I sometimes get asked "what makes a club official?" It is typically because a group of riders wants to start talking with a land owner about land access, be it gaining access, preserving access, trail maintenance, or what have you.

So what makes a club official? Nothing really. But I’d break the "officialness" of clubs into 3 levels:

  1. A group of guys get together and form a mailing list or web page to arrange rides. Call it the "Jason and his buddies riding club." This is rather informal and would not look too appealing in the eyes of a major land owner like the City, Conservation Authorities, Parks Ontario, or a private land owner.
  2. The next step up is when you decide you need some insurance. To do that you could affiliate to the OCA and get their insurance or affiliate to IMBA Canada and get some insurance through OASIS. If your club is going to race regularly go with OCA, if you’re going to build/manage trails/features go with OASIS. If you do both, then you’ll want coverage from both plans. Either way you should affiliate to IMBA Canada. You have a few meetings each year, a membership renewal drive, hold regular group rides, and trail clean-ups, etc. With an open minded land owner this is all you should really need. But if the land manager wants something more formal, or you want to go after gov’t funding, you’ll need to get incorporated.
  3. Incorporated as a not-for-profit. This makes things about as "official" as you can get, but there isn’t really a need to do this right off the bat. There are cost implications: $300 to incorporate if you do all the work yourself, $500-$1000 using a lawyer. There are also pragmatic reasons. To get incorporated you need to draft up the Articles of Incorporation, basically what the club stands for. It’s better to wait a few years to see if your club leadership is sustainable (i.e. people don’t get bored and leave after a year) and to figure out just what the club will and won’t do. For example are you only going to do advocacy, or group rides as well, what about race promotion?

From here the sky is the limit really. There are some clubs that are still at "level 1" and are doing just fine. Then there are the major clubs like GORBA, DMBA, HCC, WCC, etc. that are at "level 3" and doing great and wonderful things, not just in mountain biking advocacy, but in racing, road cycling, youth development, etc.

Photo courtesy of the Caledon Cycling Club!