The Best Way to Ride
Shift into high gear with a bike club
By Erin Bell

Take your old bicycle out of the garage, dust it off and get ready to join a bike gang. Cycling clubs in South Jersey can improve your workout, provide companionship and simply make pedaling a bit more pleasurable.

“It can get very monotonous riding alone,” says Jim Wheatcroft of the Jersey Shore Cycling Club. “Going out by yourself from your house and riding 20 miles every day? After a while, the motivation wanes, and there’s no one to push you. You’re going to go whatever speed you go, and that’s that.”

IMG_1428But with a leader to follow and people biking alongside you, you’re more motivated to maintain a good pace, he says. Membership in a bike club means you have access to organized group rides that vary in length, intensity and location.

You’ll find plenty of clubs in SJ to choose from (see sidebar) but Tony Marchionne, bike chair of the Outdoor Club of South Jersey, recommends doing your homework first to find one you like. Search each club’s website to see what activities and rides they offer.

“Reach out to people,” Marchionne says. “Talk to a group leader and get some information about what that club has to offer.”

If you’re getting into biking to lose weight, start by taking walks and stretching a lot before you hit the bike trail. “Depending on your age, I’d also check with a doctor before joining a bike club,” Wheatcroft says.

Club rides are social events for members as well. Bikers in the Jersey Shore Club, which bikes from Toms River to Cape May, catch up with friends as they bike. “We talk about the ride we did last week, how are the kids, have you seen any good movies lately,” says Wheatcroft. “Anything you might talk about if you met at the bar for happy hour.”

But social and health perks aside, most bike club participants are there because they love biking, Wheatcroft says. And you don’t have to be a pro, you just have to enjoy it. That’s how Wheatcroft became involved in his club.

“I got into biking in the early ’80s,” he says. “I was giving up smoking, and I would jump on my bike after dinner when I had the urge to smoke.” Then he and a friend decided to push themselves, biking further and further until they could make it from Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore. “That created a monster,” he laughs.

There’s no stamina requirement to join a bike club – most rides are classified by length and pace so first-time cyclists can start easy, while more advanced bikers can still be challenged.

“We started a couple of slower-paced rides this year, what we call ‘no-drop’ rides. In cycling terminology, if you can’t keep up and they leave you behind, you’re dropped,” explains Wheatcroft. “But we have some rides where the ride leader will ride with the slowest rider.”

open-IMG_1855Once bikers are comfortable with the entry-level rides, they can move up to more challenging rides. “There’s an old cycling adage: the only way to get fast is to go fast,” Wheatcroft says. “The more you ride, the faster and longer you can ride.”

Once you start advanced biking, it might be time to think about getting a new bike, says Marchionne.

“For the lower-level rides, you can get away with the bike you have,” he says. “But as the rides get longer and faster, it’s a good idea to get a better bike to keep up with the speed and comfort levels.” Shop at a bike shop where the staff is trained to ask questions and find a bike that fits you perfectly. Get some gear while you’re at it – helmets are mandatory for bike clubs.

“Any club you work with will expect you to show up with your bike in good working order,” adds Wheatcroft. “That means tires properly inflated and gears shifting properly, and you must carry the equipment required to fix a flat if you get one.”

A club will offer clearly defined ride parameters. For instance, Wheatcroft’s Jersey Shore Club classifies rides as A-plus (usually a longer ride at a rate of 20 mph or faster), A (18-20 mph), B (16-18 mph) and so on. The rides will have detailed directions about where to meet, ride length and route. There might also be information about the pace line (when riders are in a row, and each cyclist spends several seconds at the front of the line to act as the wind buffer for the rest of the line) or if a ride will feature a sprint.

“A sprint is a pre-decided area that adds a little competition,” says Wheatcroft. Ride maps will detail any sprint locations – maybe a quarter-mile between two street signs – where riders race each other before getting back in line.

“It just adds an element of fun and competition,” Wheatcroft says. “You win bragging rights.”

As for favorite spots to ride, Wheatcroft loves the roads around Batsto State Park in Hammonton and Bass River State Park in Tuckerton, while Marchionne likes the roads of Burlington County, especially Medford. He says a popular ride for Outdoor Club members goes through Eastampton and stops at the Olde World Bakery so riders can pick up a treat. But he acknowledges that SJ terrain has its downfalls for cyclists.

“The problem with South Jersey is it’s very flat, and I like hills,” he laughs. Club members seeking the challenge of steep hills usually branch out into Philadelphia or central Jersey for a change in scenery. “SJ is good for beginners, because it’s flat.”

Whether riders are beginner or advanced, Marchionne says he hopes more people will join bike clubs to bring visibility to the cycling world.

“In the state in general, cycling is not highly regarded,” he says. “A lot of drivers of automobiles look down on cyclists and don’t give us the right of way we deserve and that we are entitled to by law. So we need people out there saying this is a viable form of transportation, as well as exercise. We need people to advocate for cycling.”

Bike Clubs of SJ

Jersey Shore Cycle Club
Based in Ocean City
Membership: $30

Jersey Shore Touring Society
Based in Red Bank
Membership: $20

Summit Cycling Club
Based in Cherry Hill
Membership: $25

Outdoor Club of South Jersey
Based in Woodbury
Membership: $20

South Jersey Wheelmen
Based in Vineland
Membership: $15

Team Evesham
Based in Marlton
Membership: Free

November 2015
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