These two wheels don’t just get you across town; they also get into your blood.
by Jordan Litke
photography by Stephanie Arellanes & Walter Mansilla
Lycra shorts, colorful jerseys, shiny helmets and sculpted calves form the classic stereotype of the cyclist methodically pedaling down bike lanes in and around La Verne. A few years ago, there seemed to be just a handful of them. Today, more than ever are out there, riding alone or in groups just about any time of day.
Bicycling has evolved from being predominately for transportation to having multiple dimensions. The Tour de France victories of Greg LeMond initially boosted the sport’s popularity in the United States when he not only was the first U.S. citizen to win the Tour in 1986, but went on to win it again in 1989 after a near-fatal hunting accident, and again in 1990, before retiring. And who could forget how Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour victories impacted both national and international bicyclists, and earned him respect and admiration from the athletic world as a whole?
Today, thanks in part to the boost in popularity LeMond and Armstrong brought to cycling, thousands of individuals in the United States have adopted it as their sport. With the number of shops and clubs in this area alone, it is obvious that bicycling has evolved from just an activity to a lifestyle.
But just who are these people who are not too proud to be seen by their neighbors in skin-tight, screaming-neon outfits? And how safe are they out there, riding inches away from cars, trucks and SUVs?
Antoni Dolinski, a retired photographer, has been riding for more than 20 years and can tell you a thing or two about the evolution of the sport. He stands in front of his home located near Marshall Canyon in La Verne, sporting a T-shirt that reads “One Less Car” boldly on the back. His personally designed bicycle hangs from a post and is meticulously maintained in preparation for his next ride. As a matter of fact, all of Dolinski’s bicycles were designed and built by him. Some of them are worth as much as $5,000.
With a trace of an indistinguishable European accent, Dolinski describes the dangers that exist on and off road, and remembers a time when cyclists were not as abundant and cities were not so bicycle-friendly. Bicyclers like him must be cautious of drivers on the road who bear an “anti-cycler” sentiment, and who have been known to throw empty containers at cyclists riding along. Some have even intentionally run them over. “Not everybody appreciates cyclists. They can’t stand to see the sight of all that health,” Dolinski says. He whole-heartedly believes that the individuals who viciously attack bicyclers envy the dedication and well-being of the cyclists, causing them to physically lash out.
Cyclists are often misunderstood by citizens who do not share their passion for traveling without a motor. Taryn Shepard, a San Dimas resident, has noticed the influx of bicyclists, and says she’s uncomfortable driving near people who are so exposed to the dangers of the road. “People don’t know what to do when there is a biker on the road. They are unpredictable,” she says. Although she admits that a cyclist has never literally jumped out in front of her, she cannot help but feel uneasy about the fact that there is nothing between the cyclist and her car but air. She does not share the same resentment of riders that Dolinski describes, but she does wish that bicyclers had more paved paths that would take them off the side of the road and out of harm’s way. Most citizens do not know that this is exactly what these cities are trying to do.
The San Gabriel Valley has recognized that the area is becoming flooded with bicyclists of all breeds. The city of Claremont received a “bicycle friendly” designation in September from the League of American Bicyclists, which distributes this award to cities that make an extra effort to accommodate and advocate bicycling in their communities. Becoming “bicycle friendly” is an opportunity for a city to support cyclists in their area and provide safer accommodations, which includes paving paths and marking bicycle lanes on roads. Organizations like the League of American Bicyclists make it possible for these paths to exist and motivate riders to obtain more advocates in their hometowns.
The league was originally named the League of American Wheelmen in 1880. This organization took on the new activity with pride and pushed paved roads in their communities in order to have a safer and smoother ride. The league died down a few times throughout the years but resurfaced in 1965. Then, in 1994 members changed the name to the League of American Bicyclists. Their mission is “to promote bicycling for fun, fitness, and transportation and work through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America.”
Cyclists today come in all varieties. There are beginners, veterans, competitors, mountain bikers, road bikers, old, and young sharing the same adoration for what bicycling provides in their lives. Michael Powers, an employee at JAX Bicycle Center in downtown Claremont is a competitive bicycler, but one who hasn’t forgotten that cycling is first about enjoyment. “If you don’t remember bicycling is fun, then you will burn yourself out on it,” Powers says. “It’s not all about the racing, it’s about the camaraderie.”
This community has a wide range of clubs, events and rides that have formed throughout the years, giving bicycling a network and social value. Southern California Velo Club, Incyle Downhill Team, and Inland Inferno are a few of the clubs in the area. Some clubs are focused primarily on racing, like the Incycle Downhill Team. Others, like Southern California Velo, have a dual function of helping those who want to compete and motivate those who just want to ride recreationally. Events like Tour de Foothills are organized rides meant to be a social and recreational ride. Participants in the Tour de Foothills ride either a metric century (62 miles) or a half metric century (31 miles), both of which make loops around the San Gabriel Mountain foothills and communities in the Inland Empire.
One of the races in this area is the San Dimas Stage Race (SDSR), a three-day event that has been held annually for nine years. Once a small and predominately local race, the SDSR has now acquired national interest. Stage one is a time trial up a 3.74-mile stretch of Glendora Mountain Road. Stage two is comprised of a series of loops around Lake Puddingstone. The third stage—a fast-paced race around several blocks in the heart of Old Town San Dimas—finds cyclists whipping through the town en masse at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour.
Contrary to popular belief, cyclists are not wearing brightly colored, skin-tight jerseys because they have a fascination with disco-era fashion. It’s a matter of survival as much as anything. Just as much as the average driver does not want to hit them, they do not want to get hit, so they wear bright colors to be seen. The material is necessary to provide ventilation and allow flexibility in their movement. Like any other sport, cycling requires the proper gear, such as aerodynamic helmets and specially designed cleats for shoes to clip onto peddles. Bikes are specifically designed to accommodate particular types of riding. Specialized bicycle shops can tailor-make bikes and advise customers on what equipment will best suit their needs.
If you drive in or around La Verne, you may have driven past Toni Dolinski who, at age 75, is more dedicated to the sport than many individuals twice his junior. Every Monday and Wednesday he rides with the Claremont Senior Bicycling Club, which alternately tours Bonelli Park and the Golden Hills area. On Wednesday’s rides, Dolinski will branch off with one or two other individuals and hit the mountains for a more challenging ride. He’s back on his bicycle again on Friday, riding with more experienced riders. His favorite ride on Fridays is Glendora Mountain Road, with its steep inclines and switchbacks that is a favorite workout among serious cyclists in the area. The trip from Baseline Road to Glendora Ridge Road and back is about 18 miles. From his home in La Verne, Dolinski’s round-trip ride Fridays up GMR, as it is known among cyclists, is about 30 miles.
The San Gabriel Valley provides riders with an array of both mountainous and flat terrains to cycle. Paths not only challenge the physical endurance of cyclists, they also awaken the senses with the raw nature that still exists in the area. Cyclists venturing into these areas—especially mountain bikers—must keep an eye out for cougars, bears and other potentially dangerous wildlife.
The abundance of bike lanes, bike paths, adult and junior clubs and competitions are evidence of the impact cycling has had in this region. Despite this, life can still be hazardous for cyclists on local roadways.
Shana Murphy moved to La Verne from Scranton, Pennsylvania, four years ago. Although she agrees that bicycling is a positive activity that is not only beneficial to riders, but also to the environment, she admits to an aversion toward cyclists. “While I do not feel like we should ban cycling, I also do not feel I should have to share the already over-crowded road with them,” Murphy says. She recalls a time when she was stuck behind a large group of cyclists who she says were “arrogantly” covering the right lane where she needed to be turning.
Murphy is not alone in feeling inconvenienced by cyclists, some of whom would rather they not be on the road at all. Some citizens in this community not only are not “bicycle friendly,” they are “bicycle annoyed.”
Aggravations arise due to the lack of knowledge of things as simple as the laws bicyclers and drivers must adhere to when approaching one another on the road. Murphy and Shepard both would prefer cyclists ride on the sidewalk, not realizing that it is actually illegal. To the surprise of some citizens, it is completely legal for bicyclers to be riding along with the flow of traffic as long as they are not blocking the road. Cyclists on the road are required to follow all traffic laws, including stopping at stop signs and signaling when turning. Sometimes cyclists just do not see the driver or vice versa, and collisions occur. “You have to be aware that others are on the road,” Michael Powers says. If bicyclists and drivers both follow laws and recognize that each has a legitimate right to be on the road, catastrophes are less likely to occur.
Cyclists often spend thousands of dollars on their equipment and are not interested in destroying their bikes by colliding with a car. Toni Dolinski remembers a time in the 1970s when he was bicycling with a group and they were forced to defend themselves against a band of thieves attempting to harm them and steal their bicycles. “We were assaulted by a group of young rumblers in the Rose Bowl area,” Dolinski explains. To the attackers’ surprise, Dolinski and his fellow cyclists were wearing cleats on their shoes, and were not going down without a fight. Even without the help of the cleats, the odds were probably against the assailants, who were sent off to jail by way of the hospital first. “We bloodied them up pretty good,” Dolinski admits, barely concealing his satisfaction in recalling the victory.
Whether we admire and respect them or simply think they’re in the way, cyclists are here to stay, and motorists and bicyclers will have to find a way to coexist. Thankfully, many communities—like nearby Claremont—have begun to recognize this. These folks may not be Greg Lemond or Lance Armstrong, but they just might be your neighbors. So next time you’re driving past a group of cyclists, give them a wide berth, even if you can’t help snickering at their outfits.