Imagine a San Fernando Valley without traffic, nearly empty roads stretching into the hills--a Valley where the weather is cool even in the middle of summer.
It's a fleeting image, but it comes just about every Saturday and Sunday morning. For 20 years now, members of the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club have risen with the sun to pedal their way across the fresh, still Valley.
"It's very blissful," said Allan Iler, the club's founder.
The group gathers shortly before 8 on weekend mornings--year round, rain or shine--in a Cal State Northridge parking lot. From there the bikers choose routes that wind 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles, across the Valley and sometimes into the mountains.
"There are definitely regulars," said Maria Lewis, the group's vice president of membership, who met her husband, Silas, on a club ride. "Three-quarters of the people are regulars. If you go every Saturday, you see the same people, and that's what makes it nice."
The club has 304 members, up from a handful who started biking with Iler in the mid-1970s. Iler initially led another bike club at his workplace, but as word spread to people who weren't employees, he saw the need for a broader group. He founded the Valleywide club in August 1978. He and his wife, Leila, have been riding a tandem bicycle for more than two decades, Iler said.
Bikers ride at their own speeds, congregating at periodic rest stops such as bagel shops to grab cold drinks and "chew the fat," said Robert Winning, a 19-year club member.
"It's more of a social thing than a riding thing," he said with the casual confidence of a man who once biked, with six other club members, from Los Angeles to Boston.
Race cyclists "look down their noses at us because we're not racing anywhere," Winning said. "It's a recreational club and we ride just to have a good time."
The club meets about 7:45 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday at Cal State Northridge in a parking lot on Nordhoff Street.
Membership is $20 the first year and $18 each year thereafter.
For more information, call Maria Lewis at (818) 347-6148.