Each Saturday and Sunday at 7:45 a.m., when sensible people still sleep, cyclists from the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club boisterously greet each other in Parking Lot A at California State University, Northridge.
Here, ill-equipped beginners can see the latest in high-tech cycling style and pick up a few pointers before the rides begin at 8 a.m.
Riding a hot pink, all-aluminum, custom-made 18-speed, Udas Young, the president and self-proclaimed "Jewish mother" of the group, frequently asks riders, "Where's your helmet?"
Although some of the club's rides start on the Westside, at Travel Town in Griffith Park, or in other Southern California locations, most begin and end at CSUN. Every weekend and major holiday the group hosts a selection of short, medium and long trips (ranging in length from 25 to 100 miles) over varied terrain. Besides a schedule of activities that is put out every two weeks, members receive a book giving the description, difficulty rating and mileage of each ride.
Touring the San Fernando Valley, many of the club's routes are decidedly urban. Club members have gotten used to catcalls and stares from passing motorists unused to sharing streets. Many can relate stories of careless drivers who nearly ran them off the road.
For Young, who started riding at age 50, bicycling safety is a high priority. She encourages the use of helmets and rear-view mirrors, and publicly admonishes club members for recklessness. New riders receive special attention. If they join a ride, a more experienced cyclist volunteers as a "sweep rider" to stay behind the group and ensure that everyone finishes safely.
"Newcomers may arrive alone, but they never ride alone," Young said.
But every safety precaution has its limits. Accidents occasionally occur through no fault of the cyclist. Last January, when a woman in the group was hit and killed by a drunk driver, club members wrote more than 100 letters demanding that the accused man receive the maximum sentence. Their effort was successful. The group has since raised money for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
But, although the club sometimes teams up on political issues, its purpose is primarily recreational. Two hundred volunteers fuel the group's operation, doing everything from taking orders for club jerseys to answering the phone for a few hours each evening.
Bulletin Records Exploits
Bob Winning, the club's vice president of communications, records the exploits and ambitions of the club and its members in the club's bulletin.
The group meets in Van Nuys on the third Monday of each month to assemble the bulletin and discuss club business. Meetings feature bike maintenance workshops as well as presentations on such subjects as sports injuries, touring or riding in a pack.
The club's fringe benefits, which include a yearly potluck and summer picnic, bike trips to other states and countries, access to the club library, a 10% discount on equipment at local bike stores, and most of all, the group companionship, have all helped the club grow from five to 500 members in seven years. There is an $11 annual membership fee.
The San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club represents only a fraction of riders in the Los Angeles area, but it would be difficult to find a more diverse bunch. The club's oldest member is 85 years old, its youngest, 8. The "Animals," as they call themselves, go in for racing, while other members have discovered mountain biking.
Then there are the marathoners such as Bob Winning, who dreamed up "America by Cycle," a 45-day, transcontinental trip covering 3,800 to 4,000 miles through eight states. The trip's 12 participants decided on the route and their May 3 departure date after carefully researching weather patterns across the country. They trained for the journey by riding 1,000 miles a month for several months.
"We may run into snow in Colorado," Winning said before the trip. "But that's the only problem we anticipate."
Even for experienced riders, completing the America by Cycle trip is a significant feat. But, according to club member Dave Verhein, "It's equally impressive that some people get out of bed at 7 a.m. on a weekend, get to the ride site by 8, and then finish a 20-mile bike ride."
THREE BIKE ROUTES
El Camino Real Ramble
Short, flat, 25 miles. Easy
START: NW corner of Nordoff St. and Etiwanda Ave.
Miles between Total points miles L on Nordhoff St. 2.2 0.0 L on Hayvenhurst 3.0 2.2 R on Rinaldi St. 2.2 5.2 L on Laurel Canyon 0.3 7.4 R on Hubbard St. 1.5 7.7 L on Glenoaks Blvd. 2.4 9.2 L on Foothill Blvd. 1.7 11.6 L on Balboa Blvd. 1.4 13.3 L on Woodley Ave. 2.0 14.7 L on Rinaldi St. 0.9 16.7 R on Sepulveda Blvd. 0.6 17.6 Rest Stop 18.2 R on Sepulveda Blvd. 0.4 18.2 R on Chatsworth St. 1.5 18.6 L on Hayvenhurst 1.5 20.1 R on Plummer St. 1.8 21.6 L on Zelzah Ave. 0.5 23.4 R on Nordhoff St. 0.3 23.9 R on Lindley Ave. 0.0 24.2 L to CSUN lot D (to Etiwanda Ave.) 0.3 24.2 FINISH 24.5