Members of the Wheeling Wheelmen cycling club call their regular Tuesday and Thursday treks their "bakery rides." That's because they meet at Deerfield's Bakery in Buffalo Grove after the rides.
It sounds enticing, but last week after one of their treks, they did more than eat coffee cake and socialize. They worked on final details for their upcoming St. Patrick's Day ride, considered to be the first invitational ride of the cycling season in the Chicago area.
If you goWhat: St. Patrick's Day Ride sponsored by the Wheeling Wheelmen Club
When: Registration starts at 8 a.m., ride starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 19
Where: 16-, 20- or 36-mile rides starting from Wauconda High School
Cost: $10, free for children younger than 12
It takes place at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 19, at Wauconda High School and includes routes of 16, 20 or 32 miles over quiet, secondary roads. The event includes homemade cookies and hot chocolate, as well as live music by Acoustic Soul Generations, says ride chairman Alan Gibbs of Arlington Heights.
The club has hosted the ride for more than 20 years and, depending on the weather, it can draw as few as 50 riders or nearly 500.
"It's the breakout ride for the spring," says Jim Boyer of Buffalo Grove.
The group's regular schedule of club rides begins after the St. Patrick's Day ride and the choices are plentiful. There are rides during the day, in the evenings and on the weekends, and depending on the route, they can range from 20 to 60 miles.
Members who showed up last week constituted a small sampling of the club, which now includes 250 members. They included Boyer, who recently retired as a software engineer and joined the club for its scheduled rides and the chance to meet other cyclists.
"Biking is a time machine," Boyer quips. "The aging process just stops when you're riding a bike."
Earle Horwitz of Deerfield is a case in point. At 79, he is one of the oldest in the club, but not the oldest. That honor goes to Kilian Emanuel, 82, of Mount Prospect, who is one of the highest mileage members in the group.
Horwitz is an insurance broker, who rides anywhere from 40 to 100 miles each week. He joined when he lived in Arlington Heights; he finds the club and its members are worth the commute.
"I like to stay active -- and be with nice people," Horwitz says.
Another member on hand last week was Marianne Kron, who is a world-class racer, having won the 60 and over age group in the Masters World Championship Road Race, held in 2000 in St. Johann, Austria.
She retired from racing in 2007, but she still rides more than 1,500 miles per year and serves as an inspiration to other members, particularly the women.
"I've been riding all my life," says Kron, who is a native of Nuremberg, Germany, and now lives in Arlington Heights. "I love the sport, and I'm always looking for others to join."
In fact, club members say everyone is welcome to participate, whether they are seasoned racers, long distance cyclists or recreational riders.
Gary Gilbert of Arlington Heights joined, he says, to learn more about the sport. In doing some of the longer rides, he has learned to take turns riding in front of the pack, or "pulling in front," so others can draft behind him.
Joe Beemster of Wheeling serves as president of the group. When he retired from his job in the occupational safety and health industry, he searched for something active to do.
"I was already riding 900 miles a year or so when I joined," Beemster says, "but after joining the club I averaged 4,500 miles a year."
A big inspiration for Beemster was Phyllis Harmon, who started the club in 1970. She died in August -- after cycling well into her 90s. A path along Dundee Road that extends east to I-294 was dedicated in her honor in 2013.
Club members created a monument in Harmon's memory, and last November positioned it along the path. Her long life affirms the value of the sport -- she died just one month shy of her 100th birthday.