Lakewood Ranch's Village Idiots rise to top
The Village Idiots Cycling Club, based in Lakewood Ranch, is not one of those clubs, according to Afonso.
Afonso said club president Dawn Zielinski’s emphasis on improving the community for cyclists through education, safety programming, service projects and more has made the club among the best in Florida. As such, the FBA named the Village Idiots as 2020 Club of the Year in April, the 22nd year the award has been given.
Afonso said 2020 was a difficult year for riding clubs, which found a way to do their rides and stay engaged in the community within recommended health and safety protocols.
Not only did Village Idiots continue to ride during the pandemic, the club’s membership grew from 134 on March 11, 2020 to 252. Afonso said that growth was particularly impressive given the local snowbird population, a group that tends to be older and therefore at higher risk during the pandemic.
“You become part of a big family, if you want that,” Zielinski said. “If you don't want that, you can just come out and ride and go home afterward.”
Village Idiots has large rides Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings and smaller rides throughout the week. At the large rides, Zielinski said cyclists are generally split into groups based on ability level and speed. Zielinski said the fastest group comes in at 26 miles per hour and higher, while the slowest group cycles at about 14 miles per hour. However, the club can make accommodations for slower beginners as long as they show improvement during the first few rides.
Afonso said Zielinski’s leadership of the Village Idiots goes above and beyond in a number of ways — from teaching members how to ride in a line to encouraging members to sign up for FBA bicycle education programs to sending emails reminding members about properly hydrating in the heat.
“She's just got high energy,” Afonso said. “I think everybody can hear her energy whenever she sends an email. The tone is not, ‘You're being scolded.’ The tone is ‘Hey, let's do this. This is great.’ And that, I think, resonates with the members.”
Zielinski and the Village Idiots have taken an active interest in improving the community for cyclists. For example, they were instrumental in reaching out to Manatee County when a bike lane was removed on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard at the intersection of State Road 70. A new bike lane will be created, according to Public Works Strategic Affairs Manager Ogden Clark III.
The club has collaborated with Sarasota Cycling Club for a “drills and skills” class that teaches cyclists how to handle themselves in various situations with other bicycles and vehicles. Other safety-focused initiatives include giving bicycle helmets to children at Robert Willis Elementary School and the Ride of Silence, a short and slow-paced ride to raise awareness for cyclists’ rights to use public roadways.
Village Idiots also remained active through community service. Last year, the club donated $1,000 to Team Tony Cancer Foundation, $1,000 to A Ride to Remember, an organization that fights Alzheimer’s disease, $500 to Friends of the Legacy Trail and $500 to Be Tri for Us, an organization that helps people with disabilities compete in triathlons.