Kaleb Clous knows better than anyone what it’s like to be part of IU’s Little 500. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he was an undergraduate student and a cyclist himself.
Now the circumstances have changed: Clous is a graduate student in IU’s one-year master’s in information systems program. He graduated from the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity last year, and now he’s the coach for its first ever Little 500 team.
“You should already be looking to make moves at lap two, Jeremy,” IU junior Micah Plofsky said to his teammate April 15 in a fraternity apartment room.
This is something that you normally hear a coach say to a cyclist, but again, the circumstances for this team are different. The men are gathered around a television, watching the only film they have, which is a video of a practice race. They didn’t perform up to expectations and they have to figure out what went wrong.
Clous says the guys treat him like a father, even though he’s not much older than them. They call him by his last name because almost everyone in the fraternity is called a name other than their first name.
At first glance, you would think that he really is part of the fraternity. He was part of it, only a year ago. He’s tall, and he dresses in the same casual clothing the rest of them do. He wears sunglasses, and he plays rap music for their workouts. He’s one of them; he’s their brother.
The Little 500, a tradition at IU, is the largest collegiate bike race in the United States. Cyclists for organizations like fraternities, sororities and religious groups will train the entire school year for the race weekend in April. The event attracts alumni, students and families to watch what is called “The World’s Greatest College Weekend.”
It’s no easy task to wrangle a group of fraternity brothers and whip them into shape, especially a group with no real Little 500 race experience. Their athletic experience ranges from track and cross country in high school to not much at all.
“I was the last person anyone would’ve expected to keep with it,” TEP cyclist and junior Stephen Franke said. “Anyone can be good at it if you put in the work.”
Doubt stemmed from Franke's previous diet and drinking habits, which he had to completely change to race. The doubt from others in his fraternity fueled his motivation to prove them wrong and work toward making the final team.
Challenges Clous faces mostly stem from inexperience. The riders can practice all they want, but when it comes to the actual race day, they won’t know what to expect until they get there. They don’t have that “racer IQ” yet, as they call it.
The guys say other more experienced teams look down on them due to the unpredictability and their higher risk of crashing. Their hope is to prove them wrong.
The team said they would be happy to be in the top 20 on race day. They also know that it’s their job to create and continue the tradition in the fraternity.
“I’m proud to watch them represent TEP,” junior Jace Dery, a member of TEP, said. “It’s a tradition for other Greek houses, and I’m excited we finally get to be a part of it.”
When Clous first rushed TEP in 2019, he was part of the second-ever member class, which only had 12 members, and they lived in an apartment complex. This is a big year for the fraternity and Clous: they finally secured a house on Greek row for next year, the number of new members is growing exponentially, and they now have a team to root for during the Little 500.
“The two things that I thought were missing from TEP when I was in undergrad were a Little Five team and a house,” he said. “And now we have both.”
His desire to race stemmed from an athletic background as a rugby and football player in high school and from wanting a friend group outside of his fraternity his sophomore year.
“There’s always more and better out there,” Clous said. “That’s something that I teach the guys: no complacency.”
Since TEP didn’t have a team for Clous to race for at the time, he trained for a different organization. He said the biggest regret of his life was quitting the team due to other commitments, like his girlfriend at the time and school. He quit before he ever made it to race day.
Coaching is the closest thing to actually racing he can do.
“Every time I step in front of a bike, I feel disappointed, and I feel that regret,” Clous said.
The idea for TEP to begin racing in Little 500 was born around this time last year, when Clous reached out to TEP members to form a team.
Most coaches for Little 500 teams are in their 30s or 40s, and they usually coach virtually and come in person only for big events like quals and race day, Clous said. As a graduate student in Bloomington, he has an advantage as a coach. He gets to dedicate more time to the team, and he feels he is actually with them every step of the way. The riders know and love him as a coach and a fraternity brother.
Clous’ mission for the team is to help them make lifelong friendships out of it, something that he was able to do himself when he trained for the race. He calls it his gift to TEP — his opportunity to contribute something and call it his own.
He loves coaching. Even if his future allotted less time to dedicate to the team, he still plans on coaching TEP for at least the next one to two years to build the foundation for the new team.
Along with Clous’ motivations for the team, the riders have their own reasons for racing, which are represented by the decals on their official race bikes. They’re the names of loved ones who have passed, who the men are racing for.
George Liu bikes for his father, who died this year. His father wanted a different college experience for him, one where he focused more on having fun.
“I want to see you succeed and be happy,” George recalled him saying.
Koji Leonardo bikes for his older brother Joma who passed unexpectedly when he was a Residential Assistant in Eigenmann two years ago. Joma loved the Little 500.
Mo Zaremba bikes for his mother, who died 13 years ago this week. Her name on his bike serves as a reminder to keep going on his worst days.
Each team member has their own motivation for racing, and their discipline shows in their training. For their stationary bike workout on rollers, Clous didn’t have to do much actual coaching, but he supports them. He motivated them to keep going when they wanted to give up.
“Get back on, George, you got a minute left!” Clous said.
“George, let’s go! Regroup!” another biker said.
This year marks the beginning of an era for Tau Epsilon Phi and Clous. He is starting the Little 500 tradition in the fraternity and fostering friendships within his team.
But most of all, he is healing his heart from past regrets. He will never be able to race again in the Little 500 himself, but at least he can give back to the fraternity he spent his college years with and make sure others don’t feel the same regret.