Bike club puts pedals to the metal
There’s no better place to be a cyclist than the City of Trees. With over 30 linear miles of bicycle infrastructure and organizations geared towards all ages and cycling skill levels, Claremont—which has been designated as a bike-friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists—is a haven for riders.
The Claremont Senior Bicycle Group (CSBG), sponsored by the Claremont Senior Program, provides an environment where riders can participate and grow in a safe and friendly setting. It encourages older cyclists to ride whenever they can with groups that suit their style.
In 2014, the CSBG rode 112,000 cumulative miles, with regular rides scheduled every day of the week except Friday and Sunday. Each day offers variations in distance and pace so that riders of all abilities can join.
“On Tuesday, we have a beginning group that does about five miles in the Village, which is great because when people start, they’re not ready for a 15-mile ride,” says CSBG founder and advisor Larry Scheetz. “Once they enjoy five miles two or three times a week, and after riding a few months—sometimes even weeks—they ride in a 15-mile Wednesday ride. Now, those same people who started out with us are riding 50, 60, 70 miles.”
The Claremont Senior Bicycle Group began in 1997 with 13 cyclists and has grown over the years to 125 members strong. Cyclists range in age from 55 to 92, with women making up more than 50 percent of the recreational bike club.
Depending on the day, the cyclists gather at a designated location and hit the open road for a group ride. Monday and Wednesday are the most popular days, drawing 30 to 40 cyclists in two groups—the traditional group and the more challenging power group—following a leader and traveling to locales like Bonelli Park.
“When you’re biking, you don’t really get acquainted with people. But when you sit down and eat with them, you get to know them, so on most of our rides there’s a food stop,” founding member and CSBG ride leader, Dr. Jim Beasom explains. “Some people just have coffee and others have a full breakfast.”
“And then there’s those of us who ride-to-eat and eat-to-ride,” Mr. Scheetz adds with a smile.
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday riders can enjoy a 30-mile round trip to Victoria Gardens, where again the group shares a meal before pedaling back to 91711, making sure nobody gets left behind.
“We always have a sweeper who stays in the back to make sure we don’t drop anybody,” says Mr. Scheetz. “The women really like it because not too many of them can fix their own flat tires, which are very common on a ride.”
Longtime Claremont resident Dorothy Elwell joined the CSBG group in 1999. She’d always been active with swimming, hiking and bicycling around town, so joining the senior bike group seemed like something she’d enjoy.
“I thought I could keep up with senior citizens, no problem,” she recalls of her first ride with the group. “Au contraire! My little five-mile rides were nothing compared to the distances these guys were doing. It was amazing and inspiring.”
After riding with the group for 10 years, Ms. Elwell was appointed president of the Claremont Senior Bike Group in 2009. It’s the people and friendships she’s made along the way that keep this 85-year-old gal coming back for more.
“My recommendation for people who exercise is to do it with friends, so there’s a commitment there,” she says. “It’s an act of will for me every single day, and more so the older I get, but I love these people and how I feel after a ride.”
Dr. Beasom, a retired orthopedic surgeon and former chief of staff at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center is at 92 years old, the oldest rider in the bunch. On Monday and Wednesday mornings, you’ll find him leading the pack on his recumbent trike, starting off the ride with his trademark, “Tally ho!”
“I used to say ‘Let’s go!’ and people would be talking and not riding, but when I said ‘Tally ho!’ everybody got the message,” he says. “It woke people up, and that’s continued.”
Medically speaking, Dr. Beasom says cycling, in addition to golf and swimming, has allowed him to maintain his strength, balance and endurance. His advice to seniors: It’s never too late to start.
“I bike just as fast now as I did 20 years ago,” he says proudly. ”We used to think that people over 70 were over the hill and wouldn’t be able to improve, but it turns out that people can still improve their muscle strength after 90. You have to work at it, and the older you are, the more you have to work at it. The minute you let up, you start to go downhill and it’s hard to get it back, so you just have to be consistent.”
In addition to local excursions, the senior cycle group offers bi-monthly out-of-town rides—typically 40 to 70 miles—to various places including Orange County beaches via river trails. Special events such as the Tour de Palm Springs, Solvang Century, Tour de Foothills, Lighthouse Century and Plain Wrap Ride are also loosely organized and available to members looking for a challenge.
Whether you’re seeking exercise or adventure, there is just something about riding a bike that brings out the kid in everyone, no matter what age you are.
“When you’re coming fast down Mt. Baldy on your bike, it’s hard to feel that you’re old,” Dr. Beason says. “It’s just a sensation, but it’s one you don’t get with any other sport, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Claremont Senior Bicycle Group meets at 4 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at the Joslyn Senior Center, located at 660 N. Mountain Ave. For information about ride schedules and membership, visit www.claremontseniorbikegroup.org.