By JENNIFER LEVITZ CONNECT
Updated August 16, 2013, 10:31 p.m. ET
Cyclists say slow riding is response to hard-core fitness world
Nearing 60 years old and looking to shed a few pounds, Carey Rogers decided it was time to get more active. His achy knees ruled out basketball, and he never liked to run. So he spent a bunch of money on a bike, joined a cycling group in his hometown of Nashville, and off he rode.
Or rather, off they rode. Mr. Rogers fell so far behind the herd of Lycra-clad speedsters that he turned around and headed home. “I think I got lost on the way back,” he said.
Fortunately, Mr. Rogers found some like-minded plodders in Nashville Slow Ride, a club for bikers who forgo skinny seats and speedometers for a more poky pace. “I’ve never seen a hill I couldn’t walk up,” said Mr. Rogers, a newly retired state health-care analyst. “That’s sort of our attitude.”
Cyclists who are looking for tough workouts have plenty of company. But for other bikers, that is just not how they roll. Instead, they are meandering over to “slow-bike” clubs that are cropping up around the country. There was even a Slow Bike Race last month in Newburyport, Mass. The last one to cross the finish line won.
“Slow it down there, Scott!” a cheering squad yelled.
Leisurely cycling has long been popular in places such as Denmark. But an entire generation in the U.S. has come to see cycling as a sport or intense recreation, said Mikael Colville-Andersen, a well-known bike advocate and the chief executive officer of Copenhagenize Design Co., a Danish urban-design firm.
Mr. Colville-Andersen blogged about his thoughts five years ago, wondering why, if there were slow-food and slow-travel movements, there couldn’t be one for cyclists who just want to look around and enjoy the ride. Now, his “Slow Bicycle Movement” group on Facebook has 7,300 members.
“There are a kabillion websites/forums/blogs out there for those who enjoy riding fast/competitively in Lycra and gear and what have you,” the site says. “THIS is OUR place.”
Participants say slower riding is a backlash to today’s hard-core fitness world, brimming with boot camps and mud runs. Molly Peterson, a 46-year-old librarian in Fairhope, Ala., said people in her tennis league were cursing and throwing rackets. “It can be pretty ugly,” she says.
In 2011, she launched the Slow Bicycle Society on the Eastern Shore, an Alabama club with 100 members and a mission statement: “No Spandex needed!” In Tennessee, the Murfreesboro Slow Ride Cyclists, which formed two months ago, calls itself “a never-get-left-behind fun bicycling group” with “baskets encouraged.”
“We’re mostly focused on ringing our bells and waving at kids and just cruising around and chatting with the person closest to you in line,” says Sarah Murray, a 40-year-old manager for the city of Chicago who founded the Slow Bicycle Society in Chicago in 2009 and has watched membership grow to 300 from 15 people. She rides a three-speed upright.
Average cycling speeds are hard to figure since bikes differ widely. But Ms. Peterson’s group in Alabama says its riders mosey along at the low end of a range of 8 to 10 miles an hour. Over in Huntsville, Ala., the Spring City Cycling Club’s “steady-pace fat-burning ride” touts an average pace of 15-17 mph. For comparison: British cyclist Bradley Wiggins won 2012 Olympic gold by covering the 27-mile men’s time trial course at an average speed of 32.4 miles per hour.
On a recent Sunday, Boston Leisure Bicycling, whose outings often include ice cream stops, led a ride on a trail northwest of Boston. Kim Remondi, a 46-year-old real-estate agent, wore a T-shirt, cargo pants, and sneakers and rode an upright Schwinn, while another participant donned purple flip-flops.
As the group gathered, newcomer Robert Gomez arrived, introduced himself, and said he had read about the ride online, and wanted to give it a try. The 40-year-old manager at a medical-supply company wore the attire of the weekend warriors: painted-on shorts, cycling gloves, and a jersey.
Organizer Greg McColm gave him a skeptical once-over. “You look like a serious cyclist, Rob.”
The friendly group rolled along, chatting, and doing about 10-minute miles, while faster cyclists frequently whizzed by with warnings of, “On your left!”
Mr. Gomez sped ahead, saying he wanted to get pictures.
“He is serious,” Ms. Remondi, said, watching him go.
As the Boston Leisure riders stopped at an intersection for a picture, a female cyclist coming from opposite direction barked, “Can you move?”
“She has the racing stripes on,” Ms. Remondi said. “Some of them get a little testy.”
Later, Mr. Gomez said the ride was “pleasant,” but he might join something a “little more fast-paced” next time.
A few days later, the third annual Slow Bike Race was getting under way in Newburyport, a coastal town 40 miles north of Boston. A block was cordoned off, with six lanes drawn in chalk. Before World War II, slow bike races were popular at fairs, particularly in England and Europe, and they are enjoying a resurgence, Mr. Colville-Andersen said.
There were 35 entrants, several riding old beaters.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever had any spandex in our slow bike race, but we do have a peanut,” said organizer Cyd Raschke, eyeing a contestant dressed in a nut costume.
Even in the world of take-it-easy biking, the competition can get fierce. Participant Gail Fayre, the 51-year-old chief medical officer at a local hospital, had deflated her tires to slow her down. The night before the race, she ran through the course and “tried to go as slow as I could.”
The course stretched 75 feet. Racers, who went three at a time, were allowed to weave side to side but couldn’t go out of their lane or touch a foot on the ground. Spectators lined the brick sidewalks, sounding confused. “Go Manfred!” they yelled to a man who was ahead of the pack.”Wait—don’t go!”
Afterward, marketing manager Lisa Markowski, wearing a Team Sloth shirt, analyzed her loss. “I should have braked more,” she said.
Write to Jennifer Levitz at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared August 16, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Life in the Slow Lane: Some Bikers Savor Leisurely Rides in the Saddle.