A Wheel Good Time

“You’re slumming it,” my friend, Deb, announces when I show up to her “C” ride one brisk Saturday morning in January.

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“I had a tough year,” I confide. “I logged just seven-hundred-fifty miles last year, and almost nothing since September. I’ve been spending all my time advocating for cycling. I’ve forgotten to ride.”

Back in the day, when I was 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter, I was an “A” rider in the Westchester Cycle Club—one of
the guys who would race up Whippoorwill Hill in Armonk on Wednesdays or fight my way up Allapartus Road in Ossining on Fridays to make it back with the group to Tarrytown Lakes.

But this past year, as my community involvement in cycling grew, my time on the road diminished. It was a zero-sum game I’ve grown sick of playing. I’ve been busy. I’m in my fifth year as president of the 1,400-member Westchester Cycle Club, which was founded in 1975 and has seen its membership almost double since 2004. I also volunteered to lead the Bike Walk Alliance of Westchester & Putnam, which has emerged as the grassroots-organizing arm of the region’s cycling and pedestrian movement. At the bike club, we are building the community through hosting volunteer-led rides—873 in 2009, up 35 percent from 2008—and holding multi-level rides that end in time for up to 100 riders to share lunch together. Our Golden Apple ride on Labor Day weekend is Westchester’s biggest participatory recreational event.

With the Alliance, I’m advocating for secure bike storage at Westchester train stations, a state law that will require motorists to give cyclists a three-foot buffer when passing, and completion of Westchester’s trailway system. That includes connecting the North and South County Trailways in Elmsford, and developing Westchester’s piece of the East Coast Greenway up the Bronx River Reservation, through White Plains, along Westchester Avenue to Rye Brook, and up the Hutchinson River Parkway right-of-way to the Greenwich, Connecticut, border.

All this activism has cut into my time on the road. I was losing touch with the sport that, even with a pair of creaky knees, lets me push myself to my physical limit. My legs ached for a taste of those Westchester hills.

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On a Saturday in January, I check the club’s ride board. The “B” ride that day will go 50 miles from Purchase. My friends are riding. But I can’t face the humiliation of being dropped by the group.

So I show up for the 37-mile “C” ride at the Millwood A&P, dressed in winter booties, snug tights, and a bright yellow jacket, which is a little tight at the midriff. Off we head on a loop that graces the sharp hills of the Rivertowns of Tarrytown, Briarcliff, Ossining, and Croton.

I find my rhythm on Route 448, on the uphill of all places, ascending to the Rockefeller lands, a scene preserved from pastoral Westchester of the early 20th century. I’m sweating now, my quads are past that early ache, and I’m feeling strong. Then it’s that joyful descent by the Pocantico schools, where I hit an exhilarating 38 miles an hour. Before long, I’m climbing Old Briarcliff Road, and I realize I’ve discovered a new corner of Westchester’s landscape, one of those countryside secrets revealed serendipitously by bike. We cross the Croton Dam, look for bald eagles, and stop to listen to the water thunder over the dam’s spillway.

We loop around the west side of the Croton Reservoir—no talking now, just listening to the silence as the afternoon sun glints off the dull gray ice. My cadence is easy, my mind clear. On Route 134, my senses are fully engaged. I’m watching the road for hazards. I’m listening for cars approaching from the rear. I’m feeling my heart pumping. I breathe in the cool winter air. Now I’ve grabbed on my buddy’s rear wheel, drafting a foot behind him on the flats, falling in his slipstream. I’m back on the road. I feel very alive.


Photo by Michael Polito

David McKay Wilson, 56, plans to ride at least 1,500 miles on his Calfee Pro Luna in 2010.

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