The Ole Miss Cycling Club is looking to build its relationship with Oxford and the university through a monthlong stint of weekly races designed to bring together recreational and professional riders.
This month, the Cycling Club will host a 1.7-mile race around the South Campus Rail Trail, formerly known as Whirlpool Trails every Thursday in September. Club leaders hope to create a bond between university and city bikers of all skill levels.
The series’ goals reach beyond just getting a small, tight-knit group passionate about biking together once a week but rather raising community awareness of the group and its objectives.
“We definitely want to grow,” Pete Dawkins, president of the Cycling Club, said. “Getting involved in our community as much as we can is important to us and attracting people that wouldn’t necessarily be into biking or aren’t educated in bike racing.”
The course is an extreme loop of twists, turns and uphill and downhill terrain, according to Peter Reed, the Ole Miss Cycling Club adviser. The university owns the land which is maintained by various volunteer groups. Maintenance for the series is done to ensure citizen accessibility. In preparation for the cycling series, the club has been been clearing up seasonal debris since the start of the month.
“We’ve been out here clearing some of the trails, and tomorrow we are going to rake some of the strong trees in the area so it will be a little better surface,” Dawkins said. “In the summer, it gets kind of overgrown, so we went in with a ratchet and a garden hoe to fix the weeds.”
Campus Recreation maintains the main rail bed trail, by submitting requests to university and city landscaping departments and addressing erosion problems.
Shannon Richardson, assistant director of Campus Recreation, said that Campus Recreation updates the kiosks at the mile markers and replenishes dog waste bag dispensers.
Creating a more user-friendly trail is just one step the Cycling Club has taken to make the series appealing to bikers of all skill levels, in addition to affordability and inclusion efforts. Each ride is $5 per racer, and the group is working on making personal prizes to help participants feel welcomed in friendly competition.
Dawkins said he does not want lack of experience to discourage people from joining. The group, instead, wants people to come out and challenge themselves.
“We want people to come out every week and see how they improve and stack up against themselves. And for the casual riders, how they can improve every week,” Dawkins said.
Reed said there is group learning between the club and the community and that hopefully the series can strengthen that relationship.
“It’s a chance to learn the local trails in a safe setting,” Reed said. “If people are intimidated, they should know that everyone’s welcome; there’s no judgment, only positive support, and they can do it on even a basic trail bike – fancy equipment and spandex is not at all necessary.”
For the cycling club, this series serves as a comeback and a way for it to make a name on campus because of its on-again, off-again presence over the past few years. Founded in 2011, the group was stagnant for a few years.
It resurfaced in 2014 to encourage cycling on the Ole Miss campus and Oxford area. Since then, the cycling team has worked with the university to expand community involvement.
“When I came here in 2014, me and my friend Ben started the club back up,” Dawkins said. “So in 2014, it was me and Ben that got it going back up again. We’ve just been trying to grow the club since then. We want to establish it to be a solid annual thing that people look forward to every year and also bringing the whole cycling community together.”
William Tribble, Ole Miss Cycling Club treasurer, said knowledge and awareness of biking through the series is as important as the friendly competition.
“Hopefully we can eventually attract cyclists from surrounding communities to come compete, too,” Tribble said. “The more people that bike, the safer every other biker is in the community.”
The Whirlpool Time Trial Series is roughly 2 miles with a pre-course starting at 5:30 p.m. and race beginning at 6 p.m. The series will continue every Thursday in September at the South Campus Rail Trail.