Philly Devo Develops the New Wave

Philly Devo's development team has helped scores of cyclists access the wide world of bike racing and their presence in Women's and Open categories is invaluable.

Philly Devo Develops the New Wave
The laughter was contagious and I still have not recovered.

Under the shade of sycamore, oak, and cherry trees lining the Victorian-studded streets of West Philadelphia last weekend, I was greeted by teammates of the Philly Devo (pronounced dee-vo) race team who were gathered to celebrate the conclusion of another successful season.

Launched in 2015 as Women Bike PHL, a program aimed at promoting women's bicycle racing development, the organization rebranded in 2023 as Philly Devo to cultivate a greater sense of belonging for cyclists of marginalized genders including women, trans, femme, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming riders.

The network of Philly Devo alums, coaches, and mentors has risen to over 180 riders since its inception in 2015.

Applicants who join the program need no competitive experience and are progressively introduced to racing tactics while refining skills to safely compete in sanctioned races. Philly Devo showcases road riding that's unique to the Philadelphia region while ensuring riders develop group ride leadership skills. The network of alums, coaches, and mentors has risen to over 180 riders.

Learning to race together, riders forge deep bonds during an early-season team camp, two weekly practices, and a commitment to racing in events such as the Lower Providence Criterium, Shippensburg Scurry, and Historic Riverton Criterium. Rocking a badass kit only sweetens the deal, and Voler Apparel has supported the team over the years with custom design, sizing, and sponsorship of their USA-made gear. For better or for worse, energy domes are not included.

At the conclusion of the spring Devo program, riders are equipped with the skills and resources to continue racing. In accordance with USA Cycling, the governing body for bike racing in the US, by finishing sanctioned races and earning performance points, riders can advance in categories from novice (cat. 5 or 4) to elite (cat. 2 or 1). Women's and Open race categories are chronically under-resourced and the presence of Devo participants, alums, and supporters is a powerful motivator for race directors to prioritize and invest in these categories.

Beyond the lens of racing, Philly Devo is all about fostering a fun and supportive environment. When asked about the most important lesson they've learned since starting with Philly Devo, Ross replied "to care about the other riders who are riding with you because in the end the most important thing is that everybody has a good time and that everyone stays safe. And so I think even if it means slowing down or taking a different route, making sure that everybody is comfortable and having their needs met is much more important than pushing yourself on any given day or doing things the way that you want to."

One can swim endless laps in the deep pool of collective knowledge accumulated by so many riders over so many years. Whether registering for a first race, navigating the perplexities of race categories, or overcoming personal challenges outside the world of bikes (yes, I admit, a world exists outside of bikes), the Philly Devo family has got each others' backs. At the starting line of any given event, these riders know that they are never alone and can always count on each others' support.

It's no big news that cycling (for transportation, recreation, and competition) is dominated by white male riders. Diversification is stifled by subtle informal barriers at every single turn. Recently, however, the organizations that govern international and domestic bicycle racing have moved to systematically prohibit transgender women from participating in sanctioned events. Formal policies policing human bodies and restricting certain people from competing is a violent and existential threat to the entire sport.

To reiterate a few ideas from a recent statement by Philadelphia Bike Expo:
1) creating regulations that seek to exclude some women based on their bodies has broader repercussions for all women;
2) solidarity between cisgender and transgender athletes is not only possible, but necessary;
3) we must continue to break down barriers and create more access for everyone to experience the joy of cycling in all its forms, in whatever small ways we can.

An uplifting rider lifting up their ride. Jen's passion for powerlifting exudes.

Though the 2023 road development program has come to a close, you can still find teammates on the starting line of the Ardmore Rock n' Ride criterium later this August. When you see them in the field, cheer them on! If you're interested in joining Philly Devo in future seasons, keep an eye out on their Instagram for information sessions and to drop an application.