Team Laser Cats
Elisabeth Reinkordt, interviewed by Krista Ciminera
Tell us a little about the background of the team. How did you come together as a team in the first place?
We started in the winter of 2015, when Melissa Tabas, the woman behind the Laser Cats and Such brand, asked a handful of Philadelphia women whether they'd like to start a team focused on fun and wearing wild kits. Several women had just finished their first year of racing, and a couple others were looking for new teams after moving to Philly. After a potluck full of giggles, the original six started scheming for ways to make a presence in Philadelphia and beyond. Some of us had come from other women's teams, some from co-ed teams, and we wanted to create a team culture that empowered women while showing how much fun you can have, and how great bike friendships can be. Over the course of 2015, we grew the team to 12 members, selecting women who fit our mission of getting more women on bikes and providing a welcoming and fun environment for women who ride and race locally.
Are you a team? a cycling club? Does everyone race?
Team Laser Cats is definitely a team, but we might not fit the traditional definition of a cycling team. We're a team in the sense that we work together and help build each other up, both on and off the bikes. We stick by the motto that racing is always encouraged, but never mandatory. Each of us comes to cycling with a different background, and with different ways that racing fits into our lives. Some have been at it for a while, a few coming up through collegiate ranks, and others are only in their first or second year of racing. Wherever a woman is in her trajectory, we acknowledge that racing with other women can be a rewarding experience, but it's not the be-all-end-all of why we're into bikes. So, we're a team off the race course, working together to put on community events, having dinner parties, or providing personal and professional support to each other. It's an intentional group of women who probably wouldn't all be friends if it weren't for bikes!
What types of riding is TLC focused on? does your roster change throughout the year?
The thread that ties most of our riding together is that bikes are a vehicle for adventure, and that that may come on roads, off the beaten path, or on the mountain bike trail. We do everything from tearing up the Mid-Atlantic cyclocross circuit to racing at the Trexlertown velodrome to hitting downhill mountain bike trails to road rides through gorgeous Main Line suburbs to long rides like the Rapha Prestige to local crits to fat bike races and the weekly pickup-game mountain bike races in Philly's Belmont Plateau. Like, really, it's only a matter of time before one of us decides to pick up a BMX bike and start shredding that. We don't have different rosters for different seasons, but try to keep a balance of an intimate group of women committed to riding, community presence, and racing. Involvement is key to being part of the team, and it comes in many forms — from racing to leading rides to planning team events. And speaking of our roster, we're really excited to be bringing on our first junior this fall!
Are you all in the same city?
All but one of us are in Philly. We have one member up in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, crushing all the rock gardens.
TLC seems particularly dedicated to giving back to the community. Can you tell us about some of the workshops, open rides, etc that you do?
Being connected to the community is a huge part of who we are as a team. Many of us have been ride leaders for the Philadelphia Women's 100 series, which helps women prepare for the Rapha Women's 100. After seeing a need at one of those rides last year, Michaela put together a trailside flat-fix clinic last summer, and had over 40 women show up to practice on the wheels she brought. Taryn teaches a Monday night yoga for cyclists at Bicycle Therapy, our shop sponsor. Taylor has bridged events with Philadelphia youth through her work at Neighborhood Bike Works. Elisabeth is one of the founders and head coaches of the Women Bike PHL Devo program, a road racing development and mentorship initiative for beginner women. Roz, Sam, Sophia, and Meghan have all helped as mentors with Devo. Sophia started the Rocky project (see more on that below). Michaela and Elisabeth are going to be mentors for the Little Bellas program, which teaches girls age 7-13 mountain biking skills. Meghan and Krista volunteer with Gearing Up, a cycling program that provides women in transition from abuse, addiction, and/or incarceration with the skills, equipment, and guidance to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth. And Lindsay is about to lead a community ride out in Rothrock, PA, giving women in Philadelphia a chance to get to know our neighboring trail systems. So yeah, you could definitely call us involved with the community!
In addition to all of this, the team is also committed to hosting one open ride per month, open to women/women-identifying riders. It typically happens the first weekend of the month (though it sometimes changes dates to piggyback on global events like the Braver than the Elements ride), and each time, two of our team members design a route and act as leaders and sweepers. We've done road and off-road rides, including mountain bike rides with mini skills clinics at the start. We like to use these as an opportunity to introduce women to new routes — and to each other!
In another sense, we're involved in the community in that Michaela and Meghan both work at the shop that sponsors us — and they're not the only women working there, either. We're proud of the fact that we can confidently direct women in our community to Bicycle Therapy and know that on any given day of the week, there are two or more women working there.
What is the Rocky checkout?
The original Rocky CX came about thanks to Sophia, who herself had gotten into cyclocross when she lived in Chicago, thanks to a loaner bike from Tativille. The idea is simple — why not offer a bike for a woman to try out her first cyclocross race to see if she likes it? She was able to get a donated frame from local pro Arley Kemmerer, and through donations, was able to outfit it with parts and offer it up for checkout during the 2014 and 2015 cyclocross seasons. The only ask was that women report on their race experiences on a blog full of stories of Rocky's adventures.
In the late winter of 2016, we entered into a sponsor agreement with Bicycle Therapy, in part because the shop saw what we were doing and wanted to expand the program. We now have a whole fleet of Rocky bikes — Rocky Road, Rocky Mountain, and of course, Rocky CX. Some women can borrow bikes from men if they are the same size, but most likely women will need smaller bikes, which are not as readily available to borrow. The average U.S. woman is 5’5”, which makes finding a loaner bike much harder, so the team scoped out the smallest bikes available through the shop while not compromising on performance. Women in the area can reserve a bike for a Laser Cats group ride or event and use it free of charge. Our hope is that this program offers a great step for women looking to get into racing, giving them the chance to try out a bike for a different discipline than they're used to.
You have a name that stay constant, instead of one that changes every season with a presenting sponsor. What are the advantages of that? Do you still work with sponsors in a regular way to bring down the cost of running you team?
From the start, kit design and the overall aesthetics and branding of the team have been pretty important. In any discussion about sponsorship, we've been very thoughtful about how a partnership would work for us, and what sorts of compromises we might have to make as a team based on a sponsor relationship. We don't just want to slap logos on our kits without really thinking through the partnership. Quite frankly, there are a lot of reasons a traditional sponsorship model doesn't make sense for us. For example, we aren't really in a financial position as individuals to be looking to get the newest latest bikes every year; even if they come at a steep discount, they're still really expensive. So a standard relationship with a bike company where they put a logo on your kit in exchange for a discount just doesn't make sense if we're not buying the bikes.
What we DO look for in sponsorship is businesses that see what we're doing and find a way to support that. We held out for a long time before forming our partnership with Bicycle Therapy. If we were going to have a shop sponsor, it had to be one that respected that some team members worked at other shops or did their own wrenching, and that really saw the role we play in the community. We were really excited when Bicycle Therapy wanted to expand the Rocky checkout program so that we have road, cyclocross, and mountain bikes available for women to try, and the shop now employs two members of the team plus a handful of other women. It gives us great confidence in being able to refer women to the shop, knowing that we have teammates and friends working there. Even before they were our sponsor, the shop had donated a fully stocked frame bag with tubes, a pump, and tools for our monthly rides, and had donated generous prizes to the alleycat we hosted last fall. Another sponsor also connected via our monthly rides: a women-owned massage therapy studio's therapist had such a great time on a ride and appreciated what we were doing for the community that she reached out about sponsoring our team. Goodwill like that goes a long way.
We're also into some good old-fashioned fundraising, and have hosted two bake sales at local races, and hosted our own cyclocross-style alleycat race throughout Philadelphia with all proceeds from the race benefiting our team and programs.
Where are your some of your favorite Philadelphia rides?
Oh so many! We love how much great riding there is in and around Philly. We have a great Friday morning coffee ride from Central Philadelphia (not far from the beautiful Philadelphia Museum of Art) out to a coffee shop in Manayunk (home of the famed Manayunk Wall from the Philly International Cycling Classic). Our road crew frequents the Dirty 30, a fast-paced 30-ish mile ride through suburbs of the Main Line that features 2,000 feet of climbing (most of it in 4 hill attacks within 10 miles...ouch), that also happens to pass by old the Boyz II Men recording studio. Our off-road crew is often found at Belmont Plateau (you may have heard of it in the 1991 classic “Summertime” from Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff), where there's an ongoing pickup game-style mountain bike race every Thursday night that's been going on for 27 years. We also head there for Woodsy Wednesdays, chill early morning rides to practice on Mother Belmont's many, many log overs. We're also all commuters, so our bikes take us all over the city!