Each year, on April 19th, activists and scientists use Bicycle Day to raise awareness of psychedelics. Since Bicycle Day involved using a bike as transportation, our marketing exec Renier Fee thought he’d interview Jonathan Franco, the founder of Meta.cc, about his experience with cycling in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area (aka DMV). Learn more about Jonathan's club, goals, and love of cycling in this interview.
Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live?
I'm a true believer that positive vibes and energy are contagious. My family is from Bolivia but I grew up here in the DMV Area; Fairfax, West Springfield to be exact. Now I'm currently living in Pentagon City.
How did you get into biking and what do you love about it?
I got into cycling at a young age. I always loved riding around the neighborhood and the Mt. Vernon trail with my father.
Tell me about your bike? What are you riding and do you have any customization?
I’ve got a few. I race with something a bit cheaper. The rule is “race what you can replace.” I race with a Cannondale SuperSix EVO. It’s not fancy but still does the job. I trained with something a little nicer, a Giant TCR with electric shifting. On order I have a Trek Madone. Hopefully it arrives soon...
How did you decide to make it your career?
It’s really not a career. I ended up at Trek because I needed to take time off from my previous job. I was burned out and needed a new start.
What's your role at Trek?
When did the lightbulb go off to create a new bike club?
The light bulb was always there. Growing up in this area cyclists can be pretty exclusive, making it really hard to join a group unless you know someone. It’s pretty intimidating going to a group ride and not really knowing what is going to happen. For the ladies, forget about it -- even harder for them. I lived in Miami for 2 years. The bike scene is unreal. Yeah, there are groups and things can get pretty cliquey but overall everyone was so welcoming. People ride at 5:45 AM and it's a full blown party, making you realize that there is always time to train and go to work. No one complained about being tired, having problems or stress. People were happy simply being there.
I moved back to D.C. in January 2020 after living in Miami with my girlfriend and tried to do a couple group rides and you pretty much had to beg people. I wanted Nelly to meet new ladies in town to ride with and forget it -- it was like applying to Pilot school or Med school. I told her “don't worry, we'll find people to ride with” and the rest was history. Later we met Matteo and Antonio (owners of Stellina Pizzeria) and everything blew up from there. We all had friends that felt the same way and so did their friends until we knew that was a really big problem. BUT now we are here.
What's the story behind the name "Meta" and what does "the new normal" mean?
We race because we love pushing ourselves to the limit and helping our teammates and a community to thrive. It’s more than just the race, it’s the whole day or weekend and being in that.
Our team starts with the name. “Meta” in multiple languages like Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Serbian, etc., means the goal, finish line, to aim, to target, set goals for yourself, and get them done.
We ride with a purpose. Our “Meta” is to help friends push the limit on two wheels. We started by teaching everyone the basics before worrying about speed and winning races. That includes taking time to teach all our riders how to ride safely in a peloton; paceline, rotation, climbing, drafting, sprinting, descending, and how to smoothly pedal and really taking the time to have the majority of our racers fitted to prevent injury. We don't RUN RED LIGHTS and we ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!!!! Behind the scenes, we’ve built a unique friendship and healthy lifestyle for the community. It's more than just riding bikes, it's really is an extended family.
Our main goal this year is to really build up the women's racing and bike scene here in the DMV area. We truly believe with the help of each other as a unit, all our ladies have developed into strong and unique riders considering the short amount of time they’ve explored and gotten into cycling.
Regarding the “#NewNormal,” we wanted people to believe that we are the new normal and that "META" is the New normal. BUT in our apparel jersey, “New” is scratched out, there is a line through it. Meta is just the Normal Goal = META Normal. Ride bikes, meet new friends and new people, expand your network, just be human. I ride bikes to relieve stress and have a healthier lifestyle!
How long have you been racing?
META is officially going into its second year of racing.
What are your favorite “crit” (ie criterium are lapped races in a closed circuit) races?
Being a new team to the scene with a limited budget, we love our local crits. Anything we can get our hands on within a 6-7 hour drive is game to us.
The Armed Forces Cycling Classic, each June, is in our own backyard of Arlington, VA. We are excited to have strong representation by our men’s team this year. Because this is a large, well-known race that professional teams race, they do not have a women’s Category 4/Novice division.
Our goal is to work hard this year developing our women’s team to achieve several category upgrades to category 3. This would allow us to have a women’s presence at the Armed Forces Cycling Classic in 2023! Eventually, we would love to race at Inteligencia, Tulsa Tough, and Tour of America’s Dairyland.
What team do you look up to the most? Who's your biggest influence and inspiration?
We love watching teams with strong female racers. A few include EF Education, Tibco-SVB, DNA Racing, Butcher Box, Legion of Los Angeles, Rally. It's incredible to watch these ladies race with such strength and fearlessness on the bike. They are inspirations for us to develop our women’s team, and they spread awareness and excitement for new, up-and-coming women in cycling.
What are the hardest parts about running or starting a team?
The DC area in general has a uniquely tough barrier to entry. There are a few established bike groups that are very large, and essentially all men. In our first year, META had to break through the noise of the larger groups, especially with our women, and prove we are more than just an “Instagram team;” that we train and race hard.
Developing our ladies from the beginning is time-consuming. All of our women are incredibly strong, but being in a male-dominated sport can be taxing and discouraging. We work hard to show our women that they are worth investing time and energy into and that they are strong and powerful on the bike!
More than developing physical strength, we spend time developing mental strength and fortitude, too. It’s unfortunate that women have to overcome many obstacles to find their place in the cycling world — our goal is to tear down those obstacles and support our women to become the best version of themselves, on and off the bike.
What are the biggest barriers to entry in terms of being an amateur team?
We are working hard to secure sponsors and raise money to support our women’s team. This year, we have female athletes going to large races like Unbound in Kansas, and eventually, we hope to send a women’s team to a well-known race weekend like Tulsa Tough. Race fees, bike maintenance, and travel expenses quickly add up for larger races.
Sponsorships are a barrier for us as a new team — we want to be able to provide financial support for racers so they can represent META and be an inspiration and example for female cyclists.
We all know crashes and injuries can be a big part of this sport. We want to make sure that these factors are not limiting to our team and our goals to build out our women's program.
How did you pick your riders? How do new members join the club? Is there a try out or membership fees?
You simply get asked to ride. People must have that desire to ride with us.
What's your advice to young riders who want to join?
Start with what you have and make the best out of it. A cheaper bike does not define who you are as a rider.
What are your thoughts on legal medical cannabis?
Patients should only purchase through legalized locations WITH MEDICAL CARDS or prescribed by a health professional.
You reached out to CULTA for sponsorship. How did you become aware of us? Was it a goal to lock in a cannabis company?
My goal was NOT to lock in a cannabis company, but to have a company that has the same values as we do--family-oriented. We were looking for a CBD company but didn't really find one that’s local. CBD because it's just a good look and all the teams have some type of logo. People really want to push health and wellness and really want to push for legalization of cannabis. My main focus was to look for local business support.
After talking with Renier and Nelly, I fell in love with CULTA. I’m also very particular with designs (the CULTA logos look so clean and sexy.) I was also recommended to reach out by Adam Sweatlow, a friend of Mackie, and Matteo Venini (owner of Stellina). They spoke highly of Mackie and they simply said "asking is free. It does not hurt to ask."
Your squad is getting bigger and now you are competing outside the DMV area. What is your vision for the growth of the team?
Our vision for the growth of the team includes getting aggressive with the development of the women’s team. We want to get more ladies on bikes! We’d love to send a group of guys to race in the USAC crit race series, and get enough funding so the team can race in bigger events. Overall, I’d love to make racing more accessible to my team.
For the community, we want people to really see cycling as a positive impact on themselves. It’s a way to create new memories and new friends! We also plan to continue to work with local businesses and support local companies. I REALLY BELIEVE THAT WE CAN TAKE THIS TO THE NEXT LEVEL!!!
Take us home! Who would you like to thank as we wrap up this interview.
Not a lot of people or companies will help you when you are first starting and not a lot will fully trust you with your goals and make them reality.
The first person I would thank is Nelly for being by my side on this project and continuing to help me start something so great in the city. Then my parents for backing me up in any way that they can.
Lastly, I want to thank Mackie, Renier and the rest of my sponsors for believing in this project and believing in the team.
Cheers to many Race Podiums!