On the Club Ride

By Maynard Hershon

This is part one of a two-part dialogue between your BP columnist in Denver and his buddy Corey Levenson of San Antonio, Texas. It includes input from uncredited friends: Thanks, Phil!

MH: As many of you know, at heart I’m a club or sport cyclist. I came up in clubs with racers and ex-racers, riding in pace lines and tight groups. Club life was different 30-odd years ago. Rides were structured and instruction or discipline was often harsh. We were young, malleable and hungry for knowledge. We felt lucky to learn about the sport from seasoned riders.

I can ride alone and I do — but I don’t love it. If I do it too often, the joy goes out of my cycling. I love the social side of our sport, the pedaling and chatting, the conversations that can go anywhere, the unselfconscious, effortless sharing on side-by-side rides on quiet roads or paths. If all my riding were solo I’m not sure I’d have stuck with cycling as long as I have. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling that way. Ask your graying riding buddies.

CL: I rode my bicycle alone just last night. I actually don’t mind, especially if it’s a short-ish (less than 40 miles) ride, but I’d rather ride with friends. The conversation makes it more enjoyable.

MH: Recently I’ve begun riding with a local club. It’s not a racing club. As I understand it, the racers spun off years ago, so the riders are sport cyclists, not old, aspiring or current racers. They’re not cycle-commuters, and the members, perhaps like many clubs’ members, are graying. They’re older, but still pedaling, still challenging themselves. Hats off to modern medicine.

I skip the lowest-level rides. I tried once or twice when the announced start was a rideable distance from home. It was not going to work. Nice folks, but the moderate pace and absence of cycling awareness and etiquette, understandable in that group, made those rides difficult for me. Again, nice folks: out on their bikes, but not bike riders.

I’ve done several of the next-level rides, called by the club, “Fun-Intermediate.” I think they’re typical of “we’re not racers!” club outings all over the country. I’ve gotten to know a few people and made some observations. If your club’s rides are like Corey’s or like mine — or nothing like either, please write me, care of the editor. We should be talking about this club ride stuff.

CL: My club (the San Antonio Wheelmen) offers rides every Saturday and Sunday. In general, it’s the same routes month-to-month, just shuffled around on the calendar. The rides usually start on the outskirts of town so we don’t have to struggle too much with vehicular traffic.

Each ride has a starter who briefs everyone before we leave — wear your helmet, carry water and spare tubes, don’t leave a fellow rider who has fallen down, etc. You can usually choose among three or four distances between 25 and 70 miles. Sometimes there’s a “no drop” option where folks go really slow.

Rides usually start in waves; the fast/long distance riders head out first. I often leave with that group and see how long I can hang before I get dropped and drift back to the next group (which is usually going the distance I plan to do anyway).

Most folks in my group are experienced and like to ride briskly, but they’re not hammerheads. I still ride a 1991 Merlin with a 7-speed freewheel and downtube shifters. Call me a retrogrouch but 11 speeds aren’t going to get me up the hills any faster.

MH: First, and I apologize if I’ve sung this sad song before, everyone arrives at our rides in a car. Ten riders, ten cars. In many cases, the bike comes out of the car and then the floor pump comes out of the car. I’ve seldom carried a floor pump in a car, only perhaps when going to races, when I’ve wanted to be sure I fully inflated my tubular tires just before the start.

I believe that the bikes and pumps live in the cars, and are only unpacked before club rides. Unless I miss my guess, none of the bikes are used between club rides. Their owners don’t ride for transportation. They don’t ride alone. They drive to every ride start.

CL: About your one rider per car and riding to ride starts observation: I don’t see any way around that. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not Holland: our urban centers were not designed to be bike-friendly. If I only did rides with starts near enough so I could ride there, I’d never get to enjoy the scenery more than 40 miles from home. I wouldn’t get to do my mid-week, after work rides. For most folks, bicycles are recreational vehicles.

I usually drive to ride starts with my bike in the back of my car. Recently I decided not to drive more than 30 minutes to a ride start. It seems silly to me to drive for an hour or more to ride my bicycle. During the summer, we have ride starts (wheels down) at 8 a.m. The idea is to finish before it gets too hot. I’d rather start at 9 a.m. since I hate getting up earlier on the weekend than I do during the week.

I drove to the ride start last night and I did have my pump in the car. I have several times stopped to help cyclists who’d flatted and either didn’t know how to fix a flat or had run out of CO2 cartridges. So I just leave the floor pump in the car.

[Ed. Note: Follow the last of the conversation in the August issue]

Maynard has been writing about cycling for the Bicycle Paper (and the Rivendell Reader) almost forever. He says he’ll keep doing it as long as he can get away with it. “I do it for the money,” the Denver-dweller says, but we think there must be something about cycling that interests him.

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