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USA Cycling eyes gravel, gran fondo crowd

USA Cycling announces policy changes for 2017, intends to broaden its membership base too less race-oriented crowd.

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In an effort to grow its membership and offer elite perks to its membership holders, USA Cycling has created new license tiers to cater to both enthusiast cyclists and hardcore racers. The new licenses come with perks such as increased insurance coverage and roadside assistance.

According to Derek Bouchard-Hall, CEO of USA Cycling, the new products reflect a bigger trend that USAC is trying to tap: the growth of non-traditional cycling events such as charity rides, gravel races, and gran fondos.

“We don’t want to sit idly by and not be a part of that and influence it,” Bouchard-Hall said. “They don’t even know that we exist. We’d like to be a positive part of that community. That’s explicitly part of our mission to grow cycling.”

Amid a raft of policy changes for 2017, USAC announced another tier of its Ride membership, a product for enthusiasts, not hardcore racers. Those who opt for the Ride license can chose between $50 and $150 Ride+ options, the latter of which includes a USA Cycling racing kit. Changes are less severe for members who hold a traditional racing license. The $70 racing license is good for unlimited racing through the calendar year, with a $100 Podium license including supplemental insurance coverage as well as 24/7 roadside assistance.

According to its roadside assistance page, the upgrade plan offers assistance for flat tires, transportation in case of a crash, and extraction of a bicycle from a ditch or other inaccessible area. The roadside assistance crew will also free up a locked bicycle.

The governing body will also begin aggressively reaching out to gran fondo and charity ride events to offer sanctioning and USA Cycling racing insurance.

The push toward gran fondo and other nontraditional events represents a shift in focus for the governing body. Of the estimated 7 million cyclists in the U.S., only about one percent are part of USA Cycling, and thus far, USA Cycling has sold approximately 8,000 Ride memberships, according to Bouchard-Hall.

“That’s a lost opportunity for us,” Bouchard-Hall said. Pending a decision by the USAC board, riders could also use fondo results to upgrade from Cat. 5 to 4, which might further entice recreational riders.

Bouchard-Hall cited British cycling as a successful model with its enthusiast-class licenses. That organization’s enthusiast membership base is twice as large as its base of competitive members. “That’s the scale of our aspiration, ” Bouchard-Hall said.

The push into the gran fondo marketplace could put USA Cycling at odds with cyclists who purposefully gravitate toward non-sanctioned events such as gravel races and gran fondos. In recent years, critics have accused the governing body of sucking the fun out of some cycling events due to rules and regulations aimed at course safety, participant categories, and even course design.

Bouchard-Hall said he is cognizant of the criticism, and said that USAC is working toward a less-intrusive presence at these events. “There’s no reason why it needs to feel less grassroots,” he said. “It could be more expensive, but that’s only because the insurance product covers all eventualities. We’re trying to make it so the value proposition is better.”

Read more about USAC’s 2017 policy changes >>