The Vienna International Cycle Club is a social media success story.
It’s a Sunday morning and the clock is approaching ten in the morning. On the Steinitzsteg, the yellow footbridge straddling the Neue Donau, a huddle of around 20 cyclists have gathered for a ride with the Vienna International Cycle Club (VICC). As each new rider approaches the group, they are welcomed by the group’s founder, Stuart Marven, a soft-voiced Scotsman who is standing astride his road bike in wrap-around shades, hands resting on his ram-horned drop handlebars. Marven is wearing, as are many of the group, a cycling jersey that he designed himself – a sleek, black, tight-fitting shirt emblazoned with the thin white logo of the VICC.
At ten sharp, the cyclists set off two abreast on a gentle warm-up roll down the flat bicycle path that runs west along the north bank of the Danube. Old friends gossip about bikes while new acquaintances exchange small talk. Although the riders are from a half-dozen countries and the majority are Austrians, English is the unofficial lingua franca for the group. In the middle of the bunch, this multi-accented conversation floats above the whirl of spinning pedals. There’s a sense of connected energy, like a school of fish.
The ride is just beginning: 70 km and over 700 meters of climbing lie ahead, as well as helter-skelter descents on the thin tires of sleek road bikes. It’s time for the riders to start thinking about how fit they feel today.
The VICC is a phenomenon that reflects the networking power of social media, the ongoing boom in road cycling, and Vienna’s multicultural flair. Back in 2013, Marven was going on regular rides through the countryside surrounding Vienna with fellow riders Austrian Stefan Beisteiner and Slovenian Rok Mlinaric. Since the general rule for biking is “the more the merrier,” they wanted to find a way to connect more kindred spirits for group rides.
Then, one Saturday, as they huffed-and-puffed along a hill to the village of Hadersdorf, the dream took shape. Why not create a public Facebook group, give it a name and, most importantly in the style-conscious universe of cycling, a self-designed jersey to give riders a sense of common identity?
The trio soon became a half-dozen and then a dozen. The Steinitzsteg became the official meeting point and Marven went to work on the shirt, ordering a few on the internet. “I’ve always been interested in designs,” laughs the IT expert. “I think I missed my vocation.” Within six months, there were hundreds of riders in the club and Marven was inundated with requests to order more cycling shirts. “Actually, the first one to wear the kit was my daughter Gloria,” laughs Stefan Beisteiner, “Stu made a baby version specially for her.”
Today, there are over 2,800 members in their Facebook community, sharing ideas and enthusiasm. Marven estimates that only 200 of them actually turn up for rides but that still means that, despite its relative youth, the VICC is one of the most recognizable clubs in town, their black jersey a ubiquitous sight on the popular cycling routes in and around the capital.
Cycling for Everybody
“I had a funny but great moment of seeing someone wearing the kit in Vienna as I was walking and they were riding,” remembers Marven. “I waved hello but they didn’t recognize me. That’s when I knew the club was really taking off!”
The VICC works because it feels relaxed and accommodating. “Joining a cycling club can be quite intimidating or costly, but the VICC took away those barriers,” says Marven. “Everyone is welcome, for free. You just come and ride and have fun.”
All you need is a road bike and a helmet, and agree with the clear and obvious philosophy of “no racism, no sexism and nodoping.” Riding in a group on public roads does take some discipline, however, and, at the yellow Steinitzsteg, the ride leaders summarize the guidelines as published on their Facebook page.
On summer weekends, up to 50 people turn up, so it is essential to split into smaller groups and ride no more than two abreast. “Safety comes first,” says Marven, “and that’s also better for other road users too, that we share the roads with.” After the big peloton (the main group) leaves the flat, comforting safety of the Danube path and turns northward onto the sweeping, undulating roads behind Bisamberg, the group begins to splinter.
A core of fast riders zooms off up the slope. Some of them are training for competition riding with the VICC race division and are keen to test themselves on the climbs. Anyone ambitious enough is welcome to join, but they won’t wait for stragglers. But if you can’t keep up, don’t worry: there’s a second group riding the exact same route at a more moderate pace and they will pick you up. With these riders, you’ll still be out of breath at times, but there’s more chitchat and, essentially, everyone waits at the top of each climb until the group is back together. Rule No. 1 here: No one is left behind.
For less competitive riders, the weekend excursions are a wonderful way to enjoy the unsung glory of the Vienna hinterlands. You ride along curving country roads lined with fruit trees, enjoying sweeping views over the rolling hills and copses of Lower Austria. There are serpentine climbs up the Vienna Woods, with the Danube sparkling in the floodplains over your shoulder. There are villages of quaint, colorful houses that seem barely changed since the days of the Habsburgs. Rides continue through autumn and winter, so you can enjoy all this splendor through the changing seasons: wheat fields in summer, fresh pumpkins as the leaves turn amber; all while keeping fit and having a natter with new or old friends.
In recent months, a new group has been formed within the club: the “Nice and Easy” ride, which is intended for beginners, people recovering from a rough night out, or anyone just wanting a shorter, easier cruise. Often these riders set off from Steinitzsteg just after the main group. The concept is the same – a regular ride, just a shorter route and slower pace.
Stuart Marven is keen to deflect attention from himself. He no longer has time to be at every single ride and is delighted to see other members taking over leadership and organization of the group. There was a season opening event in March with a presentation from legendary former Slovak racing professionals, the Velits brothers. “We’ve built something living and growing,” Merven says with pride. People come and go in the club, but the club is here to stay.”