By Allison Pinkerton
The chink, chink, chink of the chain, the whirrrr of the wheels, the fiery heat of the sun. Your heart is pounding. your breathing labored. You taste the salt of your sweat—or is it the salt of the air? You are determined to make it. Just . . . one . . . more . . . pedal rotation . . . This is biking in Venice.
Maybe you do it just because the wet wind in your hair, and the grains of sand between your teeth, make you feel alive .
After all, you are a biker, and this is paradise. Welcome.
Bikers in Venice bike for more than exercise. It’s a passion and a means of self-expression. Here, you don’t have to know the importance of the yellow jersey to enjoy biking, though many do. You don’t have to bike everywhere within ten miles of your house, but some do. You don’t have to bike 14,000 miles in one year, but one man did.
Trails along the intracoastal water-way, the beaches and nature preserves, and up to Sarasota—offer ways for people to bike for fitness, fun and adventure.
Venice bikers bike alone, in groups and on tandem bikes. Bob Carroll, a local biker, promotes biking as a great way to spend time, especially for retirees.
“You get a better workout with biking than with golf,” he said.
That is, if you don’t mind your heart beating in your ears or getting a little sand in your socks.
Fitness writers agree that the benefits of biking include lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of certain cancers and diabetes. Biking can also reduce stress levels and decrease chronic pain. What’s more, the endorphins biking activates also make you happier.
Aside from helping yourself by biking, you’re also helping the planet by reducing your carbon emissions.
Biking for art, biking for the environment: Dr. Heather McCullough
Wearing a multi-colored bike shirt and black shorts, Dr. Heather McCullough doesn’t look like a doctor or a painter. But that’s what she is, and she can talk about cardiovascular fitness and concepts like light and structure with the same level of clarity and passion.
Dr. McCullough bikes from her home on Venice island to the Carlton Reserve, a 24,000-acre nature preserve approximately nine miles east of downtown Venice. Sometimes she brings watercolors. She especially likes to paint the abstract shapes, the way the light plays with structure. Other times, she sketches or takes photos.
Biking relaxes Dr. McCullough, like painting does. To her, it doesn’t always mean what yoga or a good book mean to some—she doesn’t always bike as a way to connect with herself and her passion. Sometimes she just needs a little of The Fast and the Furious, so she road bikes with a group, sometimes at top speed, from the Venice Airport to The Crow’s Nest Restaurant near the South Jetty, an approximately seven-mile loop on Venice island.
Doing her part for our planet, she sometimes bikes to work at Venice Internal Medicine or even to the grocery store, and encourages her college-aged children to bike for transportation, too.
“Where we can pedal or walk instead of drive, we should,” she said.
She says the health benefits of biking, and of aerobic exercise, include weight maintenance and cardiovascular fitness, which can lower cholesterol and stave off cardiovascular disease. In a nutshell, biking makes the doctor’s mind and body feel good.
Biking for camaraderie, biking for fitness: The Coastal Cruisers
Dick Wesling, 76, is a member of Coastal Cruisers, a Venice bike group that hit the road 30 years ago. Wesling enjoys being outside, and last year he rode 14,000 miles. When he’s not biking, he kayaks.
Coastal Cruiser Julie Pieretti, who recently moved to the area from Williamsburg, Virginia, loves that biking allows you to meet people and keep in shape.
“It’s a great way to see the country at 10 to 15 miles an hour,” she said.
The Coastal Cruisers count 331 families among their members, according to Sandy Lentz, who is in charge of membership. That doesn’t mean that you will see hundreds of bikers en masse while you wait at a traffic light. Not everyone rides at the same time, and a typical ride during the summer consists of 20 to 25 bikers. During the winter though, Coastal Cruisers can have more than 100 people on a ride.
I met up with the group at the Venice Train Depot just before at 8 a.m. on a recent Saturday. Three groups were leaving the station: one group going 16-18 mph, one going 13-15 mph and a leisure ride going 12-13 mph. Fred and Jeanne Kistler were going to bike at their own speed. Jeanne had surgery recently, so they wanted to take it slow. Everyone is welcome here and everyone can choose their own pace.
Carroll, Coastal Cruisers’ president, says that when the group sees a new person joining them for a ride, they greet them warmly, then check out their gear. It’s true, when I interviewed some of the bikers, one of the first things they noticed was I didn’t have on biking shoes.
The group of bikes at the train depot that Saturday was eclectic—some were standard, some were recumbent (“sit-down” bikes that are pedaled with the cyclists feet out front), one even had a flag on the back. The recumbent bikes are definitely different from the others and, one might assume, not as fast or not for the serious biker. “Not so,” says Bob Carroll, “those bikes can go just as fast, they’re comfortable, and good for people with back pain.”
Safety is a priority with the group. Carroll says that every rider who rides with Coastal Cruisers must wear a helmet, and if you arrive at a ride sans proper headgear, you can’t go on the ride. He stresses the importance of bike safety and says that before each ride, there is a brief safety talk. On this scorching hot Saturday, that talk included a reminder to drink lots of water.
If you’re interested in getting in on the action, the Coastal Cruisers have a published schedule of rides online, and bikers can choose which ride to go on. There are normally five or six per week, often with a stop or a meal as part of the adventure.
Fred Kistler’s favorite ride starts at Nokomis Beach and then continues on the Legacy Trail to Sarasota for breakfast at First Watch Café before heading back. The Legacy Trail, a ten-mile trail ride, can be accessed from various points in the Venice area, including the Venice Train Depot, Patriots Park, Nokomis Park, Laurel Park, Oscar Scherer Park, Bay Street Park and Potter Park in Sarasota. These access points have free parking.
Carroll says that once a year the cruisers do a B, B and B ride. The Cruisers ride to Boca Grande and back, and then share bratwursts and beer at the end. They also have a pasta bash. At the bash, bikers eat dinner together on Friday night, then work off that dinner on the Saturday ride.
“You ride to eat, and you eat to ride,” Carroll said.
Even with the food focus that some Coastal Cruisers’ rides seems to have, biker Julie Pieretti notes that there are many older people in the area who are concerned with staying fit. There are more cyclists in the Venice area than in other places because there is a large retiree population with more time to bike. The Florida climate is also conducive to biking.
Fred Kistler agrees.
“It’s a really nice biking environment here,” he said.
Bob Carroll believes that Florida is bicycle-friendly. He adds, “You can really sweat your tail off.”
Biking for adventure, biking for community: Tom Obermeier
Tom Obermeier wore a bow tie when he rode a replica penny-farthing in the Sun Fiesta last year.
Think of the penny-farthing as what biking was about long before Lance Armstrong and his Madone SL. The penny-farthing is an old-fashioned bicycle with one huge wheel and one small one. It has no brakes or shocks, and the large tire isn’t filled with air. In old pictures, people generally rode them in top hats.
Obermeier rode the Big Wheel, slang for the penny-farthing, in a ride from Bok Tower to Orlando and back—a total of 100 miles in two days—to raise money for multiple sclerosis. This year, Obermeier and his bike team, Team Martini, raised over $5,000.
“I’m going to do a century ride, on a bike from two centuries ago,” he joked of his long ride on the Big Wheel. People’s reactions ranged from “Can I take a picture of you?” to “You’re crazy.”
Obermeier, a Venice resident since 1972, also likes to ride his unicycle. When he rode it around his yard the afternoon I visited, he was dressed conventionally in shorts and a T-shirt. Apparently, the penny-farthing is a much more formal ride.
In Tom’s more serious moments, he bikes on trails and roads in the area. He began mountain biking in 1995, when a friend told him about the trail rides in North Port. After an unfortunate incident involving a tree, his bike and his collarbone, he now sticks to road biking.
He bikes to stay healthy, and he says biking has allowed him to meet new people and explore new places. “I’m sort of the adventure bicyclist.”
Obermeier has funneled his sense of adventure into finding new ways to give back to the community. He volunteers with the Carlton Reserve and Venice Area Beautification, Inc. because he rides in the reserve and on the Venetian Waterway Park so often. The Venetian Waterway Park is a trail that runs for five miles on each side of the intracoastal waterway. It is eight feet wide, and bicyclists, joggers and walkers are welcome.
“I call the Carlton Reserve my 24,000-acre playground,” he said.
He lets his mood dictate his rides. If he wants to appreciate the beach, he rides to Caspersen Beach Park, a secluded, undeveloped beach south of the Venice Airport. If he wants to relax, he rides in the Venetian Waterway Park. To relieve stress, he rides in the Carlton Reserve, where he once saw a Florida panther. If he wants to push himself physically, he rides the Legacy Trail.
“You get to feel the vibe of a town by riding in it,” he said.