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Smart Buying

Bike Clubs Make Cycling a Sport for Life

Have fun with other cyclists and ride through beautiful countryside.

The Tour de France, which begins July 1, and other professional cycling events are all about racing, but most recreational cyclists are out for fitness, relaxation, and a sense of accomplishment. Whatever bike you decide to ride and whether you're slow or fast, it's a great idea to join a bicycle club and make time to participate in some special weekend events within a few hours of home.

Bike clubs, including the two that my wife, Debbie, and I sometimes ride with, are totally welcoming to new members of all skills. Membership dues are low, and group rides are free most of the time. If you search the Internet for bicycle clubs in your home state or in nearby states, you'll find links to dozens.

Some clubs are for racing and others are for mountain bike enthusiasts, but the majority are general cycling organizations with a full slate of weekly rides at various paces. For example, the Lancaster Bicycle Club in Pennsylvania (annual dues $12 per household) has rides designated at A, B, C and D paces. The A riders are the speed demons and the men and women with the most endurance, while the Bs are not far behind. A C ride is probably the level to start with if you've just acquired a fabulous new bike but aren't in top riding form or condition. The C rides, which are mapped out on route guides called "cue sheets," are generally 25 to 35 miles at 12 or 13 miles per hour, depending on the terrain. Of course, if you live in Florida, a club's C ride may be at a 15 or 17 mph pace, since there are no hills to slow you down. In Lancaster County, one of the finest places in America for recreational cycling because of its back roads through the Pennsylvania Dutch farms, club rides often include an ice cream stop or even breakfast at a church or fire hall along the route.

Most bicycle clubs sponsor annual special events, which draw hundreds or even a couple thousand riders. These are often called "centuries" because the best cyclists will cover 100 miles. You will have shorter options, often as short as 25 miles but commonly 50 or 100 kilometers. (A 100k, called a metric century, is 63 miles and that's what Debbie and I like to do.) Expect to pay $25 or $35 to register, which you can do online. You get a lot for your money: a T-shirt and often a water bottle, mechanics at the start and on call, volunteers to rescue you if you crash or get tired, rest stops every 15 miles or so with bagels, apples, PBJs, brownies, granola and the like, and more substantial post-ride food and drink.


On the East Coast in and in the Midwest, the event season lasts from April through October. In warmer climates, events are held all year. One of the best -- and definitely a place to come to see some awesome bicycles -- is the Princeton Bicycling Event in New Jersey, sponsored for 26 years by the Princeton Free Wheelers club. It's held on the first Saturday in August. There are six marked routes, from an easy 20 miles that a young child or a beginner can do, to a rolling 100 miles. The scenery and the roads are first-rate.