Scarlet Cyclists Brave the Jersey Roads and Show their Competitive Edge
A venerable sports club has grown steadily and is attracting more women
Spinning your wheels is no way to get through college – unless you’re a member of the Rutgers University Cycling Team.
The team, a club sport established more than 30 years ago, has grown steadily in prominence over the past decade. Rutgers riders are now a force in cyclocross, a deviant strain of steeplechase that requires cyclists to slog through mud and rough terrain with frequent dismounts to scale stairs or leap over barriers.
It goes without saying that training in New Jersey takes a tough mindset. The state has a well-earned reputation as a snakepit for drivers, so it’s not exactly a hospitable place for pedal-pushers who share the road.
“One of the jokes about riding in New Jersey is it’s like getting between a mother bear and her cub – you just don’t do it,” said Andrew Singson, the team’s faculty advisor and an associate professor at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology.
Still, the Garden State has a surprisingly robust biking community and there are many pastoral byways a few miles beyond the iron ring of New Brunswick.
The Rutgers team has claimed the title of cyclocross champs in the Eastern Conference Collegiate Conference the past four years running and one rider, Pat Bradley, finished an impressive sixth in the USA Cycling national championships in Bend, Oregon, this past December. The club also competes in road racing, a more classic event that requires speed, endurance and a flair for strategy.
The team has roughly 40 to 50 members, with a core of about a dozen serious racers. Riders are ranked in tiers, so they can compete against cyclists with similar skill levels. Club members are a tight-knit group, and take great pride in raising money for charity or sponsoring races – the team kicks off the road-racing circuit for its conference each year, for example.
One key to the team’s racing success is support from faculty members. Singson, who does research in reproductive biology, has been the club’s advisor since 2001 and first started racing competitively at University of California-Davis 25 years ago. Other faculty members who ride with the team include chemistry professor Ralf Warmuth, a top finisher in national cyclocross events for his age group, and Toby Jones, a Middle East expert in the history department.
The composition of the team has changed in recent years as more women have joined. Molly Hurford signed up this past year to help with her off-season training as a triathlete, but wound up loving the sport. Her enthusiasm for cycling is summed up by the title of her blog, “Death Before DNF,” a racing acronym for ‘did not finish.’
“Anytime where you get to go 25 mph or 40 mph on a downhill is pretty awesome,” said Hurford, a graduate student working toward a degree in English Education. “It’s just a really, really great way to spend a weekend.”
Hurford doesn’t do things by halves, including training.
“I’m arguably the craziest on the team,” she said. “I train 25 hours a week pretty much throughout the year. Most guys do 8 to 12 a week.”
Bradley, 20, has been a competitive racer for four years, ever since he was a high school cyclist in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. During the summer, he might log 20 hours a week on roads around his hometown. But his course load in exercise science limits his training during the academic year. Still, Bradley said he looks forward to practicing on the Livingston Campus cyclocross course every Wednesday.
“I like it to be raining,” he said. “I like it to be muddy.”
Rutgers won’t be sending any riders to the national collegiate road-racing championships in Madison, Wisconsin, in early May because of the cost. To help defray expenses for other events, the team sells its distinctive scarlet-and-black jerseys and racing shorts to alumni.
“They sell quite a few,” Singson said. “There was even a guy from the Netherlands whose name was Rutger. He liked the idea of the uniform.”
Wherever they go, team members can expect to be recognized by the big red “R” on their chests.
“In California a few weeks ago,’ Singson said, “people would ride up to me and say, ‘I went to Rutgers. How can I get a jersey?’”