By Félix Alfonso Peña
With leisurely 20-milers to lengthy rambles and adventures, Berks County Bicycle Club appeals to many levels of fitness.
If you’re a cyclist and ventured out on local country roads a few times, you’ve probably figured out that Berks and some of the surrounding areas offer tremendous opportunities for enjoyable cycling.
But if you want to take full advantage of all that Berks has to offer road cyclists, the quickest way to do so is to hook up with Berks County Bicycle Club.
This organization, now in its 46th year, has some 140 members and dozens of organized rides every month during the peak riding season and even some options for rolling out during the dead of winter. In 2018, its members rode a cumulative 73,061 miles, broken down into 182 separate rides that totaled 5,782 miles.
But the club isn’t about statistics: It’s about fun, camaraderie, spirit, and for some, challenging themselves to be better and faster riders.
I hooked up with them some eight years ago, joining the Seasoned Spokes, mostly but not exclusively older riders on their Thursday morning excursions of 20 or 40 miles.
Initially, riding a sturdy but heavy and decidedly not fancy Schwinn hybrid, I took the short-ride option, the 20-milers. These are typically not too hilly, paced at 10-12 mph, and with a no-rider-left-behind philosophy. A few years later, after upgrading to a nice, new road bike, a Scott Speedster 20, I opted for the longer option, usually about 30 to 40+ miles, with a 15-mph pace for this portion of the ride.
At this point, after some 40 years of riding alone, often at a very moderate pace, I found myself anxious to improve my performance, and challenged myself by trying to keep up with more ambitiously paced rides.
It took some doing, but that’s another story.
The focus of this story is that BCBC, of which I am a member and for which I edit their monthly newsletter, Cycling Times, has something for just about everybody who wants to ride more than a couple of miles around the neighborhood.
Are these rides for you?
Here is what I would recommend as the minimum levels for people interested in riding with BCBC.
1. Be in good enough shape to ride a relatively flat 20 road miles. Some of BCBC’s excursions are designed for this level, not to leave you gasping for breath trying to keep up. Do a couple of 15- or 20-milers on your own or, preferably, with friends if you have any doubts. See “Find a ride,” below, to learn of recommended bike routes.
2. If you are in good enough shape to do longer rides at a faster pace, you’ll find options for that, too.
3. Have a quality bike to ride. That means better than box store brands, not necessarily very pricey, but reliable, in good condition, lubricated, relatively light, and a good fit for you. Road bike is best, cyclocross or hybrid OK, but not a fat tire.
4. Be sure your bike has all the safety equipment required by law, and that you have a helmet and, if possible, brightly colored clothing so you will be visible on the road.
5. Know how to fix common problems, such as a dropped chain (falls off the sprocket) or flat tire, and carry a hand pump or CO2 inflator and a spare tube.
Find a ride
Two important points here: The club has scheduled group rides, and it has dozens of routes mapped out, with turn-by-turn cue sheets ready for download and GPS files for bike computers or smartphones that can handle these.
For a list of all club routes, go to the BCBC page, http://berksbicycle.com/cues. They are organized by points of departure, which include areas all over the county. Even if you don’t have a bike computer, click on GPS to see a map, on https://ridewithgps.com, showing the route.
The cue sheets can be opened as PDF files and printed out for reference while you ride.
Important: Each route is rated by difficulty, 1 (easy) to 5 (very difficult because of steep climbs) and miles. A rating of 4-36, for example, means it is difficult and 36 miles long.
During the peak riding season, which is now, BCBC has rides, sometimes more than one, scheduled months in advance for every day of the week except Monday and Friday.
You can find the schedule for the rides in two places: http://berksbicycle.com/rides and in the monthly newsletter, http://berksbicycle.com/newsletter. In either case, look up the route on the cues web page mentioned above. WY04 Ryland Loop, for example, means that it is located with the Wyomissing High School departure rides, on the cues page.
Some rides may not have designated routes on the schedule, because that is set by the ride host according to conditions and riders.
Of these, Tuesday Nite Pedal and Pig Out usually has three or four “waves” departing, the first being the fastest, with very competitive, very fit riders, the second a bit less challenging, but still requiring significant skill and stamina, and a third or even a fourth slower ride, at a much more social pace.
The route is usually posted on the BCBC Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/groups/155856764590447/ — a few days before the ride.
The Thursday Night Rides feature a variety of paces. The host has cue sheets. Be sure to speak out if you are new, so the host can put you in the right group.
On weekends, the rides vary greatly, and they tend to break down into slower vs. faster. Again, speak up if you are unsure about the pace. Or go to the Facebook page and ask there, a day or two before the ride.
The Social Stay Together Ride, held occasionally, are at a very moderate pace. The next one is set for June 29, departing at 9 a.m. from the parking lot of Oley Valley High School.
Riders in excellent shape may be interested in the Ramble Rides and Matt’s Adventure Rides, interspersed throughout the warmer months. Both of these are long and can be hilly, especially the latter, which can extend to 100 miles.
On Thursday mornings, the Seasoned Spokes ride usually has two options, a shorter (about 20 miles) and a longer one (about additional 20 miles). The short option tends to have a slower pace, about 10-12 mph, although some faster riders tend to form a separate group and forge ahead. The extended ride is at about a 15 mph pace.
Although many of the Spokes riders are older and retired, that is not always the case. Younger riders are always welcome.
Rain or very cold or windy weather cancels. See http://berksbicycle.com/seasonedspokes for a schedule or to get on the email list.
What do you need for a ride?
1. Arrive 15 minutes early to sign in, whether you are a member or not, and to get ready to ride.
2. Have your bike in good condition: lubricated properly, tires inflated to proper pressure and mechanicals in good working order.
3. Be sure your bike has required safety equipment: reflectors, lights.
4. Wear bright colors so you are visible on the road.
5. Wear a helmet. That is a requirement. No helmet, no ride.
6. Bring enough water to get you through the ride, at least one water bottle, more if it is hot or the ride very long.
7. Let the ride host know if you are new, and ask your questions before you start out.
8. If you have not ridden with a group before, or only with loosely organized ones, consult the ride host. You may need to learn the proper protocol for riding a pace line, or for signaling to other riders about your intent or hazards in the road. But don’t be discouraged. If you don’t know any of this, it’s a learning opportunity, and you will have skilled riders around you from whom to learn and pick up tips for riding safely and as efficiently as possible.
New members welcome
The Berks County Bicycle Club offers membership benefits including discounts at certain bike shops and at member events.
Dues are $20 per year per household.
A membership form is available on the back of the newsletter, which can be printed out as a PDF, or online at https://www.pretzelcitysports.com/onlineform1.php?id=1509. For “Day on age of race,” just put down your age. Send an email to the membership coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, to add other household members.