They ride for their health, for the camaraderie and to get out and smell the roses. Groups of bicyclists in Stanislaus County can be seen every weekend soaring down rural roads along pastures and almond orchards or making the ascent up Del Puerto Canyon.
A popular 30-mile group ride from east Modesto to Valley Home by way of Riverbank attracted about 30 cyclists Sunday.
Cycling is the best exercise because there is no impact on your joints and you are out smelling the roses, and I enjoy it for those reasons, said 72-year-old J.C. Cox. When you first start, your mindset is, I cant do that, but after you do it for a little while, you realize, I can do these hundred-mile rides and I can climb up Priest Grade Road.
Cox started cycling when he was 68 and has since participated in numerous bicycle races and triathlons. And, yes, he is referring to the Priest Grade Road in Tuolumne County that averages a 15 percent grade and is known to cause cars to overheat.
While he could easily be at the front of the pack with the so-called B and A riders who cycle at 16 mph to 24 mph, Cox said that on group rides, he likes to pull the C group, acting as windbreak to the riders behind him.
One of the ride organizers, Efren Martinez, often leads the entire group, reducing drag for the cyclists behind him.
Martinez said the Sunday afternoon ride is unique because it attracts riders of all levels and ages, members of the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club, members of racing teams and new riders.
He refers to the ride as the ladies and gentlemen ride because everyone looks out for one another and ensures no one is left behind.
This Sunday was the first time 13-year-old Cole Liekhus went on the ladies and gentlemen ride. But Liekhus isnt new to cycling; he comes from a family of enthusiasts.
Consider Sundays loop one of many training rides for a ride of more than 400 miles that Liekhus and his family have planned for summer. He, along with his parents, 10- and 12-year-old sisters, 8-year-old brother and grandparents, will cycle from the Golden Gate Bridge to Disneyland, he said.
Liekhus said he enjoys riding the draft of other cyclists on group rides but also likes having people to talk with.
Cox agrees. As a board member of the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club, he said the rides, meetings and guest speaker presentations afforded to members are a big part of his social life.
Riding in a group is also much safer than going solo. I feel that riding in groups (not only helps encourage) you if you are meeting people, you have to get out there there is also safety in numbers, said Stanislaus County Bicycle Club President Susan Dion.
Safety is a concern for cyclists everywhere. Cyclists consider many roads in Modesto and surrounding areas to be bike-unfriendly, but Dion said the environment is improving.
After four consecutive years of Modesto being part of the Amgen Tour of California route, Dion said club membership went up to 225 people from a steady 100. Through that growth, the club with help from area racing teams and fundraising rides raised about $6,500 to purchase 42 Share the Road signs. Half the signs have been installed in high-traffic areas all over the county.
A new law that will go into effect in September also requires motorists to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of room if passing them on a highway.
Martinez encourages anyone to come to the ladies and gentlemen ride on Sundays, which meets at the Village One Plaza at Roselle and Floyd avenues at 2 p.m. Its a free-for-all, he said. You just need a road bike, helmet and a friendly attitude.
For more on the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club, visit its website, www.stancobike.org. Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.