Give it a spin 

Occasionally you’ll spot a lone cyclist braving the heat, whizzing down the access road. They’re doing some serious sweating — this is Texas — and you think: crazy-ass. But to that rider, the trek is worth the 10 gallons of water (or other beverage) he or she will need to drink to maintain consciousness. San Antonio is full of such people who, despite the heat, put butt to bike when in need of some me time, or just as a form of transportation.

“There are literally thousands of people who are out there riding in San Antonio,” says Bob Baker, a coordinator for the Cool Cats Cycling Club.

For college students in particular cheap transportation is key — I know I definitely don’t have a $10,000 car fund laying around — but cycling is also a good way to exercise, blow off steam, and hang out with friends.

“For some people, it is therapy. It helps reduce the stress in your life,” Samuel Perez, chair of education for the SA Wheelmen, says. “I sleep better at night when I ride.” Perez rides his bike to work most mornings. “I drive ... a pollution machine, but I only drive it for less than 6,000 miles per year because I bike so much,” he says.

Fabien Jacob, a life-long cyclist (and key member of the Current’s Travels With Frenchie restaurant-review team), started biking because his father was a pro cyclist. “You grow up wanting to be like your dad,” he says.

For Jacob, cycling is a way to escape the hectic rush of daily life — the I-don’t-even-have-time-to-eat life that college students know well. As your thoughts bounce from homework to job to bills, cycling can quiet the overtaxed mind.

“I just like the fact that you can go away from city and relax,” Jacob says.

Perez and Jacob have been cycling for years, but you don’t black belt in biking to enjoy the sport or to participate in San Antonio’s many group rides.

“Group rides can be a good thing” says Carlos Montoya, an avid cyclist and a bicycle repairman at the Bike World location in Alamo Heights (and another core member of the Travels With Frenchie team). “Just being comfortable riding around other people ... helps you be more aware of your surroundings.”

Montoya suggests beginner cyclists look for clubs that fit their style, whether it’s road, mountain, competitive racing, or all three. There are so many
bike-group options here, though, that they’re somewhat overwhelming. You can choose from the SA Wheelmen, Ride like a Girl/Ride with the Girls, the Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club, the Cool Cats Cycling Club, and on and on. If you Google San Antonio bicycle clubs, many clubs’ websites will pop up (the Bombay Bicycle Club is a restaurant and bar, though), and Facebook is another good way to connect with other bike lovers.

“We are a road-riding club, and we specialize in people who are new `to cycling`,” says the Cool Cats’ Baker. “We always keep an experienced rider with a new rider, even if they are at the back, because it can be scary if you are just starting out for the first time and are riding with traffic.”

The Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club also focuses on including the newbies, rather than beating them up. “We are there to help out,” says Heidi Lynn, a ride leader for some of HCBTC’s beginner rides. “That’s our goal: to keep people out biking and staying healthy.”

“`The SA Wheelmen` are purely road and recreational oriented,” Perez says. “For the layman though, we are the ‘hot dog’ racer club — which is a misnomer, if you will ... we just happen to have a lot of people who are skilled riders. It is a diverse club and becoming more so every year ... Our members are from college students to great-grandmothers.”

“The `SA Wheelmen` has been trying to increase participation in the social aspect of the club,” adds Ericka Garcia, chair of social events, who is pumped about the August 2 cycling picnic the Wheelmen recently hosted.

Safety, of course, is paramount, and many resources can help you learn safe bike-riding habits. Perez will offer a basic bike skills course this upcoming year through the League of American Bicyclists (it’s listed at bikeleague.org). The Texas Bicycle Coalition’s website (biketexas.org) offers a rundown of bicycle rules of the road and Bike World sells a simple tip book, Cycling from A to Z.

“It’s a comprehensive guide for kids and adults,” says Mike Beaty, who manages the Alamo Heights shop fleet and coordinates the store’s supply of police bikes to the City.

The San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization publishes a San Antonio bike map that labels every road’s degree of safety for cyclists, based on location and traffic. Lydia Kelly, the MPO’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator/Planner, hopes that the map’s third edition will be ready for the October 14 Bicycle Mobility Advisory Meeting. Give Kelly a ring at (210) 230-6911, or check out the Bicycle Mobility Advisory meetings, which are scheduled the second Wednesday of
every month.

Of course, it’s difficult to learn to safely ride a bike sans bike.

“We always tell people that if you are going to get into cycling and you don’t have anything, it will probably cost you about $1,000,” says Baker. Even so, there are ways to pursue bike heaven without sacrificing your other earthly comforts. Lynn says Performance Bike at 281 and Thousand Oaks seems less expensive than some other shops, and eBay and craigslist are also options.

Cheap bike (hopefully) in hand, you need to protect your investment.

“Two weeks ago, a guy called who had had his bike stolen off of his second-story apartment’s porch,” says Beaty. “Most bikes are stolen because they are not locked.” So if you don’t want to lose your pricey purchase, Beaty recommends dismemberment (take off the front wheel) and chains (use both a U-lock and double-ended cable).

Once you’ve purchased your bike (and helmet!), finding ride time and companions will be relatively easy.

“I was having yogurt at TCBY; I walked across to Bike World, and that was the end of that,” says Tim Tilton, a rider of 15 years and an unofficial leader of the Thursday-night bike ride that leaves from the Bike World parking lot.

Ah, frozen yogurt; mysterious key to the cycling world, probiotic genie in a bottle. This theory hasn’t been scientifically tested, but just head out to Red Mango and see. You may wind up sweating along the access road, in pure cycling bliss.


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