Women's club dedicated to building Seattle riders up for success


by Amanda Miller Luciano
The team of about 70 spans all age and ability levels.
The team of about 70 spans all age and ability levels.
It’s recruiting season for the Sound Velo Cycling Club.
That means women throughout Seattle and its suburbs will have a chance to go on group rides and participate in skills training and mock races with one of the top women's cycling clubs in the country. Sound Velo was USA Cycling's 2013 Women’s Club of the Year.
Those on the team think they know why. The club is inclusive and focused on strengthening riders, building them up and giving them opportunities to get involved in the community both outside of the club and within it.
Sponsored by Group Health, the team of about 70 female riders spans all skill levels and disciplines.
“It has always been our goal to be a development team,” said Karen Wilkinson, the team president. “We like to bring in new riders and beginners.”
That’s what the fall is all about. It’s time to introduce new ladies to the sport and encourage them to grow into successful racers.
“We really are so well-rounded,” Wilkinson said. “We don’t target any specific age group or athletic ability.”
Team members range in age from juniors to women in their early 60s, Wilkinson said. There are brand new beginners and Cat 1 racers. They race criteriums, mountain bike, cyclo-cross, road and everything in between.
Karen Wilkinson is the club president.
Karen Wilkinson is the club president.
“There’s not a division for the elite and another one for the new riders,” Wilkinson said. “We’re all in it together. We have a great mentoring program that brings new riders in and hooks them up with more experienced riders.”
Development has been the core mission of the team from the very beginning, said Mindy Ziffren-Hall, who was one of the first women on the team.
She joined in 1999. Sound Velo had been a co-ed team with just a couple women racers on the roster. In 1999, there was a women’s category 4 series for the first time, which created a lot of opportunity to grow the sport among women, Ziffren-Hall said.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the guys,” she said. “They decided they wanted to be more well-rounded and actively worked to bring more women on.”

Ziffren-Hall was among the first 15 women on the team. They were all new to racing and learned a lot from the two veteran female riders and from the men.
“A few years down the road, there were more women than men on the team,” she went on.
They decided to split into brother and sister teams. From there, the Sound Velo women’s team exploded.
Subway sponsored the riders for the first couple years and then Group Health took over in 2003. The sponsor was a good fit because Group Health is really focused on community fitness, Ziffren-Hall said.
“They have 50 mobile billboards riding around Seattle at any time,” she said.
The sponsor is part of what makes the team so strong. Aside from solid financial support, Ziffren-Hall said Group Health gets the women involved in several community bicycling events to promote the sport and healthy living beyond the team.
Over the years, the team has ranged in size from 50 to more than 100. Zifren-Hall said 70 seems to be the magic number. It allows for the resources to support all of the women well both financially and as athletes who are dedicated to improving. While the team is incredibly open to riders at all levels, it does turn away applicants every year, Wilkinson said.
“We do have some requirements,” she said. “Riders have to go on at least two group rides a month and work at some of our volunteer events. Really, they have to be committed enough to put in the work that’s required to make this a strong team.”
The team rides and races regularly in the summer. But the winter is every bit as important. The team goes out on group rides two days a week – usually on weekends.
The team is all about encouraging women to turn into successful racers.
The team is all about encouraging women to turn into successful racers.
“We spend some pretty cold miserable days outside in the rain,” Wilkinson said. “But we keep warm together. It’s good team building.”
The only time the team cancels a practice ride is if there’s ice on the road.
“And then it usually turns into a big trainer session in someone’s garage,” Wilkinson said.
Starting in January, the group does Tuesday night hill training. Riders turn on their back blinkers and front headlights and climb on their bikes together. They often end up with 20 or more ladies riding.
“We look like a bunch of Christmas trees out there,” Wilkinson said. “It’s great. It’s definitely not something I would do on my own at night, but with the group, it’s great training.”
Ziffren-Hall said she has seen the club change women’s lives and it has been exciting to see so many successes come out of the group. Women who came in with little more than a bike and some interest have progressed through the team to become Cat 1 racers and to win regional and national titles.
“It’s really a confidence builder for women who would never think they could do what they’re out there doing,” she said. “It’s amazing seeing people’s bodies change as they become more fit and healthier. This is a great team.”

This Article Updated September 30, 2014 @ 07:11 PM For more information contact: