $65 a year, and low-income students can join for $15. The club also has a variety of multi-year memberships as well as higher levels for advocates.
Ayers, 54, and the father of two, was teaching at the University of Washington in the School of Social Work and compiling research for a doctorate, when his wife spotted an ad for the club’s executive director position. He took the job and never finished his Ph.D.
Ayers, a former union organizer, community activist and Outward Bound leader, concluded running the club would be an excellent fit for his skills. And, despite some ups and downs with the club’s board of directors, he’s proven himself an able organizer and an astute businessman. When he took over 14 years ago, he had a staff of four and a $500,000 budget. Today, he has a staff of 26, plus four Americorp volunteers and a revenue stream most small businesses would envy.
So how is it that this vibrant non-profit can inspire so many people to participate in club rides, advocacy and other volunteer work, yet have so few industry suppliers support it and its work? “I really don’t have an answer for that,” Ayers said. But, he acknowledges, the club could and perhaps should reach out more aggressively to the industry.
“It’s just never been a priority for the industry (either). Corporate sponsors, like our title sponsor (Group Health Seattle), have focused on health initiatives and aligning themselves with our organization. We focus deeply on public health, commuting by bike and creating more sustainable and livable communities.
“The STP is a great gateway event to seek out new constituents. We’ve been approached by and sought out sponsorship from industry. But it’s mostly been in-kind. Certain products aren’t a good fit when you have other sponsors willing to pay premium sponsorship fees for a very popular, longstanding ride,” he said.
REI, with headquarters in Seattle, sponsors a major stop along the way. Beverage and food sponsors like Clif, Nuun and Jamba Juice have had tremendous success with the event. And a variety of retailers like River City Bicycles and Recycled Cycles offer tech support throughout the ride.
This year Raleigh signed on as the STP’s only bicycle sponsor, a move Raleigh’s president, Steve Meineke, said will become a major marketing push the rest of this year and next.
Meineke, who rode this year’s STP, has seen what he believes is the future for his company. Get behind and support event and cause rides, encourage and incentivize its dealers to support them, and build Raleigh’s brand among a cohort of riders who can identify with a family friendly image.
“Steve has stepped up,” Ayers said. “The industry is starting to realize growth in different areas—whether it’s commuting or recreational weekend warriors. Sponsors need to recognize the potential to engage a new audience that’s very enthusiastic about cycling,” he said.