By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
They say you never forget how to ride a bike. For some Cullman residents, that’s an understatement. The Rumors Bike Club has members who have been riding for years, but they welcome any and everyone to join them in this fun, low-impact sport.
“We encourage anyone from beginners to intermediate and experienced riders,” stressed Annette Harris, charter member of the bike club, which meets at her restaurant, Rumors Deli, and makes its circuitous route around the city.
The group started out small, and has grown to about 25 members, but that number fluctuates as people take vacations, kids start playing ball or new members are added.
The bikers vary the routes to keep the ride from getting boring, and have devised routes that allow beginners to complete a cycle, while others continue to ride a longer route. “People of all ages and skill levels ride with us,” said Harris. “We don’t want people to think that they have to start out riding long distances, there are several routes that can bring them back around to the starting point.”
Cullman’s wide streets are perfect for cycling, running, walking and jogging. The recent beautiful spring weather has brought people out in droves to stretch their legs and get some exercise.
It’s a great way to meet people, too. “A lot of people just like riding in a group for the companionship,” Harris pointed out.
The group is very safety conscious, making sure that people know the rules of the road, and that they wear the proper safety equipment, like helmets. “We plan to have a beginner’s class this year to insure that everyone knows how to be safe, and also how to be courteous to drivers and other riders,” said Harris.
“This class will be for people who don’t know anything about riding or how to use their bike. A lot of people are intimidated by the more experienced riders, but there are members of all skill levels who ride with us,” Harris explained.
“Most of us have learned how to change a flat and do general maintenance on our bikes,” she added.
“This is for fun, these aren’t mountain bikes, although we do have members who also ride those, this is for people who want to exercise at their own pace, and there is always room for advancement.”
Harris points out that this sport is relatively inexpensive, and that there are no dues from members.
The group got started about two years ago. “We never expected to ride the way we are doing,” she admitted. “We started out riding for about two or three miles, some people could only ride for about 10 minutes in the beginning, but now we have three loops around town, and people can stop at any point.”
They meet at Rumors at 5:30 p.m. and each individual rides for as long as they feel comfortable. There is a one-mile, two-mile and four-mile loop. The average ride is about two miles, round trip.
They start riding about this time in the spring and ride as long as the weather permits. “Most of us stop when it gets below 55 degrees in the winter, but it never gets too hot,” Harris laughed. “We bring water with us and we can stop to rest in the shade if necessary.”
Some of the more experienced riders, like Dr. and Mrs. Vince Bergquist, started out slow, but have built up their endurance to the point that they now ride 25-30 miles, three times per week.
Dr. Vince Bergquist, M.D. Orthopedic Surgeon and an avid bicyclist, says that bicycling is excellent exercise to maintain and increase cardiovascular (heart) and pulmonary (lung) functioning. “Since it is low-impact it is also good for toning and building muscles without joint damage. Weight control is another plus since steady biking burns about 300 calories per hour,” he said.
“Maintaining and even increasing coordination and balance are important benefits it has proven to be good for mental health — especially when done outside,” he explained. “Just about any age group can enjoy bicycling’s benefits. If there is any doubt of its appropriateness for you, asking your primary care physician is a good thing before beginning and make sure you have the right equipment — a bike that fits you, as well as a helmet are important.”
Not everyone is able to devote that much effort or time to the sport, but its one activity that allows for individuals to monitor themselves and most people know when to call it a day. Others like the challenge of a longer, more vigorous ride.
“People often surprise themselves at how fast they build up to riding longer distances,” said Harris. “We’ve had riders from the age of three to people in their 60s,” said Harris. “It’s a fun activity for the whole family, and it encourages people to get up and get outside.”
Ben Harrison and his family ride with the club. “It’s a great way to spend time with my family,” said Harrison, whose daughter Sophie, 9, and son, Cole, 5, have both been riding for a couple of years. “I want them to learn a sport that will last them a lifetime,” he explained. “You can only play baseball or football for so long, but you can ride a bike for years.”
Cole rides along sometimes when Ben runs. “Cole can ride five miles when I’m running, and Sophie can ride as long as the rest of the group rides. It’s a great way to stay active,” said Harrison.
Unlike some sports, bike riding is easy on the joints, and people can ride at their own speed. This is not a race. “Its good for people who have arthritis in their knees,” Harris pointed out. “It builds energy, stamina, and motivates people to get outside and have fun,” she said. “Some people walk up the steeper hills, and there are three-wheel bikes for people who have trouble with balance,” she added.
Club member Becky Loyd says that this suits her lifestyle much better than other forms of exercise. “I had gastric bypass surgery in 2004 and at my physician's recommendation I joined a fitness club,” she explained. “Doing the same old thing time after time got boring to me. When I heard about the bike club, my husband, Jim, and I wanted to start riding. Finding the appropriate bike for me took a few tries, but after that it has been fairly easy. Riding bikes is a good way to get exercise. It gets the heart pumping, the legs burning and helps burn calories.”
The club members sometimes take field trips to places like Chief Ladiga Trail on the Alabama/Georgia line, which offers a 33-mile ride on a converted Southern Railroad bed.
“It just blew out minds,” said Harris of the trip.
They frequently ride at Sportsman’s Lake Park, and on many of Cullman shady, level or gently curving and rising streets.
Denise Hays Peek says she thoroughly enjoys riding with the group. “It's definitely exercise with a little socializing thrown in to keep it fun,” she laughed. “We choose different routes to break up the monotony and then we just sit back and see what happens. We've had several unexpected things happen on our rides.”
“Cullman is the friendliest little town. People smile and wave as we pass by their homes. One neighbor was grilling steaks and invited us for dinner,” she laughed.
“If anyone has a ‘hankering’ for a fun way to exercise, I would highly recommend riding a bike,” said Loyd. “It’s something that the whole family can do together. We would love to have anyone join us on our Monday, Wednesday and Friday rides.”
“Rob Werner has been a big help to our club members,” said Harris. “He made a contribution to a favorite charity in honor of Rumor's Bike Club, and has also been very helpful to everyone interested in buying a bike. Justin Loyd who works at Werner’s Trading Company has really been helpful fitting members with bikes and other equipment,” said Harris.
The Chief Ladiga Trail starts at the Alabama-Georgia state line. At about mile marker 7.0, the trail crosses the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail. It travels west to Piedmont then on to Jacksonville and ends in Weaver, Alabama. It travels through wetlands, across streams, through forests and farmlands, and includes a horizon view of the Talladega Mountains. There are several bridges and both new and restored railroad trestles.