Friday Group Ride #229

Friday Group Ride #229

I had a call from a shop in Alabama, a thick accent I recognized immediately. I grew up there, and though I haven’t lived there in 25 years, the way certain vowels stretch and bend has this way of dilating time in my mind. Memories flood. Feelings arise.

I have spent the intervening quarter century in Boston, and so now I am, at least mathematically, mostly a New Englander, except that no one from here sees me as a native. I suppose I’m one of those stationary nomads, not quite the man without a country, but never from anywhere properly either.

Usually when I think of Alabama, I wonder what my life would have been like had I stayed there. Especially in the cycling context, I have a hard time seeing what I do now coming to fruition there, and yet guys call me from my home state. They ride bikes. They ride nice bikes. Cycling culture does exist there, even though, when I was growing up, I always felt like a freak (and potential victim) anytime I rode beyond the confines of my carefully planned sub-division.

Facebook suggests some of my high school cohort own and ride bikes, so maybe it’s a thing that became a thing.

This week’s Group Ride asks, do they ride bikes where you’re from? Was there a cycling culture in place when you were growing up? Or has one developed over time, the slow creep of acceptance blossoming into cycling clubs and bike routes? Is there a strong culture where you live now? And if not, do you dream of living some place where a body can pull on man-made fibers of garish color, tap shoe out to the garage and pedal away into the thrum of traffic without being treated like a stranger in a strange land.

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22 comments

  1. Pat O'Brien

    Rode a bike as a child in Waukegan, Illinois to get around town and deliver newspapers. Riding stopped in high school and never started again until 1989 here in Arizona. All that is boring. What isn’t boring is the guy that used to give my brother and I rides to church every week. Yea, my parents didn’t go, but they made us go. Anyway, usually a bike on a roof rack on his station wagon, and he raced at the Kenosha Velodrome. I never went to watch, and I never caught the bug even though he tried to encouraged me. If I would have only listened and tried it out. Who knows where that would have led?

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Sorry, riding here, Sierra Vista, Arizona is great, in my opinion Mountain biking requires some driving to trailhead except for one good single track ride. Road riding is very nice. Town is bike friendly.

  2. Alan

    Came back home to Colorado, which is a blessing. Very bike friendly here in much of the state, though the flat prairie lands are a bit dicey.

    Oddly enough, Wyoming has been very friendly. No rhyme or reason to it.

  3. Quentin

    I grew up within biking distance of Boulder, so I’m one of those that got interested in the sport by being surrounded by it. I spent several years in central Illinois and found that there was a surprisingly strong cycling culture. I was often surprised how many people I met him in various contexts that were cyclists. That has given me the impression that cycling really is growing, though its still something of a niche pursuit. I’ve heard that cycling is slowly replacing the role occupied by golf in some corporate cultures, and I would say that is certainly the case at my present employer. Now (this very weekend, in fact) I’m moving to northwest Texas, and I don’t really have any idea what I’m getting into as far as cycling goes.

  4. ScottyCycles62

    San Diego has an immense cycling community! It’s great because you can decide from your driveway whether you want to ride flats, hills, big ass climbs or just ride from cafe/pub to cafe/pub.

  5. Hoshie99

    When I was very young, my father had a brownstone in downtown Philly. There was a high quality shop and it featured Richard Sachs bikes. I would admire the bikes and see cyclists all the time. I was drawn in by the visuals of that culture.

    We later moved to San Diego when I was an early teen and it was less European and top craft road bikes and more BMX. But people did ride and there was a velodrome.

    But besides typical kid rides to school it wasn’t until I went to Cal Poly that I saw cycling as a sport and lifestyle .They had a top notch collegiate team and downtown San Luis obispo was a decent venue for cycling culture with its cafés and restaurants and sleepy neighborhood streets.

    So all the areas I lived in my youth had some elements and now here even in the evil empire of LA I can find good shops and nice active people to ride with. I also like cyclocross as a masters rider and have been pleasantly surprised by the very top quality race series we have here in rainless Southern California.

  6. Michael

    I grew up in what is now Thousand Oaks, CA. When I was a kid, there were perhaps 30,000 people in the Conejo Valley but by the time I was finishing high school, it was the fastest growing city under 50000 in the US, and then the fastest growing between 50 and 100,000 people after that. They dug West Lake over the county line in LA County in about 1968 or so and that is when the population really started going up, and fancy houses and suburban tracts were built. I was a firm believer in the Ehrlich’s Population Bomb idea when their book came out! By the time I finished high school and left for good, the town was not really recognizable. However, during its amazing growth, it built bike lanes along the major roads and was a pretty decent place to bike. I got a ten speed bike when I was 12 years old and would ride it 30-50 miles with a buddy off into the mountains or down to Ventura or over to Fillmore and Ojai. I never met another road cyclist other than my buddy, but all the kids had stingrays and we’d ride them in the endless fields and hills. There was a railroad line for cattle and sheep shipments (the area had sheep everywhere in the spring, but they would be gone by June) where route 23 was eventually built and we would use the cattle-loading ramps as jumps, flying over the rails if all went well, and over the handlebars if it did not. I haven’t been back to Thousand Oaks in many decades and don’t know anyone who lives there, but, judging from the fact that the Tour of California has a stage there, I am guessing it now has a cycling culture.

    1. Don Jagoe

      Hey, I grew up in TO too…TOHS Class of 67. Your memories are right on target. Used to ride my bike, like everyone, until my first friend got a Honda 50. From then on it was all dreams of motors. Wish I had kept riding the ten speed (and gotten fitted–which was at the time an unknown possibility, at least in our circles–you just climbed on and cranked away).

      Anyway, nice reminiscing…Thanks. Don

  7. Miles Archer

    I grew up in suburbia in the SF Bay area. I rode my bike everywhere. Pretty much all the kids in the neighborhood did too. For transportation. For fun. There was a BMX craze for a while. We rode in empty dirt lots before they built new houses.

    High school years. The car was king. You had to be driving. For college I went to Berkeley. I’m sure there was a thriving road scene there, but it was invisible to me. There was one roadie in my house that did, what I considered at the time, completely insane rides. Up over the Berkeley hills, out to and up Mt. Diablo and back. How could someone survive that!

    Anyway, after college I was living in Alameda. Alameda is a completely flat island in SF bay. At that time (1987?), the first commercial mountain bikes came out. I bought a purple Diamondback. I replaced the knobbies with mostly slick tires. It’s fully rigid and weighs like 40lbs. I rode it to work a couple of times a week.

    To make a long story short, that bike now has about 30k commuting miles on it. It lead to road bikes and I still use it for riding around town. Sure beats finding parking.

  8. Bob

    I grew up on Long Island but that was long ago, I assume there is a pretty good cycling culture there. I now live in Waco Texas and the culture here is pretty good. Our club has over 120 families which is good for a town of 150 thousand. There is also a triathlon club here. I ride mostly out in the country and every once-in-a-while a yayhoo in a pickup will be a jerk but for the most part the folks are very nice a considerate.

  9. David Appleby

    I grew up in Dallas. I rode everywhere on a bmx bike until I got a car. Bmx bikes and shops catering mainly to kids were everywhere. I’ve been a serious roadie for five years now in Plano (north suburb of Dallas) and am a member of a 600+ member road club called Plano Bicycle Association. We have year round riding here outside, a mix of country and urban roads nearby, a great paved trail system to help get people started, and mostly really courteous drivers. My wife and I see cyclists riding for pleasure (and pain) all the time. We have tons of great mountain bike trails, plenty of very technical. We have a big racing community of all disciplines (road, mtn, and cross). The downside if you want to say there is one is that our summer evening rides will typically be over 100 degrees. Oh and wind, lots of wind.

  10. Full Monte

    In the 70s, living at the foothills of the Black Hills in South Dakota, bikes were ridden a lot, but not for sport. We rode them to get to school and back. To a friend’s house. Down to the shopping center to get a comic book. And then, once your fourteenth birthday came (yes, it was 14 back then), you got your driver’s license and your bike hung in the garage gathering cobwebs. Unless you were grounded, then it came out for a few squeaky, painful weeks.

    There was absolutely no “scene” back then. No clubs. No rides for pleasure or fitness. One bike store. Schwinn of course.

    In college, in the mid 80s, there were a few outliers on campus (in Sioux Falls, SD). A few guys (very few) had Italian road bikes in their rooms, and would meet to go “on rides.” Whatever that meant. One kid took off one day and rode to his home in Minneapolis. Some 240 miles. In one day. We thought he was insane. He was 150 lbs with thighs like a linebacker. He streaked across campus the last day of school his senior year. Stripped in the library, gave his clothes to a friend, put a paper bag over his head, and ran down the stairs, out onto the sidewalk, over to the cafeteria. Much cheering ensued. He was identified quickly and hauled into the dean’s office. Those huge thighs, shaved legs, and bike short tan lines easily gave him away.

    Now, my hometown in the Black Hills has several very nice bike stores carrying all the best brands. There are clubs galore, even bike vacation companies. And why wouldn’t there be? There is single track everywhere, great trail systems. And the road rides take you through beautiful mountain scenery. The Mickelson Trail (a converted railroad bed, named in honor of a late SD governor) runs virtually the entire length of the Black Hills.

    I often wonder what my life would’ve been like had cycling become mainstream way back when I was a kid. I could’ve skipped all those stick-n-ball games and practices — those sports which gave us young men our identities — and rode away. Someone else entirely.

  11. kurti_sc

    There was no local mtb or road scene where I grew up in rural VA. Of course, this time predates MTB’s anyway. I remember when my sister bought a teal colored Specialized ‘mountain bike’ I was like 18 – 20 then. ooooh, ahhhh. It was a different bike, to say the least.
    There was some BMX action nearby in Richmond, and I occasionally made it there. But mostly, it was just me and my friends riding our bikes in the woods and on farms and making jumps out of everything we could find.
    I never saw anyone riding a road bike, except perhaps on TV. I must have seen something because when I was about 8, I looked forward to going to my aunt’s farm and riding a two-tone brown esprit 10spd around the dirt oval that framed their farm. That’s just not natural. I had it in my head that I had to go faster on each lap or I was going to get passed by someone (or something). I tell you, it must have been quite un-exciting to the casual observer. Even the horses wouldn’t budge when I zoomed close by.
    Back then, about 70% of the county roads were unimproved (gravel / dirt).
    I go back every other year or so. There’s still a fair amount of unimproved roads, but there’s some nice blacktop to be had in most places, and it’s nice to roll past the still standing plantation homes. There’s even a nice purpose-built route being built through our area that will connect Williamsburg to Richmond. But, here’s the thing. In about 50+ miles of cycling route, there’s about 100ft of total climbing. I just can’t get excited by that. And I haven’t seen many others on any recent trips that appeared to be excited by it either.
    I can’t say much about trail riding in the area. As a kid, we only rode in certain areas because of fear of being shot (or at least being shot at). I don’t imagine that’s changed much. People just don’t want you on their property. If there was a modern census for the area, it would also likely show that hunting dogs outnumber people 5 – 1. It’s just not that inviting. Maybe people are trail riding there, but I’d be surprised.
    Richmond itself has a descent urban off-road scene. North of town up towards Charlottesville provides a few good opportunities, too.
    But fortunately, the area where I live in the upstate of South Carolina is just a great location for both road and mtb’ing. Short trips to nearby NC mountains or the North GA mountains offer plenty of chances for something different. So, for me, I don’t see much going on in south central VA and its not a place I personally seek out as a biking destination.
    That being said, my son and I had a hoot on the rental beach bikes cruising around Colonial Williamsburg this year. Not always, but perhaps the time spent cycling is more meaningful than the destination. ;-)

  12. Andrew

    Grew up in lower Westchester County, NY. Pretty packed in there, fairly small roads, a lot of cars. We used to ride our 10 spds around the neighborhood a lot, but never really ventured further afield. It just wasn’t that inviting, for a kid at least. One time a friend and I rode up the Hudson to the Bear Mountain bridge and then back on the other side- we had to have his mother come get us at the Tappan Zee bridge, because it was closed to bikes/pedestrians. There was the dirt aqueduct trail, which wasn’t terrible, but pretty flat. I think in retrospect you could do some decent hill interval stuff there, since it is quite hilly, but that wasn’t really where I was at as a kid. There was one kid in my HS who somehow got into serious road riding- how he found this I will never know. His parents had to drive him somewhere to ride with his club, though, I think. Mine both worked, so that wasn’t happening. Cycling for me really had to wait until I got to Western MA and Western NY state.

  13. Harris

    I grew up in the rural Mississippi delta in the 1970’s and 80’s. My dad and all his friends were runners, and as they got older, got into cycling; there were some great bikes – a 1979 Raleigh Professional, my dad’s Peugeot, and a couple more really cool bikes. They had a loop out and back from town on a country road, 10 miles out, 10 miles back. My dad traded in his Peugeot for a Merckx in 1985. My first non-BMX bike was a cool Ross 5-speed. When I turned 15, my dad got me a sweet Centurion Dave Scott Ironman, and I started to ride with the old dudes.

    After living other places, becoming a runner, and then leading an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle, I moved back to my hometown, and before my oldest was born, bought a Madone and started riding again. On the same road. From time to time, with the same old dudes. Although relegated to mostly indoor use, I still have the Centurion. My buddy still has his 1979 Raleigh Professional, although it is unrecognizable as such. My dad has had the Merckx repainted at least once, and it is still his primary bike, but updated with a modern group. I like to take it out from time to time, when he won’t know, sort of like I did when I was 15.

    I thank those old guys for being out on the road all those years, because the regulars on it know to keep a lookout, and all you have to worry about are the kids burning it up and down the road; but they had to worry about that in 1979, too. As soon as my kids are old enough for a geared bike, I hope they will be out there with us.

  14. Rob

    Growing up in NewHampshire, my friends and I all rode bikes as I’m sure many kids do and did. I was completely unaware, however, that you could ride bikes as a hobby or even a profession as an adult. It never crossed my mind to race anyone other than my friends though our neighborhood trails.

    The first time I rode a road bike was my senior year of college. It was so foreign and so fast. I was hooked.

    Now, living in Boulder, immersed in cycling and the culture, its a different world.

    I have a few home-town friends whom appear to ride (Thanks Facebook and Strava!) but I don’t think my sleepy town in NH has much of a booming cycling culture. I do, however, looking forward to riding whenever I’m home.

  15. Jan

    Grew up as a girl child in the Bay Area suburbs, and rode my bike loads as a kid, first a little girls’ bike, then grew into my brother’s Stingray (while he grew into a ten speed at 12), and then a three speed (because, apparently, being a girl…). But I still rode that bike everywhere: it meant freedom from overprotectiveness, from enforced dresses, freedom to just go wherever.

    I remember when we’d drive somewhere and see some touring biker, I’d always wish I were having some adventure like that.

    I finally got a ten speed to go away to college, UC Davis, where biking to commute was (is?) a way of life.

    I went away, and years passed and some friends invited me to go out biking, and it felt good. It felt free like when I was a 12 year old, except my bike is a while lot better, with granny gears to help me up hills. I may not be a touring biker, but I go places, and I can see kids in cars, and wonder if they wish they were out riding in the middle of nowhere, too. I hope so.

  16. Phaedrus

    I’m from the Ferguson area. A few weeks ago, I would have said that I was from St Louis because nobody outside North St Louis County would have heard of Ferguson. When I was a kid, we rode our bikes everywhere. The area didn’t have a cycling infrastructure, we just rode. We rode through yards, parks, and anywhere our BMX tires would allow. Bikes were our transportation to our friends houses, the pool, and school.
    These days, there isn’t much cycling there, but the news crews aren’t painting a complete portrait of the area. The area really is great. There is a nice bike shop in downtown Ferguson and a wonderful brewery across the street. My grandfathers barber shop is just a few doors down and the oldness of the area combined with some well done renovations give the downtown a vibrant glimmer that outshines many of the old neighborhoods in St. Louis.
    I’ve since moved to Edwardsville, IL (across the Mississippi from St Louis). I’ve landed in a cycling haven. There are hundreds of miles of bike specific trails in the county and long winding farm roads throughout the area that lend themselves to getting lost on long rides. Some days there is so much bike traffic on the trails, I can only stand to ride out in the country.
    The culture in Edwardsville is wonderful. Upon moving, my wife and I were taken in as if we’d been part of the family all along. Within a week, we were on the group emails for rides and following our new friends on unfamiliar routes. We are quite lucky.

  17. Emessner

    I grew up riding around Windham (Southern), New Hampshire because my parents weren’t married and both worked. With nobody to drive the suburban circuit, I had a bike and that was my social life. I remember falling asleep at the handlebar on flat straight stretches riding to school in the morning, riding with 50 pounds of paintball gear to backyard “big games” on weekends, riding to work until I could afford a car.
    I stopped as soon as I bought a car and only started again when I had a real job with peers who rode awesome race machines on lunch breaks. Now I ride for fitness, sport, socialization, and pleasure. But I often try to resurrect the lazy circles I made when I wanted to be in motion with nowhere to go. I try to forget goals and routes and get a little lost from time to time. Now cycling connects all the weird better and worse of my past and present.

  18. Todd

    Grew up in East Texas. No cycling culture there. I rode a bike to college (25 years ago), and felt like an idiot because people just didn’t do that there. Currently in Lakewood, CO- where the number of cyclists on the roads has increased every year for the last 10 years- probably tenfold. Awesome!

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