Siskiyou Velo club president Phil Gagnon leads a group of “Slo-Mo” riders Saturday through Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. The club is offering a series of free Saturday-morning group rides in May to encourage beginners and others get back on a bike.

Shift into 'Slo-Mo'

Buying a bicycle paved the way to new friendships and social activities when Phil Gagnon joined Siskiyou Velo Club more than 15 years ago.

It didn't take long for Gagnon, riding a two-wheeled recumbent bike, to accelerate into the sport of cycling. With increased confidence and endurance, Gagnon could keep pace with faster riders. But the 82-year-old's "exhilarated" participation in group rides eventually turned to suspicion that he might be going too fast.

"Maybe at my age, I should discard my 21-year-old mentality and slow down," says Gagnon, of Ashland. "I don't need to wear Lycra clothes; I can wear my regular clothes."

Like-minded cyclists — or anyone brand-new to the pastime — is invited to join Gagnon on a series of free "Slo-Mo" rides Saturday mornings throughout the month of May, designated national bike month by the League of American Bicyclists.

"I'm into that slow-bicycling movement," says Gagnon, citing a laid-back mentality that's gaining ground as slow-bicycling clubs pop up around the country.

"It's an attitudinal shift," says Gagnon.

The group rides will allow novices a chance to familiarize themselves not only with the mechanics of bicycles, but also with riding techniques, safety measures and the etiquette of riding in groups. Siskiyou Velo ride leaders are certified by the League of American Bicyclists.

Gagnon offers outings of about 10 to 15 miles, with a stop for coffee midway, at a pace of approximately 5 to 10 mph. Most Slo-Mo riders are between the ages of 50 and 80, says Gagnon.

"You get some exercise; you get outdoors "¦ You gain some new friends," says Lee Purkerson, a Siskiyou Velo member for the past two years who also leads club rides.

Slo-Mo routes in May are planned primarily along the Bear Creek Greenway to minimize contact with vehicle traffic. The first, May 10, will start at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix, where a mechanic will be on hand to check participants' bikes. The ride is planned for 11 miles.

The May 17 ride will start at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford and travel to Central Point, a distance of 14 miles.

Starting at Medford's Hawthorne Park on May 24, Slo-Mo riders will pedal about 10 miles to the end of the Greenway near The Expo in Central Point.

The final ride, May 31, will begin at Lynn Newbry Park in Talent and conclude after 14 miles at Bear Creek Park in Medford, where the Velo club will serve coffee and a picnic.

Each ride starts at 9 a.m. Participants can take any or all of them.

After the series, Gagnon invites riders to join the club, which boasts 345 members, making it the region's largest cycling organization. The annual membership fee is $15.

Regular Slo-Mo rides take place weekly in low-traffic, residential areas over relatively flat terrain. Between eight and 15 riders usually join in, with responsibility for leading the group shared among a half-dozen club members, says Gagnon. Always stopping for some type of refreshment and conversation, the Slo-Mos' Saturday spin around town tends to be carefree, says Purkerson, so long as they comply with every traffic-control device.

"I'm a bit of a stickler for seeing that everybody stops at every stop sign," says the 79-year-old resident of Rogue Valley Manor.

"They tend to just breeze on through," says Purkerson of cyclists, in general, adding that the first infraction usually warrants a friendly reminder; the second time he's likely to yell.

Just as they become more savvy, cyclists invariably gain stamina, say Gagnon and Purkerson. That means Slo-Mo riders usually graduate to a faster pack — some even become ride leaders — leaving room for an entirely new group to hit the streets.

"They really want to work hard," says Gagnon of many Siskiyou Velo members. "I don't need to do that anymore."

So Gagnon hangs back to mentor anyone who, like him, wants to take it slow.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at

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