by Tara Nolan
Club name Headwind Cycling Club
City Lethbridge, Alta.
While strong chinook winds regularly test the mettle of the Headwinds Cycling Club, the 30-year-old, Lethbridge, Alta.-based group has found itself confronting another challenge: how to evolve with the times and become more inclusive.
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The club was founded in 1986 by a group of local, passionate riders, led by the first president Monty Smith and an executive committee of about six. Its members were primarily roadies until the early 1990s, when mountain biking came in. Regular races cemented Headwinds’ reputation as a racing club. It hosted Tuesday night club races, as well as other races and events with the local bike shops (Bert and Mac’s, Ascent Cycle and Alpenland). It also staged the first Alberta Cup XC race, the Coulee Cruiser.
At one point, membership hovered around 200, but in more recent years, as riders moved on for various reasons, it had started to drop. In 2012, a new executive brought in a new philosophy with the goal of growing membership by catering to mostly social and recreational riders. “The club focus now is on building strong community relationships to promote cycling for wellness, transportation, recreation and competition,” explains Steve Leger, the club’s social director. Leger credits current club president Kevin Iwaasa with working on reshaping and building up the club.
The inclusive spirit of this new vision means there are more activities catering to families. On Sundays throughout the summer, the club holds ice cream rides where kids are welcome to accompany their parents on a slow-paced pedal and free ice cream replaces cold pints as post-ride sustenance.
Leger has also been helping to make the Coulee Cruiser, the first mountain bike race of the season, a more family-oriented festival weekend. The club is working with local shops to set up bike demos and be a part of the event. Local daredevil Johnny Korthuis, who last year wowed the young crowd with his trials riding, was invited to return to announce and coach in the skills park.
Headwinds also turned one of its regular loops into the annual Bakery Fun-Dough, a supported ride that leads members to local bakeries in surrounding communities for distances ranging from 30 to 100 km. In 2015, the ride had to change course because of those winds that are the club’s namesake. “For anyone who has ridden in southern Alberta, it is self-explanatory,” says Leger, describing the powerful chinooks that can be a blessing or a curse depending on the direction in which you are travelling. “A lot of our rides you’ll start off heading west into the wind and you’ll be going 16 km/h just killing yourself, and then you turn around and will be going 55 to 60 km/h with zero effort. It makes for some pretty interesting rides sometimes.” The club will actually cancel rides for safety reasons if the winds are clocked faster than 40 km/h.
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This year, to continue with the focus on recreational and social road riding, the Monday outings offer alternating themes – drafting, hill climbing and more. Pickup points make sure anyone can come along, and then join a faster or slower group depending on how their legs are feeling on any particular night. Also this year, Headwinds wants to grow the mountain biking side of the club. Says Leger: “We would love to build the club into a thriving recreational road and mountain biking, and competitive road and mountain biking, and touring club once again.”