RIPON – The 24-mile bike ride builds slowly out of Ripon, tracing its way along country roads through the south county.
In Manteca, past the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers, the pace quickens as the riders sprint down West Ripon Road and back towards Georges Bikes, the launch point for this cool Wednesday evening ride.
Three years ago, this was a lonely adventure.
George Ingerson can recall rides with as few as two riders. The no-drop ride grew slowly in popularity over the next two years, but nothing prepared Ingerson for this season’s show of support.
“It’s mind-boggling how far it has come in three years,” said Ingerson, owner of Georges Bike, a small shop on South Stockton Avenue.
“It’s been an absolute kick in the pants to see everybody smiling and talking about how they can’t for the next week.”
The Wednesday evening ride has turned into a full-fledged event, connecting Central Valley communities and attracting riders of all skill levels. At its height this summer, the ride enjoyed five consecutive weeks with at least 60 participants. The season-best was 69 riders.
“The Wednesday ride has grown bigger than I ever thought it would be,” Ingerson wrote on Georges Bikes’ Facebook page. “I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone for coming out and riding on Wednesday night.”
He hopes to thank them in person tonight. The last ride of the season will leave the shop at 6 o’clock. Ingerson said the ride will be shorter than usual to accommodate a pizza-and-drinks celebration afterwards.
The ride will be missed by many, especially by those who have grown with it.
It was Debbie Sommerfeld’s first in a group setting back March of 2012.
She had every reason to quit that evening – it was raining and there were only seven riders total – but Ingerson wouldn’t allow it.
“I was struggling to hold on and they kept coming back to get me,” said Sommerfeld, who has completed two 100-mile bike rides since then. “My average speed was 9 mph – George still teases me about that. But he kept coming back for me and made sure I was having fun.
“I’ve literally seen this group grow, and everybody looks out for one another. I’ve been impressed by that all the time.”
Steve Bell RSVP’d for tonight’s farewell cruise on the shop’s Facebook page.
“This was my first group ride, I chose to do, when I bought me road bike this year and decided to get back into the sport,” he wrote. “This ride is special to me and I have enjoyed the people, who really make the ride what it is. I cannot wait until it starts back up next year.”
Neither can Ingerson.
The Wednesday ride will return in March.
He believes it is popular among Central Valley riders because it is a no-drop ride catered to those who keep a 17-18 mph pace. Slower riders are often accompanied and coached up by the faster and stronger – not left in the dust.
That kind of camaraderie resonates with people, he said.
“It’s a ride that’s been missing in the area. Most rides are fast-paced; more for the faster riders. There’s been nothing in the middle of the week for the guy in the middle,” Ingerson said.
“The help slow riders get from the faster riders … most come out to help the slower riders. It’s a no-drop ride. No one rides by themselves. Even if you’re the slowest one out there, you’ll have three to four riding with you.”
The ride has been a boon for business, too.
Ingerson says service work grew each week during the spring and summer, following the same trajectory as the Wednesday evening ride. He’s also seeing new faces in the shop, which he attributes to a strong reputation throughout the valley.
“We’ve had a lot of new customers,” Ingerson said. “They like knowing there are some shops in the area that don’t care about their wallet. They care about your bike and that you’re out there riding.”
Georges Bikes will begin twice-a-month Saturday morning rides in October. The first ride is tentatively set for Oct. 19.