Craig Hill: Tacoma bike club says its time for a name change

The Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club is changing its name to the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club.
The Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club is changing its name to the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club. Staff file

Darrell Eslinger sometimes tells the story of a group of South Sound cyclists who were pedaling around Tuscany when some of the locals noticed their Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club jersey.

“Somebody said to one of the women, ‘So you’re allowed to join a men’s group?’ ” said Eslinger, the club’s president.

The Wheelmen trace their roots to 1888 and had women members in its early years, Eslinger said. That point, however, hasn’t always been clear thanks to the group’s name.

Recently, club members voted to change the name in part to get rid of the misconception.

The club’s new name: the Tacoma Washington Bicycle Club.

The new name eliminates the historic, but misleading, word, but keeps the club’s initials. Keeping the initials was important to many members, Eslinger said, because many are fond of the logo: A stylized TWBC that looks a bicycle.

The name change is just part of the club’s effort to raise the profile of the club and increase membership.

The club also plans an overhaul of its website, a change to its nonprofit status and more rides.

“The hope is, looking down the road, to add a few people from the younger set,” Eslinger said. “A few of us that go to most of the functions are a little older.”

It’s not the first time the club has changed its name. The Tacoma Wheelmen Club started in 1888 for people who rode big-wheel bicycles, according to the website. While the website said this first incarnation of the club was for men, Eslinger said woman were also members.

The first version of the club was in existence for many years, according the website. In 1974, when a group of cyclists formed the current club, they borrowed the original name.

In the 1990s, the name was changed to the Tacoma Wheelmen Bicycle Club to better explain the type of club. The club considered dropping “Wheelmen” in 2009, but voted to keep the name.

Eslinger said the discussion to alter the name started again this year after hearing various stories of misunderstandings about the club. Although, he said, it was not a major issue. The club has 273 members and 86 are women.

“Essentially, change is needed,” Eslinger said. “And we want to do it without alienating people.”

The new name is not yet on the club’s website, twbc.org, but it will be when the club upgrades the current site.

The club has long been in need of a modern website.

“I think the best way to describe what we have now is a bunch of sticky notes held together with a string,” Eslinger said.

Club officials believe they might have been required to change the club name anyway when they applied to change their nonprofit status.

The club is a 501c7 nonprofit, but plans to switch to a 501c3. The club wants to change its status, Eslinger said, because donations to a 501c3 are tax deductible. The change could make it easier for the club to find sponsors for its large rides, the Daffodil Classic and Peninsula Metric.

The club uses proceeds from it rides for bicycle advocacy. In 2014, the club donated $10,000 to help construct the Bud Blancher Trail in Eatonville.

But the primary reason people join bike clubs is to ride bikes with other cyclists, and Eslinger knows the club needs to offer more rides. The club typically offers several options during the week, but they aren’t necessarily compatible with young professionals with busy work and personal schedules.

Adding more people, he said, means the potential for more rides.

As the club evolves, Eslinger doesn’t expect its historic name to fade completely away.

“I think Wheelmen will always be around as a nickname,” he said.