Pequot Cyclists keep on rolling along
While pedaling along Atlantic Street on the Niantic shoreline the other day, I watched sailboats tack and terns dive in Niantic Bay as fragrances from neighborhood flower gardens wafted in a gentle breeze.
Dark clouds that had only an hour ago threatened rain slowly lifted, and a few rays of sunshine brought a sparkle to the rippling water.
It was the perfect time for an early evening spin, and the dozens of riders I joined, all members of the Pequot Cyclists, would no doubt agree.
For some 40 years from April to September, the club has organized a Wednesday night “pizza ride” that changes from week to week at different locations throughout southeastern Connecticut, and I tagged along for this week’s outing.
There were two suggested routes — an 11-miler and a 20-miler, both beginning and ending at McCook Point Park. I opted for the shorter distance for two reasons: I wanted to set aside time to chat with club members during the post-ride pizza segment, but mostly because I hadn’t been on two wheels since last fall. My legs and lungs may have been willing, but other parts of the body need to work up to a long bike ride.
As soon as I started rolling, though, I had the same thought I always have when I hop on the saddle after a long absence: “This is fun! I’ve got to do this more often!”
The pace was relaxing, the scenery inspiring and the companionship welcoming.
I wound up pedaling alongside Duncan Bailey of Norwich, the club’s winter event coordinator. He told me that, although serious riders in the 350-or-so-member club do cycle hard for as long as 60 miles on Sundays year-round, the organization also schedules hikes and, when conditions permit, cross-country ski and snowshoe outings during cold-weather months.
In addition, the club is big on socializing.
“We’re not just cycling buddies — we’re buddies,” club president Shelley Reuben of Niantic said while munching on a salad after Wednesday’s ride. “We have a holiday dinner, a dance, a Toys for Tots benefit …”
As Bailey explained in an email, “We have a multi-talented and committed core of dedicated members who do everything from sewing and repairing cycle clothing, gear and repairing donated bikes destined for social service agencies in our region, to offering weekly time trials and venturing out across the Eastern seaboard to participate in neighboring club rides held most summer weekends.”
While members include fast riders, the Pequot Cyclists — formed in the late 1970s as a merger of the former Yankee Peddlers and the old Norwich Cycling Club — is not devoted to racing.
Speedsters in the region are more inclined to join the Mystic Velo Club, a USA Cycling and USA Triathlon registered organization that hosts an annual criterium and promotes competition. While Mystic Velo notes on its website, “We do not require race participation,” it adds, “Members are encouraged to develop cycling skills based on available time, interest, and ability. … Our members serve as mentors and information sources for newcomers and experienced riders alike to help those interested in competitive and recreational cycling excel.”
Although there were a handful of younger men and women at Wednesday’s “pizza ride” hosted by Pequot Cyclists, most appeared to be eligible for AARP membership — and are deservedly proud to have embraced healthy and active lifestyles while many their age have grown sedentary.
Jim Zito of Waterford, who pedals a tandem with Carol Flanagan of New London, is about to turn 77. They decided to share a two-person bike because, when they rode separately, “I kept getting ahead of her,” he joked.
Zito said he started riding after having a heart attack in 1994.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. That “wake-up call” inspired him to start exercising and pay better attention to his diet. A number of other club members have survived heart attacks, breast cancer and other afflictions, Zito said.
Jo-Ann and Gary Carlson also pedal a bicycle-built-for-two.
“The first time we went out on a tandem, I asked him, ‘What do I do?’ and he teased, ‘Just sit and look pretty,’” Jo-Ann said. She likes riding in the back because that way when she wants to stop, “I just tap him on the butt.”
Joann Hodge of Waterford said she hasn’t slowed down as she’s grown older.
“I’ve always been slow,” she quipped.
The members I spoke with may not have been training for the Tour de France, but they were quick with a smile and a joke, had a positive attitude toward life and appeared to be having as much fun during the post-ride festivities as they did while pedaling along the scenic route. What could be better?
For more information about the club and a schedule of upcoming rides, visit pequotcyclists.com.
More information about the Mystic Velo club is available on mysticvelo.com.
A number of bicycle shops in the region also schedule regular rides, so check with your local store if you’re looking to participate in group workouts.