Team Koochella looks to grow women’s bicycle racing while keeping Minnesota’s sole racing venue alive
Photos by Aaron Davidson
Anna Schwinn—yes, her namesake comes from the company founded by her great-great-grandfather—is addicted to bicycle racing, specifically on the wooden velodrome track in Blaine, Minnesota.
Schwinn’s parents worked in the bicycle industry. She has a mechanical engineering background and writes for the popular biking blog bikerumor.com. She’s often the first racer to the northern suburb on race days, squatting down on the grass as she changes a gear on her bike in anticipation of riding on a track that looks like a fish bowl with 43-degree walls on two sides.
The velodrome was built in 1990 to host the Olympic Festival track-racing events and National Championships. It sees an average annual audience of 4,500 who come to cheer on the pool of 130 or so racers. According to USA Cycling, there are 28 other velodromes in the country; more of the unique tracks are popping up every year.
For racers, there’s nothing quite like a velodrome experience. “I’ve been around bikes my whole life and I’ve been going to velodromes since I was a little kid,” Schwinn says. “I love velodromes; I think they’re romantic. This is where cycle racing comes from, this is the arena context of our sport.”
Schwinn isn’t only a race and bicycle enthusiast, but also the leader of Koochella, her racing team made up of a coterie of misfits brought together by their love of bicycling and extreme attitudes. “Within the urban community subsets of cycling, you’ve got the punks, the messengers, you’ve got people who are hanging out—just all sorts of different kinds of people,” Schwinn says. “The only thing we really had in common was bikes.”
Her group of 14 distinct personalities forms the all-woman team that has raced for nearly three seasons (two years) now. It’s a fairly new team and it was organized to fill a void: there simply wasn’t anything like it.
Schwinn had this revelation in 2013, just months before the Powderhorn24, a 24-hour solo or team race in and around the Powderhorn neighborhood of south Minneapolis. She was out celebrating her birthday when it hit her. “I was lamenting because there are badass teams who take that race so seriously, and it was pissing me off that there wasn’t a women’s team to match it,” Schwinn recalls.
She hit up her friends at the party about the idea and set a goal of securing sponsors, getting matching bikes, and having some “freaking crazy kits made” for the Powerderhorn24 race.
Schwinn accomplished the feat and Koochella was born. The popularity of the Koochella team’s first iteration—originally spelled “Kooch-ella” to throw subtlety to the wind (“Nothing we do is subtle,” says Schwinn) before being changed to one word so USA Cycling would sanction the team and give it a club license—lasted long after the Powderhorn24. “For weeks afterwards, I would have people scream ‘Koochella’ to me on the street, not even wearing the kit,” Schwinn says. “And I’m like, geez, the community must be really thirsty for an awesome women’s badass team.”
Not long after Powderhorn24, Schwinn went to Blaine’s velodrome to learn about women’s racing. It was there that she decided to officially create the team, partly so there would be enough racers to keep the women’s field from being cancelled again; it was eliminated earlier that year, 2013, because only three women had showed up on race day.
But the velodrome had problems beyond lacking enough female racers to fill the field.
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