Riding Circles around Youngsters

If you’re driving off the main highways in Door County on a Tuesday or Friday between mid-May and mid-October and meet a group of a dozen or so jolly bicyclists – most with grey hair – you’ve likely encountered the BBC. No, not those English TV folks, but the Backroads Bicycle Club.

The project began 15 years ago by the then-new Northern Door YMCA in Fish Creek, but has been self-operating for a long while. One hundred men and women, most in their 70s and 80s, are on the group’s contact list. The number of cyclists who show up for each ride varies with the weather, but averages eight to 10. Door County is a mecca for bicyclists because of the extensive network of paved country roads that have gorgeous scenery and little traffic.

This year’s first ride left the Fish Creek YMCA on May 13; the last is scheduled to depart the same location on Oct. 14. Because a majority of the members live in the northern part of the county – from Sister Bay to Ellison Bay – most of the assembly points for the rides are in that area. Each outing covers 15 to 20 miles at a moderate pace, taking about two hours. Usually, the person who lives closest to the starting point chooses the route and the restaurant where the group will have lunch when the ride is over.

Photo by Len Villano.

On a recent Friday, seven riders met at The Orchards Golf Course, rode 17 miles in an idyllic setting from Heritage Lake Road to Memorial Road to Plum Bottom Road to Division Road to Harbor School Road and back to The Orchards for lunch. Carol Boyd, who writes up a short report on each ride and distributes it to the group, reported that, “even some grannie-gear hills did not daunt our experienced tribe!”

Steve Uglinica, who lives on Europe Lake, is a longtime member of the BBC and rarely misses a ride. Mainly, he says, people participate for the exercise, but also for the camaraderie involved. “It’s a cordial group,” he says. “Always a good time. Never an argument.”

Although Steve is a seasoned rider who participates in several 100-mile rides each year, he often leads the twice-weekly rides at a leisurely 10-12 miles an hour. He chuckles about a former group member – a woman from Amsterdam in her 80s. “She’d challenge me,” he says. “I’d push the pace up to 14, 16, 18 miles an hour and she was still with me. I felt kind of bad until I found out that she was a former Dutch National Seniors Champion.” For fun at a recent after-ride lunch, Steve calculated the average age of the group – 74.

Gerry Langgut, who teaches in Chicago, joined the BBC three years ago. “I was relieved to discover that I was probably considerably younger than the others and vainly assumed it’d be a cinch to keep up with them. Five minutes into that first ride, I discovered how wrong I was! They left me in the dust! Actually, they very thoughtfully waited for me as I struggled to catch up. I learned that this is a group not only of extremely friendly, welcoming individuals, but also really strong cyclists. Over the past three years, I’ve planned my summer calendar around BBC days and have enjoyed both the rides and the opportunity to get to know some interesting, vibrant people. They are role models for me.”

Like Steve, Dave Tuch of Sister Bay is 76. He agrees that exercise and the friendly social contacts are his reason for participating. Like most of the BBC members, Dave rides a 21-speed Trek road bike. He’s pedaled more than 2,600 miles on his. An economy-range Trek runs $400 to $800. More expensive ones cost in the thousands.

On July 18, riders took the ferry to Washington Island, where they met group member Ken Boyd of Baileys Harbor, who flew over in the plane he built himself.

More than a dozen BBC bikers went on the Door County Ride for Nature in June, also known as The Ridges Ride. On Sept. 13, a number of them will again participate in the Peninsula Century, several of them taking the 25-mile leg, rather than the entire 100-mile ride. Carol Boyd reports that those who were involved last year agree it was an outstanding experience – especially the gourmet “Taste of Door County” lunch on the Sister Bay waterfront.

Photo by Len Villano.

The group’s Ahnapee Trail ride is set for Sept. 26. It will be an all-day activity to view the spectacular foliage among the trail. Riders may bike the entire 20 miles to Algoma, have lunch and bike back to Sturgeon Bay – a 40-mile round trip. Most will probably opt just to ride to Maplewood and back.

Guests and new members in the age group are always welcome. For more information or to get on the group email list, contact Carol Boyd at [email protected].

Many of the BBC members also belong to a group that hikes each Wednesday during the summer and snowshoes and cross-country skis the rest of the year. For more information about these activities, contact Al Wittenkeller, 920.839.2800.

And the next time you encounter a group of grey-haired guys and gals bicycling Door County’s back roads, don’t mistake them for a bunch of geezers. They can probably ride circles around you.