The Wheels Behind the San Francisco Cycling Club

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Jim Whimpey and Alejandro Villarreal are driven men. They have high-powered careers in the tech industry (Jim at Flickr and Alejandro at Google), but what drives them in their personal lives, where they have found passion, is cycling.  The two men started San Francisco Cycling Club (SFCC) a year ago to build an inclusive cycling club for like-minded San Franciscans. “Anything you can do to help your community and the people around you, I think, is really important,” mentions Alejandro. “Having something like SFCC and being able to contribute to a sense of community is really important and close to heart.”

We sat down with Jim and Alejandro to learn more about SFCC, San Francisco’s cycling scene and the role cycling has played in their careers.

How long have both of you been riding and what got you into cycling?

Jim: I started 7 years ago when a friend of mine’s father got into a triathlon. After doing triathlons for a while I got into a purer form of cycling.  I also got rid of my car around that same time, which actually kicked up my cycling more than triathlons.

Alejandro: I started riding 5 years ago, really recreationally at first. I didn’t want to rely on my car to get around and get groceries and such. I met a woman in my office who did the commute from San Francisco to Mountain View and she encouraged me to try Bike to Work Day. Having never ridden my bike over 8 miles, I signed up for a 30-mile bike ride.  I bonked it at about 10 miles to go. It was the longest 10 miles I’ve ever ridden in my life, but I told myself I would never let that happen again so I started commuting about 3 times a week and that’s really when it began for me.

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How long has SFCC been around and how many members do you have?

SFCC started officially April 2013 and has about 53 members.  We advertise a lot of rides publicly and we don’t exclude the general cycling community from our rides. Our flagship ride is the Friday coffee ride and we regularly have 30 riders on that.

Why do you think cycling is special in San Francisco?

Alejandro: I think there are a couple things. First of all, owning a car in San Francisco is very difficult. But more than that, I think San Francisco is such a small but diverse city, so by getting on a bike and going anywhere from three to 30 blocks you can experience a multitude of different cultures and different neighborhoods. I didn’t really start to appreciate San Francisco and all the neighborhoods until I started riding around. Overall, it adds to a sense of ownership of the city because you get to experience it from a ground level.

Jim: San Francisco is one of the rare cities in the world where it is extremely dense inside the city, but travel half an hour by bike in any direction and you’re in a beautiful wilderness.

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SFCC’s values include fun, competition, openness, inclusiveness and community. Can you go into this and how it affects the community you’ve created?

Jim: I moved to San Francisco from Australia where I was a member of a club and where there is a much stronger club environment. I was looking for something similar here because I had such a strong community of cyclists around me in Australia, so I started going on a few public group rides and met a ton of individuals who shared the same values that I did, but weren’t part of anything more than maybe two or three of their friends riding together. It made a lot of sense to me to bring these people together.  The racing scene in general has a reputation for being unfriendly and uninviting, so we wanted to somewhat change that perception and make something open and inclusive.

Alejandro: In the Bay Area riding community there are teams and there are clubs that have a couple hundred members, but there is no cohesive atmosphere that makes it feel like we’re all part of the same thing and supporting the same ideas. Hearing Jim speak to those things he had back in Australia really struck a chord. It was something that was lacking in the Bay Area.

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What do you see as the future of your club?

Jim: Our original goal was just to get 30 members who share our values riding and racing together. Our plan now for 2014 is to get some of our own races on the calendar and to expand our general riding calendar. We’d like to get a local race open to people outside the club and create something really local to SF because most races require driving at least an hour.

Alejandro: We want to be known in the community by our values, our kit helps people to associate our members with those values. Based on our values, we are looking to support our members in the things that they want to do. We had ideas of our own when we started the club and as we’ve gained more members, we want to transfer some of the ownership of the club back to the members. That means them coming to us with their ideas for things. We want to help our members in their own initiatives.

You both have high powered careers, do you see cycling have any effect on your drive in the workplace?

Alejandro: I think it’s less about the career and more about being an athlete in general. It’s funny, I was never an athlete growing up; I was a nerd. It really wasn’t until I found cycling that I discovered that you could push yourself beyond the limits that you thought were possible. I was used to doing that mentally, but never physically. I think more than anything, cycling has helped me be better at my job. There is a lot of mental fitness that goes into it…not giving up and going out there when the rain is pouring or the weather sucks. The motivation that you need for that transfers anywhere in life. I’ve learned more about being self-motivated and conquering that mental barrier from cycling than from my career.

Jim: You talk about suffering when you talk about cycling and bike racing and I think it gives perspective. I feel so much better at work if I’ve had a 2.5-3 hour ride. It puts me in a better state of mind, that’s for sure.

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Written by Kate Koeller & Rachel Maniago

Photos by Daniel Morris

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