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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  6/1/2006

The Little Bike Club That Could

Twenty-seven years ago I was a fledgling rider who was still trying to figure out how to shift through 18 different gears. It made sense to join a club, and the one I picked was Skyline Cycling Club in Sunnyvale. At that time Skyline had only been around for about seven years. It was a small but determined group of stalwart touring cyclists who loved nothing more than climbing up to (and often over) Skyline Boulevard, aka California Scenic Highway 35.

Skyline was originally the brainchild of a few single (male) Lockheed engineers who rode with Pedalera, the bike club sponsored by the Lockheed Employee Recreation Association (LERA). These guys loved club riding but weren't meeting any single female cyclists. So they decided to start a new, "singles" bike club.

By the early 80s we had weekly rides over Skyline to the coast, as well as annual camping trips to Sunset State Beach. Three well-planned summer tours took us to far Northern California. I dubbed the first one "Redding to the Coast on Five Meals a Day" based on how voraciously we grazed our way through country stores and roadside restaurants. Every November we proceeded grazing on the annual "Munch-a-Long," a progressive dinner by bike. We'd ride to a member's home for hors d'oeuvres, then on to another for salads, finally returning to the start for entrees and desserts.

And every Wednesday evening from mid-April to mid-September we met for Wednesday Night Rides. Each month the rides would start from a different mid-Peninsula location. There would normally be a challenging "hard hitters" route and a more laid-back "easy hitters" one. Sometimes we'd invent "middle hitters" options that combined a little of each. By sunset everyone would be back at the start ready for pizza and beer.

Club organization was pretty informal. We never had a president. (I seem to remember hearing that no one wanted the responsibility.) An "Activities Chairman" set up the ride schedule and presided at meetings, which were dubbed "planning parties."

I also remember a lot of guys in the club named Steve. For many years if you forgot a member's name and he was male, you could just call him Steve and have a 50-50 chance of being right!

We even got around to wearing custom club jerseys with monogrammed names on the front. Those anti-fashion statements are long gone now, although I think I spotted one on a long-time member a couple months ago.

The T-shirts, on the other hand, were tres chic. They garnered a lot of praise for creativity and originality. They were constructed of substantial 100% cotton, in an almost breathtaking variety of colors.

I still have mine and wear it proudly. So do a lot of folks who recently acquired them when the last ones went on sale at The Bicycle Outfitter. The last time I looked, however, there were none left.

The lean years

Skyline never boasted more than about 100 members, some time in the mid- to late-80s. By then most of the original singles were either paired up or had moved on to greener pastures. Membership dwindled during the 90s; people left town, retired, stopped cycling, whatever. I dropped out when I became active in Western Wheelers and later Almaden Cycle Touring Club.

Although total membership never dropped much below 50, there was only a handful of the determinedly faithful who were keeping the club alive. Thanks to Leslie Train, Steve Teng, Roy Jordan, Bob Yee, Joanne and Greg Olsen, Ken Holloway and a few others, a skinny newsletter and limited ride schedule came out every other month. I may have dropped my membership, but the perpetual activities chairperson would call me just before deadline to ask if I might co-list rides I was leading for the other clubs.

The club web site languished. The last update was posted in April 2002. But the newsletter has found a new home online, along with other information. Even the Wednesday Night Rides are still alive and kicking.

Growth spurt

Today Skyline Cycling Club is on the move again, thanks to a shop ride that also refused to die.

A core group of the Skyline hangers-on who retired in the last few years started doing the "Youthful Seniors" rides that leave from The Bicycle Outfitter on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings. The YS rides were the brainchild of then TBO owner Dick Powell and John Schaefer. Schaef, as everyone calls him, was then working at the shop part time. He convinced Dick that they both needed to get out on the bike more; besides, it was good for business.

When Dick and Marilyn Powell sold The Bicycle Outfitter in 2004, the rides lost their sponsor. OK, said Scaef, just meet me at the shop and we'll go out on an "informal" ride as a group of friends. That's when the Skyline core group stepped up to the plate. We'll take over sponsorship, they told Schaef, if you'll join the club and keep leading. And they invited the rest of the regular riders to join up too. "Suddenly," Schaef told me, "the club membership doubled."

Of course, you don't have to belong to Skyline Cycling Club to join the YS rides. You don't even have to be a senior. In fact, I don't ever remember anyone, either in the Bike Outfitter days or in Skyline, mentioning an age requirement!

The Tuesday and Wednesday excursions range from a leisurely pedal through Mountain View's Shoreline Park to a sampling of some of the steepest inclines in Los Altos Hills. As new climbs were added to the standard "Original Hills" route, new names were adopted: "Trick or Treat" for a ride introduced on Halloween, "Frank's Crank" dedicated to one regular who loves the steeps. All the climbers congregate at the top of Foothill Park off Page Mill Road to rest, socialize and check out the view.

On the way back to The Outfitter, the group converges on Peet's Coffee in downtown Los Altos. Here the social aspect of the ride continues over caffeine and sweets. Often groups of two, three or four head off from there to a favorite lunch spot.

The Sunday rides normally head north, with the "easy hitters" stopping in Ladera for coffee, while the rest continue on to Woodside. The first Sunday of the month, however, they ride south for a hilly approach to Saratoga.

The Bicycle Outfitter still serves as the launching pad for the rides, offering rest rooms, water and some mechanical assistance. And the YS regulars are becoming familiar faces in Skyline Cycling Club, hosting get-togethers in their homes and contributing to the newsletter. They even attend the not-so-regular meetings -- er, planning parties -- once in a while.

So Skyline seems to be reborn, a little bike club that made it back from "over the hill." Maybe it's time for me to join up again. I am, after all, a most "youthful" senior. And I'm doing the rides nearly once a week. Wanna join us? Contact Skyline Cycling Club for start times. Even if you're younger than some of us "seniors."

Back in a couple months

Boyohboyohboy! I'm going back to la belle France! Jim and I will be there the entire month of June, leading and scouting tours for Bicycle Adventure Club. My next BikeCal column will appear in August. Until then, keep pedaling, or as they say in France, bonne route!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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