Phil Gagnon rides along the Bear Creek Greenway near the Ashland dog park Tuesday. Gagnon and the Siskiyou Velo bicycling club are holding a series of free, guided rides this spring to introduce new or rusty cyclists to the ins and outs of group riding. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Free Spin

When Elaine Sweet picked up a bicycle at age 63, she knew it wouldn't be as easy as the cliche makes it out to be.

"The first time you learn how to ride a bike, someone pushes you for a block and let's go," says Sweet, of Ashland.

Friends of hers went on a few introductory rides offered by the Siskiyou Velo bicycle club, and they ushered Sweet into the world of group riding, with all the rules, tips, safety measures and camaraderie that comes with it.

Less than two years later, she's a regular in the club's Slo-Mo's group, true pedal pals enjoying this age-old way to keep fit and enjoy the outdoors together.

"I really like it," Sweet says. "I wouldn't do it on my own. It's the fun of doing it with other people. It makes me feel much more comfortable. I wish I found it sooner in life."

Sweet will spend most of her Saturdays this spring helping others find their inner cyclist by being an instructor during a series of free group rides designed to get adults back on their bikes.

Now in their third season, these free, adult-only rides introduce participants to the nuances of safe group riding in a slow-paced and relatively short format along the Bear Creek Greenway from Central Point to Ashland.

It's also a way to learn about the 360-member Siskiyou Velo club, based in Ashland, and decide whether it's worth it to pay the $15 annual dues and get all the benefits that come from membership.

There's no better place to give cycling a second chance than the Greenway, says Phil Gagnon, the club's president and, at 81 years old, one of its inspirations.

"A lot of these people are scared to death to be riding on these roads," Gagnon says. "They feel safer on the Greenway. It's a great place to teach you how to ride in a group."

This isn't quite the same as jumping on your hand-me-down Schwinn and pedaling with your pals to the ice cream parlor. Participants must wear helmets, carry a spare inner tube and, as a non-club member, sign an insurance waiver.

Before the season's first ride, scheduled for Saturday, April 6, trained bike mechanics will inspect riders' bikes to ensure they meet minimum safety standards.

During the rides, instructors will focus on various techniques and etiquette of group outings. For instance, those who see glass on the Greenway will yell out "glass" so others can avoid these tube-punchers, Gagnon says. When approaching someone on the path, such as joggers or dog-walkers, they'll yell that they are passing and thank those who move over for them, he says.

The group will ride mostly in single file for safety and courtesy reasons and will absolutely stop at all stop signs and red lights, Gagnon says.

At red lights, riders are taught to move out of a bike lane and into a vehicle lane, because studies show drivers lose sight of cyclists in bike lanes at lights, Gagnon says.

Riders are taught to cross streets in pairs "and not like a pack of wildebeests getting into water full of crocodiles," Gagnon says. "If you don't make the light, we'll wait for you.

"We want to train you to ride in a way that's predictable so people in cars know what you're doing," Gagnon says.

The overall goal is safe cyclists enjoying an outdoor pursuit while improving its image.

"To many, cycling is seeing young people in Spandex pants going fast and scaring people," Sweet says. "That's not what we want to be. We want to teach people to be safer."

That's one of many club messages Lorna Chateauneuf has taken to heart.

The 65-year-old Talent woman dumped her mountain bike in favor of a road cycle last April as a way to get in shape and get outside.

"I'm an outdoor person, but I'm not athletic," she says.

She joined the Slo-Mo's and has ridden with them ever since, taking in aspects of the Rogue Valley during group road rides that she's convinced she would have otherwise missed.

"It's really wonderful to enjoy this valley on a bicycle," Chateauneuf says. "It takes you to places you would never go. It's different when you're in a car, where you can't experience as much."

Just last week, the allegedly non-athletic Chateauneuf completed a three-day series of rides spanning 75 miles with some of her fellow Slo-Mo's.

"It was really neat to see that I was able to do that," Chateauneuf says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email Follow him on Twitter at

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