I’m starting a recurring series about riders that have shaped my “distinguished” career as a recreational cyclist. This first one begins circa 1993 and I was 14 years old.
I knew they should be coming I was sure of it, it was 5:45 on a Tuesday evening and we were on Lovers Lane. My buddy Hedge was riding along beside me on his Dad’s red Specialized and I was cruising on my Dad’s blue Raleigh. Usually our rides took us to town to rent Nintendo games and hit the secret soda machine that would give you 4 or 5 Mountain Dews for a quarter if you knew how to push the button right. But tonight we were on an all together different mission.
Hedge would normally be riding a 20 inch freestyle bike and I would be riding some kind of Huffy Mountain bike, but this ride was different; we weren’t going for a leisurely cruise to mess around in town, no this was serious business we were going on ROAD BIKE RIDE. Our bikes may have been built for speed but our gym shorts, T-shirts, and basketball shoes, not to mention overweight bodies betrayed our status has kids who had no idea what we were doing.
“Here they come,” Hedge said. Cresting the hill came a group of riders like I’d only seen on TV. I counted 12 riders cruising down the road at a easy yet brisk pace. There were smiles and waves, “You’re going the wrong way,” someone yelled. “5 O’clock at the big flag,” someone else yelled. I wanted to turn around but I couldn’t help but be intimidated. These guys were all skinny, and they all had bona-fide cycling gear, even helmets. I’d have never seen anyone wear a cycling helmet. My family had been riding bikes for as long as I could remember and I’d never seen a cycling helmet.
A couple of weeks ago I had seen an article from the newspaper about a local cycling club that had got a bike route marked around town. There was a photo of the group, and a map of the route, along with an open invitation to join the group Tues and Thursday for rides. My friend and I had followed the route backwards once already and saw the group a couple of times. We decided that Thursday we would go to the big flag and meet up the group, this is where I met Spider.
When we pulled up to the bank parking lot with the huge flag there was already a small crowd forming. A tall guy immediately came up to us, “Hey, its the backwards guys, glad to see you.” He started introducing himself and the other riders, he was called Spider because in High School he was all legs and arms. His wife was along on the ride, and a cast of other characters who were mostly stand offish.
“Where’s you’re helmet?” one of the guys who had been fussing with his bike looked up and asked. He was wearing a Motorola cycling cap with the bill turned upwards, and from the looks of both him and his machine I could tell he was in a different league then most of the other riders.
“Umm, I don’t have one,” I answered.
“Well you ought to get one, I’d hate to scoop your brains up off the road,” the guy replied as he started wiping his bike with a towel.
“Come on man don’t scare off the new guys before they’ve even ridden with us,” Spider said with a laugh. “You guys really should get a helmets though, its good for your brain.”
About that time a big group pulled in led by a guy with a 12 inch beard. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, “That’s snake, and his gang.” Spider told me. His gang was mostly kids younger then me, and one about my age. “Hey Snake, are you feeling better,” Spider yells out.
“Yeah, I can move again,” Snake answers back. Spider explains that Snake rode a 150 mile ride last weekend and when he finished he couldn’t get off his bike. Everyone is doing a few last minute odds and ends on their bikes, airing up tires and talking then we are about to take off. A beat up red truck pulls in and a man and woman get out, I recognize this guy I’ve met him once before.
“Don’t wait on me guys, just go ahead, it won’t be hard to catch up to you,” the guy says as a he pulls nice looking road bike out of the truck.
“We couldn’t start the ride without you JC, it just wouldn’t be right.” Snake says.
We left on the ride and after a few miles everyone fans out a bit. Spider gave me lots of hints on riding in a group and emphasized riding safely. I ask Spider about every rider as they peel off the front, “Could I keep up with them,” I ask.
“Only if they want you too,” he would answer. We regrouped after a big climb that forces me into the lowest gear my 12 speed Raleigh has to offer and has me standing to power over. On the second half of the 14 mile course the ride picks up speed and stronger riders pull far away from the group. I spent alot of time talking to Snake and Spider because they don’t take part in the high speed chase and just cruise at the back of the pack.
When the ride was over I was invited back for the next ride and also invited by Snake on his Saturday morning ride. I was stunned by how fast some of the riders had climbed the hills and how close we rode together in a group, and I was thrilled with how friendly everyone had been, especially Spider and Snake, who despite their names were great guys. Little would I know I would make life long friends on that ride and become a bike nut myself.