Friday, March 2, 2012

1974: The Jackson Freewheelers Bicycle Club

Some of  my patches from
 Jackson Freewheelers rides.
Belonging to a bicycle club has always been a part of my bicycling.  It started with wanting to find other people to ride with, and more interesting places to ride.  And at the time, bicycle clubs were the best source of information on how to ride.  Not just to ride faster, but to learn and practice the many skills that riding required.

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) 
There were other fun happenings with the Freewheelers.  I first learned to ride rollers during a winter club meeting, and another time we brought in the now legendary cycling coach Mike Walden of the Wolverine Sports Club in Detroit who shared colorful stories on training and riding.  On another winter visit, Walden brought along a set of 40-year-old, 4-bike Cinelli racing rollers.  Each set of rollers was connected by a flexible steel drive cable to  6 foot high clock dial, with each roller driving its own color-coded watch hand. One revolution of the clock measured a 500 meter lap, and the races were 10 laps.  The steel rollers were noisy and slow,  and it was hard to stay upright and keep an eye on your clock hand racing around the giant clock.

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.

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