Long distance cycling isn’t for the faint of heart, but neither is it relegated solely for the young and energetic. Blackshear’s Old Folks on Bikes (OFOB) Cycling Club proves that point every time they mount up.
The group of retirees who meet for a 20 mile ride two or three times a week has dwindled in size over the last few years, but Jimmy Bowen, John Butler and Evan DeLoach still enjoy their rides together as much as when the club was organized nearly a decade ago. The club grew out of a local exercise class for senior citizens.
“This is all that’s left,” Bowen says with a chuckle.
The trio of longtime cyclists, now in their mid-70s, typically meet Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings for their rides, and are quick to tout the benefits of cycling as an exercise that’s relatively low impact on aging knees and hips, a great social activity and a reason to spend time outdoors enjoying the recent spat of cooler weather.
“It’s (about) getting out to exercise and camaraderie,” Butler says.
“(It’s about) fellowship. We respect one another and really love one another, and it is great exercise. It’s a bonding thing,” Bowen agrees.
All three men took up cycling as their primary hobby and recreational activity for similar reasons. DeLoach switched to biking from
marathon running to nurse a bad knee.
“I couldn’t run anymore because I developed a bad knee,” DeLoach says. “For about 35 years I’ve been cycling ever since. I never had to have surgery on my knee. It works fine.”
Butler, a retired general surgeon, quickly recognized the myriad health benefits of cycling and took it up while still in residency early in his career. Bowen took up the sport not long after a heart transplant in an effort to make the most of his new lease on life.
The OFOB members are serious cyclists, but they wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘hard core.’
“Our motto changed from going fast, trying to be competitive and ride long-distance, to be safe and have fun!” DeLoach says. “If you’re not having fun you won’t ride.”
The club members have switched from their racing bikes in favor of a hybrid bike with larger tires for off-road cycling.
“We’ve enjoyed that a lot, getting off the road and going through the woods,” DeLoach says.
Cycling may be a less damaging exercise for knee and hip joints, but the sport is not without risks.
“Cycling is fun, it’s great exercise. It keeps you in shape, but like anything it can have an element of danger,” DeLoach says. “When a front wheel and a back wheel touch, it’s automatic — you’re going down.”
“You have to be careful,” Butler agrees.
The group always rides with tiny rear view mirrors attached to their helmets so they are constantly aware of their surroundings. They never strike out without the tools needed for an emergency bike repair or a first aid kit.
All three men have their crash stories and the scars and broken bones to back those up, but the thrill of riding outweighs the risks, they say.
“It was a great day. The weather was good. We were feeling good, speeds were up,” Bowen recalls of a ride on Highway 203. “Then I hit the pavement and broke my left elbow … before that happened it really was a good ride.”
“There’s perils in cycling, but cycling becomes part of your life, like runners, swimmers,” Bowen adds. “It’s a very positive sport.”
“The good outweighs the bad, if for no other reason than burning calories to eat more food,” DeLoach jokes.
But OFOB uses their love for cycling to benefit others too by riding in charity and benefit rides like the Miles for Smiles Ride that benefits handicapped children and other rides for childhood cancer research and multiple sclerosis.
Sadly, the club will soon be down another member. Butler is moving to New York to live closer to family. He won’t give up riding altogether though.
“They have miles and miles of trails up there … you can take (one trail) all the way into Canada,” Butler says.
Perhaps DeLoach and Bowen will travel to New York just to ride those trails with Butler, but for now they’re on the lookout for another local cyclist to join their ranks. The only requirement is “being old” — at least 65, they tease.
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