At first blush, Kingston’s city streets, broken-up sidewalks and rocky paths don’t seem remarkably conducive to bicycle riding, but the city sports groups of cyclists, pedaling around on its trails and streets. After connecting with road racers, casual rail-trail pedalers, the “transportationally challenged,” recreational riders, mountain bikers and competitive BMX bicyclers, it’s obvious that riding a bike is for many a lifestyle.
What’s the appeal? Bicycling is the third-most common form of outdoor recreation in the U.S., according to a study by the Outdoor Foundation. More Americans bicycle than golf, ski and play tennis combined. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 27 million Americans have taken a bicycling vacation in the past five years and bicycling is the third-most common vacation activity.
Bill Hadsel, owner of Kingston Cyclery, has been in business since 1973. He said his customers these days are more family-types and he’s now selling more kid bikes, road-race bikes, hybrids and comfort bikes than ever. “Since the rail trails popped up, biking has become more of a family activity these days,” said Hadsel.
“For me, biking is really about two things,” said Kingston Land Trust board member Tim Wiedmann. “In Kingston, it’s often the fastest way for me to get around. My wife and I share a car, so sometimes it’s the only way to get around.” Wiedmann cited the added benefits: going to a meeting, to the farmers market, or out to dinner becomes a chance to get some exercise. “Always looking for ways to multitask,” he said, “and it saves money, like for gas and parking, and I have a little twinge of conscience whenever I get in the car to go somewhere that I could just as easily bike or walk to.”
Bike-lovers say one of the best things about it is that once you own the bike, there’s little to no additional costs down the line. If you want to get into the game, a bike and decent helmet will set you back about $500, said Hadsel, and consider a tire pump, water cage for bottle, a bag, and a few other accouterments.
Dave Schleede, owner of Bike Brothers in Kingston, concurs with Hadsel that comfort bikes, such as hybrids and multi-use bikes seem to be most in demand these days. Schleede, however, leads a high pace, 40-50 mile-long road bike ride for about 15 people weekly from his shop on Boice’s Lane to “wherever I decide we are going.” Daylight will determine how far. “Best thing is to start in a group that is easier, so it’s not stressful and you can learn things like etiquette,” advised Schleede. “There’s things you need to know. If you ride behind someone, it’s 30 percent easier because of the draft. Not cutting in front of people, staying in line, when done riding in front then make a motion to let other guy go in the front … All done on ability, and how long you can stay on there, without falling off. You should learn how to ride single file.”
Schleede finds his own bliss from riding. “Everyone feels something different,” he said, explaining he rides mainly for fitness. “I can go out for two to three hours, and come back amazed it was three hours. The scenery and terrain is so diverse … You can ride over the same terrain the same week and it’s so different.”
Schleede said many riders use a mileage counter (about $25) to keep track of how far they’re going and how well they’re doing and encourages folks to track their own fitness increases. “The more you ride the better you’re going to get,” he said. “If you want to go ride around the back streets that’s great too. Not everyone wants to be Lance Armstrong. Cycling helps with cardio, weight loss, overall fitness.”
Jim Tommasetti from Kingston Cycle Club has been organizing more advanced and faster-paced rides every Thursday night for almost six of the ride’s 20 continual years out of Dietz Stadium. Up to 50 riders come weekly, hailing from Rosendale, Kingston, LakeKatrine and further, mostly averaging in age between 30-55.
“I just enjoy riding with other people,” said Tommasetti, adding how the group uses GPS Garmin or other bicycling and mapping software. He said most of the weekly rides conclude at Keegan Ales for food and spirits. “I have ridden on that ride for a long time. Road bikes are fun to ride with other people … It’s very interactive, there’s fast times and slow times. It’s camaraderie; everyone is likeminded in a way. A lot of my really good friends are from biking.” Couples and families get into it as well, he said.
Then there’s mountain biking. Slower going. More technical. More intimate with nature. A completely different vibe. Fats in the Cats (referring to a mountain bike’s wider tire and the Catskill trails) is the multi-county, International Mountain Bike Association bicycle club chapter devoted to mountain biking in the Catskills with organized weekly rides. Scenic Hudson recently awarded Fats in the Cats for their work on trails in Shaupeneak Ridge and Illinois Mountain marking, walking and surveying trails to ensure sustainability.
“I love to be outside as much as I can,” said Fats in the Cats board member and charter member Frank Hildenbrand. “When I get to go outside, I am in the woods and smell things I normally couldn’t, and also see rare birds. Plus, it’s challenging.” Hildenbrand cautions against the perils of going alone, however.
Many mountain bikers, like Fats in the Cats member Peter Brink of LakeKatrine, reveres the experience of riding through nature itself, not just watching it roll by. “I appreciate how I can access hard-to-reach areas so quickly that I couldn’t get to in a car or might take hours of walking,” said Brink. “I like that there is no windshield between me and what I am seeing. I can see and experience everything.”
Hildenbrand said the club offers skills clinics for riders to up their game for the sake of both sport and safety, such as how to navigate narrow bends or get the heavy bike over an obstructive log. Organized weekly rides can be found on the group’s website fatsinthecats.com, including a weekly Tuesday night ride meeting at Jockey Hill in Kingston.