|Some of my patches from|
Jackson Freewheelers rides.
My first club was the Jackson Freewheelers Bicycle Club. Jackson was the county seat, a small city (50,000) in south east Michigan, about 20 miles from home. It was a typical midwest blue collar city, with a mix of manufacturing supporting Michigan's auto industry and other light industry and small businesses. Its two claims to fame were the Jackson State Prison and Jim McDevit, a Gemini and Apollo astronaut. (And by the way Indy friends, it is also home town of former Colt's coach Tony Dungy, where he was a high school football star.)
I found the Freewheelers newsletter in a bike shop and then started meeting them for rides around Jackson. I was sort of an enigma to the club, since there were only 2-3 high school aged riders out of about 30 adults. The adults were either single or empty-nesters, (though that term was not yet invented) and here I was the kid, riding or driving 20 miles on a Sunday morning to do a 25 to 35 mile ride, and then riding home.
The Freewheelers were a small group, but they had ambition. The hosted a summer double century ride, a fall century and monthly club meetings. It was on these events with the Freewheelers that I worked as a ride volunteer for the first time, staffing a food stop and doing route research.
The Freewheelers also organized car pools to rides all over Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and the club owned a trailer that could haul a dozen bikes (it seemed every bike club did back then). I traveled with them to my first out-of-state century, a ride in Trotwood, (near Dayton) OH, in 1974.
One of the most regular riders was Red Ryder. He was probably in his early 60's when I first met him, and at that time he always rode in a cotton wind breaker, a plaid cotton dress shirt, and slacks and leather dress shoes, topped with a baseball cap; when it warmed up, he left the wind breaker home, I don't recall ever seeing him in shorts those first few years. I think he rode a Fuji road bike. He was a machinist, and that best a describes his riding style, a smooth machine like cadence that seemed to have one speed, about 20 miles per hour. He never appeared to break a sweat or even breath hard, and he would lead (literally!) the weekly brunch ride to nearby Parma every Sunday. (I latter heard that he added a little more traditional riding garb, and went on to win the Michigan Seniors State Time Trial Championship a couple of times. He rode into his 80's and passed away a few years ago.)
When I rode DALMAC (Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac Tour) for the second time in 1975, four of us from the Freewheelers, Roger Culbert, Mike DeEstrada, Janine Schnieder and I rode together from Jackson to Lansing to join DALMAC, and then rode all the way back from St. Ignace to Jackson. Counting my 3 days riding from Brooklyn to Toledo, OH before hand, it was an 11 day, 1,000 mile trip, completed while I was still just 18. It was quite a trip, and all the more so due to the 7 days of rain a hurricane dumped on us.
|Roller Racing in the `70s. My friend Steve Leiby is in the foreground, and|
the rider in back is "Red" Ryder. (Jay Hardcastle photo)
Those first years with the Freewheelers set the standard that I always looked for and strived to create in a bike club experience: friendship, socializing and fun, all centered around riding. My last active year was 1978, when I left Brooklyn for Lansing, MI, though I have had contact with a few of those friends over the years. The Freewheelers faded sometime after that, but a newer club, the Cascades Cycling Club (Jackson, MI) was later founded by some of the original Freewheelers. They now have a event in its 25th year, the Annual Minard Mills Bicyle Tour and Wienie Roast. And I am sure a few of them remember drafting Red.