If you want more opportunities to ride or are wondering how you can promote cycling in your area, it can be worth it to join a cycling association. Cycling associations exist across the US and around the world, and most are open to anyone. Although some groups have a particular area of focus (such as racing or mountain biking), most have some advocacy component built in.
Types of cycling associations
Cycling associations come in several different forms. What most have in common is that they aim to promote cycling as an activity. The different types of cycling associations include:
Racing organizations. Racing associations plan and sponsor bike races and competitions. The groups can be based in a single, small area or they can be a larger organization, with chapters or branches located throughout the country or throughout the world.
Tours and travel associations. Tour and travel associations typically work to put together bike route plans or tours for people interested in taking a bike centered vacation. Along with helping individuals or families plan bike trips or organizing bike tours, these groups might also have a hand in designing or laying out bike routes.
Advocacy associations. Technically, all cycling associations are advocacy associations in some way. Travel associations advocate for bike travel and racing associations advocate for professional or amateur racers. Cycling advocacy associations that make advocacy their primary mission focus on creating events or promoting legislation that would make biking safer or more accessible. These organizations often work to get as many people as possible on two wheels.
Educational associations. Educational associations typically focus on providing education, such as bike safety courses or training, to current cyclists and aspiring cyclists. These associations might also try to reach beyond cyclists and hope to educate the public about bike traffic laws and safety.
Why join a cycling association?
There are several reasons to join a cycling association. Many are open to anyone interested in cycling. You don't have to a pro cyclist to join nor do you need to have any experience on a bike.
If you're new to cycling, joining a racing or educational association can help you learn more about the rules of the road. A racing association can be particularly helpful, as many have local clubs or branches where you can meet up with and ride with fellow riders.
You might want to join a bike advocacy group if you're passionate about helping improve bike safety or conditions for riders in your area. Some organizations are national, but others operate on a much more local basis and are designed to target bike-related issues in a city or state specifically.
Advocacy groups that meet on a regular basis also give you the opportunity to meet and greet fellow cyclists in your area.
What happens when you join a cycling association?
What ends up happening when you join a cycling association depends on you and the type of group you join. If you become a member of a racing association, you might get access to fun rides and competitions, either in your local area or across the country.
If you join an advocacy group, you might get asked to sign petitions or call your local representatives to ask them to vote for pro-bike legislation. Some cycling associations have a volunteer component and might expect or ask their members to donate their time.
Of course, it's also possible for you to join a cycling association and not do much with your membership. You can become a member of many groups just as a way to offer financial support to those organizations. You don't necessarily need to race or volunteer to teach bike classes.
Usually, cycling associations expect members to make at least one annual contribution. The contribution amount varies from group to group but tends to be in the $50 range. It can be more or less depending on whether you're a student or senior or are signing up with a partner or other family members.
Some groups also have membership tiers. The more you chip in financially, the more benefits you get from your membership.
Top 7 cycling associations in the US
USA Cycling is the governing body for all competitive cycling in the United States. Whether you're a road racer, a mountain biker, a BMX rider, or have never ridden competitively, but would like to; this is the organization for you.
Don't be overwhelmed by the fact that USA Cycling is recognized by both the Union Cycliste Internationale and the United States Olympic Committee. You don't have to be anywhere near a pro to participate. The group has more than 60,000 members, plus 34 local associations and around 2,500 clubs. It also oversees more than 3,000 cycling events per year.
If you're more of a casual cyclist or are someone who's just beginning to dip your toes into the water, you can apply for a Ride membership with the association. Ride memberships cost $50 for 12 months. Benefits of joining include:
If you are an active racer (or want to be), you can purchase a Race membership with USA Cycling. Race memberships start at $70 per year and provide you with the same benefits as the Ride membership, with one bonus feature.
You also get a USA Cycling racing license, which lets you participate in more than 2,600 races throughout the year. If you race on a regular basis, getting the license can save you a considerable amount of money, as you'll no longer need to pay the one-day fee.
Adventure Cycling Association
Adventure Cycling Association got started in 1973, under the name Bikecentennial. Today, it calls itself the premier bike travel association in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The organization's tagline is "America's Bicycle Travel Experts."
The association has around 53,000 and a mission to encourage people to travel by bike. It puts together plenty of bicycle routes around North America and elsewhere. One of its projects is creating the cycling maps for the Adventure Cycling Route Network.
The Adventure Cycling Route Network so far contains more than 46,000 miles of bike routes, making it one of the biggest cycling routes in the world.
Another one of the association's projects is working to put together an official cycling route network in the United States. Once the US Bicycle Route System is finished, it will be the biggest official cycling route network on Earth.
The association also produces its own magazine, "Adventure Cyclist," which comes out nine times a year. The Adventure Cycling Association also leads more than 100 tours each year. Tours range from self-contained, van-supported, educational, Family Fun, and fully-supported.
Membership in the Adventure Cycling Association is open to pretty much anyone. An annual membership for someone in the US costs $45 for individuals and $55 for families. Rates are slightly higher for people living in Canada and Mexico or other countries.
The association offers discounts for multi-year memberships and for seniors over age 60 and students. You also have the option of joining the association as a lifetime member, for $1,500.
When you join the association, you are helping to support its projects, including the creation of the US Bicycle Route System. You also get a free subscription to the group's magazine, plus discounts on their maps and route planners and a discount on their tours.
International Mountain Bicycling Association
Although the International Mountain Bicycling Association has the word "International" in its name, it got its start in California in 1988. The association formed after five mountain biking clubs in the state banded together to protest and fight back against bike bans and the closures of numerous bike routes.
Today, it remains the only association in the US that is fully focused on access, education, and experiences for mountain bikers. It also focuses its attention on keeping trails opens and on encouraging more and more people to ride mountain bikes.
Although it got its start in California, it has since expanded to all 50 states and also operates in 30 other countries. There are more than 200 chapters around the world, plus more than 400 clubs and volunteer bike patrols. The association counts more than 40,000 individuals as members and has more than 100,000 subscribers.
Programs overseen by the association include the National Mountain Bike Patrol, model trails, and an instructor certification program.
If you decide to join the International Mountain Biking Association, you would join the chapter nearest to where you live. Individual memberships start at $39, and there are discounts for students/children and for families who join together.
Women's Cycling Association
Like USA Cycling, the Women's Cycling Association is open to cyclists in all racing disciplines (road, cyclocross, BMX, mountain biking, etc.). The key difference is that the goal of the organization was to advance opportunities for women cyclists and to help ensure that female cyclists earned a living wage for their efforts.
That said, you don't have to be a woman to join the association. The association has two levels of membership for individuals. The first, licensed female is for women cyclists who have a racing license from a separate governing body (like USA Cycling).
Licensed female members get voting rights during the annual meeting. They also get special discounts from the association's sponsors and a subscription to the newsletter.
Men and women who aren't licensed cyclists are also welcome to join as Supporters. As a supporter of the Women's Cycling Association, you can attend the annual meeting, but don't get to vote. You also get sponsor discounts and the monthly newsletter.
American Bicycling Education Association
The American Bicycling Education Association hopes to provide education to cyclists, transportation planners, law enforcement professionals, traffic engineers, and pretty much anyone who would ever encounter a bike. It's a relatively new association, as it was first founded in 2014.
The primary goal of the association is to provide support for successful and safe bicycling by delivering bike-focused education. One of the association's chief programs is the CyclingSavvy course, a traffic cycling course that promotes the principles of "Mindful Bicycling." The course predates the organization, as it got started in 2009.
You can support the association, which is a non-profit, by joining it as a member. The primary benefit of membership is the knowledge that you are financially helping the association achieve its mission. Other tangible benefits are few but include access to a Facebook group and a weekly newsletter.
People for Bikes
People for Bikes got its start in 1999 under the name "Bikes Belong." The organization is both a charitable foundation and a coalition of bicycling retailers and suppliers. In fact, the group was created by the bicycling industry, with the goal of strengthening the voice of cyclists in the US and of getting people to ride their bikes more often.
Projects put together by People for Bikes over the years include a Business Network for members in the cycling industry, and the Green Lane Project (now called PlacesForBikes) which rates cities based on their bike-friendliness. The association has also given out $3 million in grant money for more than 350 bike-related projects throughout the US.
Although you don't officially "join" People for Bikes, you do have the option of donating. While you don't get direct benefits from giving, you do get the opportunity to stand up and say that you're a person for bikes.
League of American Bicyclists
The League of American Bicyclists aims to promote bicycling for fitness, fun, and transport. The association got started way back in 1880 and was initially called the League of American Wheelmen.
Back then, bicyclists, aka "wheelmen," had to deal with dirt and gravel roads that were uneven and dangerous. Like today's cyclists in some cities, these wheelmen also faced the wrath of others on the road -- namely, pedestrians, wagon drivers and people on horseback. More than 100,000 wheelmen joined together to improve road and riding conditions at the end of the 19th century.
Today, the mission of the League of American Bicyclists is to make the country more bike-friendly for everyone. Its programs include the National Bike Summit, Bike-Friendly America and National Bike Month.
Memberships for individuals start at $40 per year. As a member, you get a free subscription to Bike Friendly America magazine, plus a bonus subscription to Bicycling magazine, Momentum, or Dirt Rag. Other benefits include discounts on tours, roadside assistance, and at various bicycling retailers.