Joan Hanscom: Racing, outreach, and intense passion

Episode summary

Joan Hanscom(250)
Joan Hanscom
Image by Ron Short

Bike racing is Joan Hanscom’s life; from racing for fun, to professionally organizing races, to running an entire bike racing organization, she’s done it all. Joan talks about all things bike racing; from how she got started, to organizing, to the challenges facing women in the sport. She discusses her work at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, and the importance of outreach and the larger picture. Joan shares her insights on passion, training, podcasting, and what a career in the sport means to her.

Joan Hanscom is a cyclist, podcast host, and the Executive Director at Valley Preferred Cycling Center. Her love of the sport helped her build a unique career in race promotion and production, working with organizations such as the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross, Cyclocross World Championships, and USA Cycling. Currently, Joan is the Executive Director of the Valley Preferred Cycling center in Trexlertown, Pa, and hosts the Talk of the T-Town podcast.

Highlight [0:00]

Joan (00:00:05):
If you’re at a baseball game, sitting up in the last row of the bleachers, drinking a beer, you’re having a lovely time, right? You are enjoying the sunshine, you are enjoying a tasty beer, you are out with friends. It is a nice time. If you go to the velodrome, or the bike race, they pass by your face. If you’re in turn four …

Craig (00:00:22):
Yeah. If you’re the wrong place …

Joan (00:00:23):
They pass by your face within inches, and you feel the wind go by, and you feel the sport. I think that, that’s the difference. Whenever I’ve sold sponsorship for bike racing, the ticket is to get people out to see it and feel it, because of it is, it’s sound, it’s color, it’s movement. It’s all tied together in a way that I don’t think other sports are. That’s then the magic in it, right? It’s something that you’ve done. You’ve ridden a bike. I’ve never played major league baseball, but I’ve ridden a bike and I can appreciate the effort that goes into it.

Intro [1:02]

Intro to Cycling [2:29]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Growing up riding a bike, returned to it later
  • Artemis Racing group; unique and thorough onboarding process, really made it accessible
  • Thorough intro was invaluable, kept her in the sport, and gained lifelong friends

Movement through life [9:17]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Did many things; skiing, swimming, gymnastics, ballet, ball sports
  • Parents let her choose what she wanted to pursue: Ballet. Danced through college, but not professionally
  • Biked in high school and college; for fun, not competitively)

Women in cycling [13:47]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Changes over time, leadership that is motivated to change
  • Many of the changes are recent, within the last 5 years
  • Different levels and progression available for women and men, effects of the differences
  • Catch 22; need to invest and grow women’s participation, in all areas, but you won’t make money for the first few years
“You should be looking, here is all the revenue as a sum total and I am investing in an underserved segment of the market because ultimately, if I invest in this underserved segment of the market, I can grow it. If I've already maxed out on the number of 55-year-olds, you're not gonna get more 55-year-olds, but you could potentially grow up the women's field because they're underserved. From a business model, I think it's worth investing in a couple of years of a losing field in order to ultimately grow a segment that is underserved, but that's me, and I'm biased, which I admit.”

Joan Hanscom

Velodrome goals and growth [19:54]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Velodrome widely known in the community
  • Joan’s vision for what the Velodrome and Valley Preferred Cycling center should be; a place for all, a hub
  • Fully integrating into the community; with sponsors, farmers, tourism etc.
  • Looking at the larger picture to really create an impact
  • Preserving the amazing riding in PA and NJ; all kinds, road, mountain, gravel.
“As a person who's had a career in bike racing since 2002, I was well versed in knowing what the velodrome was, and it was sort of an honor to be tasked with this role. If there's one thing that I want the velodrome to be is, it's fun, because that matters. But I also want it to be a place where little kids Pee Wee Pedalers, Squirts and Weebles Wobbles, all the way up to master's racers, and everybody in between, elite or not, can come and have fun. To me, it's a place where we can cultivate this lifelong enjoyment of the bike.”

Joan Hanscom

Outreach [28:47]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Partnerships in local community; Discover Lehigh Valley, Rodale Institute, Air Products, local Hospital
  • Reaching outside your ‘traditional’ audience, talking to new people
  • the magic of the Velodrome; relatable, real, visceral
  • Joan’s first time working a race… how she got hooked, what makes it magic
  • The connection and engagement of racing, at any level; physical closeness

Joan (00:35:02):
Well, the other thing, I think that sets the velodrome apart is what we talked about when we were first starting the conversation, which is everybody’s ridden a bike, or most people have ridden a bike.

Craig (00:35:14):
Can relate.

Joan (00:35:16):
It is relatable. You look at it and you say, oh, that can’t be that hard. It’s just pedaling a bike. But it’s relatable. But then you do, as a person who’s ridden a bike, sort of have this appreciation going, oh, shit, that guy’s going 50 miles an hour.

Craig (00:35:34):
Yeah, they go by at the top of the [inaudible 00:35:36], whoa.

Joan (00:35:38):
I think that that’s sort of the magic of bike racing, more broadly speaking. My very first job in professional bike racing, I worked for the bike racing that used to be in Philadelphia. It was the First Union, it was Core States. It was Wachovia Cycling Series. It had a whole bunch of names.

Continue reading…

Craig (00:35:56):
They ride at the Manayunk hill, is that the-

Joan (00:35:57):
Yeah, correct. The Manayunk. My very first, so I was hired to work there, and then the first event of the year rolls along, and my job is to “staff” the announcers. So, I was at the finish line with the professional announcers and my job was to feed them information throughout the day. I had never worked on that side of the fence in bike racing before. A ton of event experience, but never worked at a bike race at that low level. I remember standing up on the stage, and back then, again, it was all paper. We weren’t digital then. There were no iPads, but I had all this paper on the desk about rider bios and sponsor announcements and all these details that the announcers might need throughout the day.

Joan (00:36:45):
Then the music started, and so it’s loud music, and then there’s the national anthem. Then there’s the color, right? All the jerseys are different colors. Then there’s the Philadelphia police on the front in their flying V, right? They rode in this V shape formation, and then there’s all the cars and the caravan, and so you’re hearing vroom, vroom, and you’re hearing the cars, and you’re hearing the music, and you’re seeing the color. Then the race starts, and 200 dudes on bikes go by the stage and it moves the air.

Craig (00:37:20):
Yes, there’s a blast of air.

Joan (00:37:22):
You hear the click, click, click, click, click of all the cleats clicking into the pedals. You hear the gears [inaudible 00:37:29], you hear all this sound. And what it was, was this completely visceral experience for me of the music, the vroom, vroom, the cars, the click, click, the gears shifting, all of it, and the sensation of the wind over my face, and all the paper on the desk lifted up because of the speed of the riders going by. I was like, oh, shit, I’m hooked. This is the only thing I want to do with my life, because it is such a visceral experience. It’s tangible.

Joan (00:37:58):
If you’re at a baseball game sitting up in the last row of the bleachers, drinking a beer, you’re having a lovely time. You are enjoying the sunshine, you are enjoying a tasty beer, you are out with friends. It is a nice time. If you go to the velodrome or the bike race, they pass by your face. If you’re in turn four …

Craig (00:38:16):
Yeah, if you’re the wrong place …

Joan (00:38:17):
They pass by your face within inches and you feel the wind go by, and you feel the sport, and I think that, that’s the difference. Whenever I’ve sold sponsorship for bike racing, the ticket is to get people out to see it and feel it, because it is, it’s sound, it’s color, it’s movement. It’s all tied together in a way that I don’t think other sports are. That’s then the magic in it. It’s something that you’ve done. You’ve ridden a bike. I’ve never played major league baseball, but I’ve ridden a bike and I can appreciate the effort that goes into it.

Joan (00:38:56):
But then you’re just overwhelmed, all your senses, because it’s all your senses are engaged with that. Then you also, just like baseball, get to have good you’re in good food, and so then you’re winning, because there’s all of the things.

Craig (00:39:08):
All the things. There’s also a tangible, the scale [inaudible 00:39:13] in a velodrome commercial. The scale of the velodrome is such that you can basically see and hear everything happening anywhere. I mean, if somebody … When the rider go by and things get a little heated and they’re swapping cookie recipes, if they’re doing that two turns away, you can still tell what’s going on. You can actually be engaged in the whole pageantry everywhere in the velodrome.

Joan (00:39:34):
That’s the funny part, the audience absolutely is engaged to you all. If you’re there on a Friday night, people are into it, and that’s amazing. I think the audience at the track doesn’t care if it’s the two best New Zealanders in the world racing against the best American in the world, or if it’s juniors, they don’t care. As long as the racing is good, because it’s such a sophisticated audience at the track, right? The people that go are very much aficionados of the sport, they appreciate good racing.

Joan (00:40:05):
Whether it’s the little kids or the best pros, it doesn’t matter as long as the racing is good, and they always have that reaction to, ooh, there was close contact. Ooh, there was … You feel that when you’re there. It is very connected. The audience has an actual, again, it’s a very visceral experience, they are part of the action.

Passion and motivation [41:01]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Athlete’s process, repetition, in any sport
  • Daily practice, rehearsing, refining, doing things better each time
  • Finding what brings you joy, that is the motivation and focus
  • Training, structure, routine
  • Finding what works for you and your body; Experiment
“It's the process. It's the process, no matter what your pursuit is. If you are pursuing excellence in the ballet, it is repetition. It is absolutely repetition. The process of the ballet is every day, there's a bar, there's plies, there's grand plies. There's jete. It's a repetition and it's a process of perfection. Maybe ballet is skewed a little bit more towards perfection than other sports, but it is definitely a repetition and a process and a refinement that you do daily.”

Joan Hanscom
“Right. And you have to be willing to just have that focus. I think that that's, to me, bike racing or bike riding became the thing that I was able to focus on because it sort of brought me joy, right? You can be 100% committed and 100% focused on doing the thing, even when it's shitty weather outside and you don't really want to ride your bike, but you sort of have this compulsion to follow this desire to always be refining and always be focusing. It's no different than doing a billion plies to me. don't know if that answers your question, but I think that that's where people who want to be good at the things that they're good at, it's always in that magic of doing it over and over again, and refining, and refining, and refining."

Joan Hanscom

Podcasting [53:08]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Began as a way to stay connected, relevant
  • Fun and interesting, wide range of people and topics
  • Janet Atkinson, web designer, podcast post, and collaborator
  • Following the thread of conversation, letting it happen

Bicycling story [1:01:35]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Being ‘inside of the fence’
  • First American Cyclocross Championship event; absolute mess, everything went wrong, but in the end hugely satisfying

Joan (01:02:30):
I will tell you a nerdy story about that thing that you just talked about, being on the inside of the fence. When I was running my Cyclocross series, I would go over to Belgium for the big races, every year world championships, or whatever. I was always sort of struck by I was on the outside of the fence, because those weren’t my events, and I was very used to being on the inside of the fence at my events. When I would go to Belgium, I would be on the outside and it always felt kind of unsatisfying to be on the outside of the fence over there at the big races in Belgium, and sort of became this thing where I … We were awarded the bid to do the world championships in Louisville, Kentucky, which had not happened ever before.

Joan (01:03:15):
The Cyclocross worlds had never left Europe before, and so ours was the first time it was going to happen. I sort of became obsessed with this notion of the fact that I was finally going to get to be on the inside of the fence after all of these years of going over to Belgium and being, sort of adjacent to the action, which … This is the nerdy part, right? Most people would be stoked to be watching the bike racing. Because I’m a nerd who liked what I do for a living, I wanted to be on the inside and being the one making the thing happen because that’s the joy in my life, is I like making the thing happen.

Continue reading…

Joan (01:03:51):
I like to do all the work and then see it come to life, which is why I like to do events because the event actually turning on and starting, or the race actually turning on and starting is very satisfying to me. So, when I finally got to have the world championships in Louisville, like it was cursed event. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and including the core of engineers calling us on Thursday and saying, “Hey, by the way, the river’s going to flood and your venue’s going to be underwater on Sunday.” And we were like, ah …

Craig (01:04:21):
Thanks for the heads up.

Joan (01:04:24):
Yeah, I mean, they’re like, oh sure, the sewer department in Louisville can build a temporary dam to hold the water back long enough for us to have the race. It was a very dramatic and traumatic event to produce. Normally, the Cyclocross World Championships run over two days. There’s two races on Saturday and there’s two races on Sunday, and we had to smoosh them all onto Saturday because …

Craig (01:04:48):
Sunday Armageddon.

Joan (01:04:49):
Sunday, the river was gonna take the venue underwater. I remember very distinctly, walking down, before the start of the elite men’s race, and the pits were down in the infield, and the temporary dam, I wasn’t about that, there was, in fact, a temporary dam built by the sewer department of Louisville to hold the Ohio River back long enough for us to pull off this bike race. I remember walking down into the field and seeing that the water was starting to breach the dam. I remember, I had bought, I’m such a nerd, I’d bought Burberry boots, the fashion boot, Burberry. So, I had these very, very fancy black, rubber rain boots for the day because it’s the world championships, and you want to look spiffy.

Joan (01:05:34):
I remember watching the water lap over the toes of my boots and being on the race radio, going, start the bike race. Because it was terrifying to me, the water is coming. Start the bike race. I walked up to the top and they had started calling, Cyclocross runs in a grid. So, based on your ranking in the sport, you’re on the front row, second row, third row, and front row start matters, because you get the “whole shot” and that usually sets you up. You don’t have to pass through traffic.

Joan (01:06:05):
If you’re at the front of the race, you have an advantage because you’re not chasing through a hundred dudes to get to the front. In Cyclocross, the person who comes across the line first wins, which is not always the case in all bike races. But I remember walking up from down in the field, having seen the water starting to come through the dam, and walking up to the grid where they’re calling, you Sven Nys, and all the Niels Albert and all the big stars are being called to the grid and lined up to start the race. I looked up at the sky and I was like, oh God, is the meteor going to come? It was like, are we gonna get hit by Skylab? What’s gonna happen next?

Joan (01:06:44):
Because it’d been such a disaster filled race, and then Skylab didn’t hit us, then the gun blew and the race started. I got to do that thing that I had wanted to do all those years going to Belgium, which was, I got to walk down the inside of the fence at the World Championship in my official jacket as event director and have that moment of, I am inside the fence, this is my bike race, and the world championships just happened. And it was the most satisfying and yet traumatic moment of my entire career, which was, yeah, it was astonishing, to just have that moment of inside the fence. I was like, I got the thing. That was the thing I wanted more than anything, was to be the race director inside the fence. What a nerdy admission that is. But I mean, yeah, isn’t that amazingly nerdy?

Craig (01:07:37):
I don’t know that I would say it’s nerdy, but I mean …

Joan (01:07:40):
It’s very specific.

Craig (01:07:41):
It’s very specific. Thank you for sharing, and I don’t mean that in a trite way. It’s not quite a parable, but it’s close, but it’s right on, what is it that makes Joan so passionate about being the director, and what do you bring? I mean, I think I knew, but if you have no clue who I’m talking to today, now you have some idea of what passion means to her when she brings that to the velodrome. (/highlight) I’ve never actually seen you at the velodrome, and if I have, I wouldn’t have known who you were. Did you get a little taste of that on Friday Night Lights at the velodrome, or has it become familiar now?

Preserving history [1:10:19]

3 words [1:12:49]

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Craig (01:12:49):
Well, as much as I hate to say it, I don’t want to suck up your entire day.

Joan (01:12:53):
We have racing tonight.

Craig (01:12:55):
Yeah. What am I doing? What am I doing at Freckle past hair? All right, so I guess I will just say, and of course the final question, three words to describe your practice.

Joan (01:13:07):
Intense, consistent, crazy.

Craig (01:13:16):
Cool.

Joan (01:13:17):
That’s all you get.

Craig (01:13:17):
No, that’s fine. I say, before we press record, you can do three words, or some people have things that they wanna work out, and I’m not fishing. I’d just really love to hear everybody’s answers. So, thank you very much.

Joan (01:13:31):
Oh, thanks for having me.

Craig (01:13:32):
My pleasure. I think will just say, have a great day. Bye.

Joan (01:13:37):
All right, you too. Thanks. [/details]