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Local cyclers abandon corporate name, ride out with own identity

Four years of corporate sponsorship is quite enough for the Providence Velo Club, said Mark Greve, one of the club's three executive directors. Previously racing under the Refunds Now Tax Services company name, the cycling club chose to reclaim its identity in September.

"The team was ready to go," Greve said. "We felt that we were getting away from our roots as a community cycling club."

The Velo Club -— formed about 15 years ago — has 14 members, three of whom are Brown graduate students. But it lost several sponsors and became financially unstable, Greve said. In 2006, club member Michael Brier offered to title sponsor the club through his company, Refunds Now, on Wickenden Street.

Now, four years later, the club will form a new partnership with Reed Caster, who owns two local bicycle shops — one in Warwick and one soon to open on the East Side.

"Refunds Now did an excellent job supporting the team financially," Caster said.

But racing under that name had unintended consequences for the club.

"When you're under corporate sponsorship, you labor after a business name," Greve said. "The corporate perspective is less likely to appear as community-friendly."

Corporate sponsorship also implies responsibility, Greve said, adding that "people want to ride their bikes for fun," not as a requirement.

"We want to make sure that people are pretty free," he said.

The sponsorship with Refunds Now is set to end in December, but it is by no means an end to all sponsorship.

"We are just looking for a lot less from sponsors," Greve said.

Caster's Bicycles and Fitness co-sponsored the club for the past three years. The store will not provide direct financial support but will instead give member discounts on merchandise.

"Many of these guys have good jobs," Caster said. "It's more important that they have a reliable shop."

Caster said that at first he was a cautious sponsor. Many times teams "don't think that they have a responsibility to their sponsor," he said.

But, describing the club's members as people who "race for the love of racing," Caster highlighted the club's "older professional attitude" as a significant factor in the sponsorship agreement.

"They are not jerks to the general citizenry," Caster said.

Caster's plan to open up a bike shop on the East Side in late October is another reason the club sought store sponsorship, Greve said.

"We want to increase cohesion in the biker community," Greve said, signaling the bike shop and its potential as a uniting space for all bikers as a big step toward this goal.

Greve said the Velo Club aims to bring community-oriented events and non-competitive group rides to Providence.

The Velo Club already hosts the Mark Nicholson Smack Down, an open group ride that takes place throughout the year, designed by and in honor of a former member who died. There is also an annual memorial race in early April for Chris Hinds, founder of the club.

Instead of using sponsor money for uniforms, the club has refocused its efforts to provide more training, practice group rides, nutrition and racing advice as well as to organize more community events.

"Cycling as a culture is continuing to grow," Caster said, pointing to a upsurge in amateur biking, especially among college students who use biking as their main means of transportation.

The sport's relative safety also contributes to its popularity. "You only have to worry about crashing," Greve said.

The club members themselves cross many generations, he said. "I'm 41 years old and I can (match) a 20-year-old in a race," he added.

Despite the decrease in funding, Greve said he is optimistic about the club's future. He said the greater local focus, the new bike shop on the East Side and the increasing popularity of cycling in general will yield future "organic" growth.

"Good things are coming," said Caster. "I think the community will be pleased."


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