The Call of the Ride

By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View

On a pretty morning, they pop up like wildflowers. Some appear en masse, others take the road alone, yet each rider is compelled to ditch Saturday chores and errands in favor of the spoke and the wheel. One might dub it the “call of the ride,” that strange force that urges busy professionals to hit the road on a bike or motorcycle. Whatever you call it, for true believers, the drive to traverse the Hill Country on two wheels is visceral.

“It’s just a great way, after spending a week indoors at work, to be outside…in the fresh air” says Carolyn Pickard, a bank professional and an active member of the Texas Hill Country Harley Owner’s Group. “You can appreciate the beautiful area around San Antonio, where you can ride year ‘round.” There’s the companionship, too, of the group rides. “That combination of the wind and the sun on your face and being with your friends,” Pickard sighs, ”Well, it’s just wonderful.”

Cyclist Patrick Moore agrees, to a point. He sees a distinct advantage in pedaling versus revving an engine.

“It’s definitely a body, mind and soul experience. You are improving yourself, getting in touch with nature, and you get a better appreciation for what we have around us,” says Moore, an orthodontist who rides with Valero Energy Corporation’s Velo Valero cycling team. “To me, we’ve all driven through the Hill Country in a car, but you miss a lot that way. On a bicycle, you go at a slower pace and are more involved with nature than when you are going 60 mph…It’s more spiritual, riding in the open air. It’s meditative. You experience a response to nature and you focus on concentrating on the open road. It’s exercise, but you aren’t working so hard that you are laboring.”

Curiously, as one chats with area cyclists and bikers, the similarities become more striking than the differences. First, there’s the wide-eyed enthusiasm both groups share for their sport. Next, there’s the language. Ask a biker or cyclist what compels them to devote their spare time to the open road and the conversation revs up with words like “freedom,” “fresh air” and “exhilaration”. Poke around the Internet and you’ll even see both groups lay claim to the word “cycletherapy”, a term meant to convey the cathartic effects of a good ride.

“If you’ve never ridden, you can’t really explain it,” says Catherine Chastaine, a nurse practitioner and Harley-Davidson enthusiast. “When I ride, we’re in groups. You’re connected with other people but in your own little world at the same time…free to think about, or not think about, whatever you want. You can go fast, go slow…whatever you want to do. It helps you de-stress, I guess, like maybe someone who practices yoga.”

And then there’s the desire to connect to with others and contribute to the greater good. From diabetes research to veteran’s groups, a number of local and national charities rely on bikers and cyclists to generate funds through group rides and races.

“Being a member of Velo Valero team is a great way to not only meet good people and enjoy the outdoors, but to give back to the community,” says Valero’s chairman and CEO Bill Klesse. He personally made the switch from mountain to road biking last year in preparation for the two-day, 150-mile Valero MS 150 Bike to the Beach. Klesse appreciates the fact that his company’s team includes not only employees but also family, friends and business associates. “The team is very organized,” Klesse says, “[and it] has great training rides and offers support to new and experienced riders.”

For cyclists and bikers, dealers and private riding clubs provide basic and advanced training classes and workshops. The makeup of these courses increasingly reflects a new demographic. “Women are definitely more out there on the road,” observes Nikki Lynch, owner of Nikki’s Bicycleworks in Boerne. “Men tend to be more competitive, more hardcore. Women ride because they like it.” The media buzz around Austinite Lance Armstrong’s multiple Tour de France wins has attracted new cyclists of both sexes.
“When I moved here from Golden, Colorado in ’85, I had intentions to open up a bicycle shop,” says Lynch. “But it just wasn’t as cycle friendly here then, so I got cold feet.” Then came Lance, cycling took off, and last year Lynch launched her own business in Boerne with a lease from Britton’s Bicycle Shop. “I think Lance has made a big, big difference,” says Lynch.

Hype has helped the motorcycle business, too. “When the chopper shows came out on Discovery and other channels,” says Javelina Harley-Davidson’s Tony Fernandez, “everyone wanted one. Females are really attracted to the sport, with the hot demographic being the 22 to 54-year olds. But my nieces knew the Harley bar and shield [logo] when they were 3. It’s like McDonald’s; it’s easy to recognize. And a bike is just part of the lifestyle, one of freedom and pride. And that appeals to everyone.”

With interest surging in both sports, one cannot help but wonder if the riders ever wonder what the view is like over the other set of handlebars.

“I’ve ridden a bicycle before, about five miles or so at a time,” says Chastaine. “I enjoyed it, but it’s not the same. It’s more stressful on my body. I enjoy having the machine move me along.”

“I’m a Harley wannabe,” Lynch confesses with a chuckle. “I don’t know that I’ll ever own one, but I want one. It’s like riding a bike, I think, the sense of freedom, enjoying a gorgeous day. You do have to watch out for the bugs in the teeth though, I suppose.”

“You know, it’s funny, but we seem to operate in different worlds,” observes Javelina’s Fernandez. “We see ‘em riding past us all the time, and occasionally [a cyclist] will come in and look around. We’re always looking for groups to partner with on charity events and blood drives. If a bicycle group were interested in doing something together, we might try it sometime. You never know.”

Sounds like an unusual match, but one certainly made for the open road.

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