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Pedaling Centre: Cyclists Are Enjoying a Different View of the County

by on May 13, 2018 5:00 AM

As the weather warms up in central Pennsylvania, they seem to be everywhere. Drivers have to share the road with them. In town, they jet past pedestrians trying to get to class or work. And hikers will suddenly see one jump out, off some rocks, and roll down the trail.

By trail or road, and seemingly everywhere in between, biking is a part of the region that people love. And the bike community in Centre County is all about keeping that love rolling right along with group rides, community service, and other ways of connecting with friends and nature.

For many, cycling has brought them more than just fitness.

Man on a mission

Joe Lundberg remembers riding a bike when he was young, but giving that up as he grew older. Then, in the early 2000s, when he was in his early 40s and while raising three kids, Lundberg had a health scare and he knew something needed to change. Soon he found himself purchasing a bike.

“I remember my first ride; it was fun, invigorating. It took me back to being a kid again,” says Lundberg, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather. “But I was sure sore the next day.”

Two years after he bought that first bike, he went riding with a friend and her approach registered with him. She had a goal of riding 1,000 miles over a summer. Soon he set his own goal to ride 2,000 miles in a year. He was up early on New Year’s Day getting miles in, and finished his challenge with months to spare. All told Lundberg lost more than 80 pounds, and felt healthier than ever. He even started running and swimming. He never thought he would be able to run after having knee surgery years ago, but there he was completing a half-marathon.

“All because of that first hybrid bike I bought. I loved it, it was fun and I just kept setting new challenges for myself,” Lundberg says. He has run marathons, biked 200-mile endurance races, and even completed an ironman triathlon, which includes a 112-mile bike ride sandwiched between a 2.4-mile swim and a full marathon run of 26.2 miles. 

“After my first half-marathon I just broke down and cried, it was emotional,” Lundberg says.

But for all that he is accomplished with his fitness, maybe what he is most proud of is the bike community that he helped create in Centre County. 

“When I first started riding I was wondering why there weren’t any biking groups in State College getting together for rides,” Lundberg says. After talking with some people at bike shops, Lundberg learned that any bike clubs that started in the area ended up getting dominated by more elite riders. 

“I just felt that was unfortunate; it would be great if we could have a place where we could all get together and ride no matter the skill level. Someone said to me, ‘Well why don’t you start it?’”

And he did. 

Tuesday night group rides started off with just five to 10 riders, but that blossomed in 2015 into the State College Cycling Club. The club prides itself on being for anyone who wants to ride. With more than 200 members, the club still keeps up  Tuesday rides that offer three different pacing options. The club also offers other group rides in the summer that are designed for beginners.

“More than anything, cycling has brought me a chance to meet some really awesome people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise in my life,” Lundberg says.

Mountains are calling

Scott Sheeder, president of the Nittany Mountain Biking Association, loves the proximity of central Pennsylvania’s mountain biking trails.

“I can leave my house and get to a trail in 10-15 minutes and be on some of the best mountain biking trails around. Rothrock State Forest, Bald Eagle State Forest, Scotia game lands, they are so close,” he says. “Out West, yeah they have some great trails, but out there you have to drive over an hour to get there. We are right in the thick of it.”

Mountain biking can look intimidating, and the trails around here don’t do the riders many favors. There are rocks and roots, steep uphill climbs, and sharp downhills. But getting outside and connecting with nature and other riders are what it’s all about.

“On a recent ride I saw a pheasant, some wild turkey, and a momma bear with two cubs. You can’t beat that, and it is all right there for people looking for a little adventure every day,” Sheeder says.

The club holds group rides on Thursday nights, and all levels are welcome, he says. 

While the club is a sponsor for the Rothrock Trail Mix race series that will be held in June for the fifth year, the club is about more than competition. The club and the race are about giving back to the community and keeping the trails in good condition. The club holds days in which members work on and clean up the trails.

“I feel like they if you are going to go out and use the trails you should do your part to give back. This is a resource that is out there for everyone to enjoy, so we all have to do our part,” Sheeder says.

Rainy days no more 

A pack of cyclists climbs up and over mountains, ducking under trees until reaching the top. A bird flies overhead, and then the pack rushes back down, peddling at top speed until getting to the bottom before climbing all over again. But the riders aren’t going anywhere really; they are riding stationary bikes in a studio at Fitology in State College, taking part in “The Trip,” a cycling class that simulates the feeling of a ride in the real world. 

“Look, I would rather be riding outside,” says Jinger Gottschall, an associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State and co-owner of Fitology. “But sometimes that is not possible. Weather can be an issue, or maybe time. What The Trip does is immerses the rider into feeling like they are actually riding, and this produces a workout that in more engaging.”

Along with gyms in New York, Santa Monica, and Chicago, Fitology is one of four places in the country where you can take The Trip. 

“You are utilizing other senses besides just muscle movement, because you’ve got the music as well as the visual, and it pulls you into the environment and it actually feels like you are going uphill, downhill, and around curves,” says Gottschall. “It is a full body experience.”

Love at first bike

Laura Cone moved to State College 2½ ago to work as a meteorologist for AccuWeather. A Michigan native, Cone had lived in multiple states, including the outdoor haven of Colorado, and she was pleasantly surprised with the cycling in central Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania has pretty solid road conditions as far as pavement is concerned,” Cone says, noting that wider roads usually have shoulders.

She has been a swimmer her whole life and has completed many triathlons. When she started working at AccuWeather, she says Lundberg and other co-workers talked her into going for a ride with the State College Cycling Club, and she was surprised to meet guy named Josh Cone.

“You know when you meet up for a cycling ride, people are in all their gear, hats, glasses, and everything, but I saw him and I was like ‘OK, this  could be fun,” Laura Cone says.

The group rode from State College to the Spruce Creek Bakery in Huntingdon and Josh and Laura got to spend a lot of time on the road talking. 

It wasn’t long before they realized there was a connection. Two years after that first ride, the pair rode with group from the club out to Spruce Creek again to celebrate their upcoming marriage.

Josh is the healthy living director at the State College YMCA and teaches cycling a few times a week along with other fitness classes.

“When you spend that much time with people, a couple times a week riding together, you get to know each other and it has been a really nice part of our life,” says Josh, who is also an avid runner. “You never know who you might meet out on a ride, a new friend, someone who shares an interest. We are lucky enough to have met each other, and I have made many other friendships on the road.”

Josh grew up in State College, but says he really didn’t get to know the area until he started road cycling.

“I have gone on roads that I didn't know existed and  seen some beautiful parts of the county that people don’t even know about,” he says. He rides the pavement and also is a gravel grinder, hitting the mountain roads in Rothrock as often as possible.

“I love both types of riding. When you are out on the fire roads, you are all alone and you might see one or two cars all day. You have to pay more attention to the terrain as you might hit loose gravel or a bump, so it engages you more that way.”

Fat Tire

Freeze Thaw Cycles opened in State College in 2005 with the idea of using as many used  bikes and parts as possible. While the business no longer sells used bikes, it does keep the philosophy of creating as little waste as possible from its work. Co-owner Justin Wagner says they were quick to get into the fat tire bike trend that has grown in the past 10 years.

“Fat tire bikes have these big tires that allow you to ride in places that maybe you couldn’t have before. It can be pretty awesome to ride on mud and snow over rock smoothly,” he says. “Since we live in a part of the world where it might snow for a few months out of the year, this allows bikers to get out all year if they want.”

Wagner also started riding a tandem mountain bike with his girlfriend, Leanne Stine, and says it is something that brings them closer because they have to work together to navigate on the bike.

“That’s one of the great things about mountain biking. It is fun and every day is a new adventure,” Wagner says.

Wagner says his crew at the shop is made up of a bunch of guys who came to Penn State and fell in love with the biking in the area.

“Now we made what we love our lives,” Wagner says. “It is awesome.”

(Photo by Darren Andrew Weimert) Freeze Thaw Cycles co-owner Justin Wagner says riding a tandem mountain bike with his girlfriend, Leanne Stine, brings them closer because they have to work together to navigate on the bike.

The Bicycle Shop on College Avenue has been serving State College cyclists since 1946. Owner Erik Scott says he thinks bike riding helps make Happy Valley so happy. 

“The more people who ride bikes, the more we would solve a lot of the problems in our society,” Scott says. “People would be healthier, deal with stress better, and be more productive at work; people would be friendlier to one another.”

Both shops, along with Eddie’s Bicycle and Hockey Equipment in State College, are touted by cyclists as some of the best they have seen, and add to the biking community.

Pedals and Pints

Every Wednesday during the warm months, Roy Rupert maps out a ride in Penn Valley and marks it for riders. The route starts at the fire hall in Millheim and winds its way around Penn Valley for 15-20 miles, passing streams, farmland, and mountains before it makes its way back to The Elk Creek Café & Aleworks. At 6 p.m., riders meet with $3 each, and as long as they have a bike and proper gear, they are off to ride the route.

“I mark the route but people are able to go at their own pace and take whatever route they want,” Rupert says. “We have a support vehicle on the route in case anyone breaks down, and we just try to make it as fun as possible. Mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrid, whatever, all are welcome. It is a nice ride; we might pass an Amish buggy and we might ride out along the streams. It is just a beautiful place to ride, so you can’t go wrong. All riders all welcome, any skill level.”

The $3 that riders bring provides them with a token for a beer at the cafe, but the money goes to charity. The group has raised money for many Penn Valley charities and has started giving to a fund that provides bikes to villages in Africa. 

“We all sit down and have our beer, maybe some dinner, and talk. We talk about the ride or about whatever. It fosters a real community,” Rupert says. “You get your exercise, you get to go for a beautiful  ride, and then you get to meet some new people and talk about it.”

For bike riders in this area, that is what it all about. 

Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.

Vincent Corso is a freelance writer from State College.
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