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Has Folsom bike ride spun out of control?
By Blair Anthony Robertson
Published: Saturday, May. 23, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 20A
A pack of cyclists rolled out of the parking lot of the Folsom coffee
shop just after 9 a.m. on a recent Saturday, primed for a 40-mile ride
promising high speeds and burning lungs.
The so-called Coffee Republic ride began a decade ago as a weekly
workout for a women's cycling club, but has transformed into one of
the most popular and competitive race-training rides in the region,
swelling to 80 or more on some Saturdays.
These days, it's the men leading the charge, for better or worse.
Residents and motorists mostly see the worse: cyclists roaring through
stop signs, riding five abreast, crossing the center line, stopping
"That ride bums me out," said Eve Blumenfeld, who co-founded the ride
a decade ago and still participates, albeit not up with the racers. "I
love to ride fast. I just think you can do it with a little more
respect to the motorists."
Such no-holds-barred rides packed with amateur racers are a national
phenomenon, thanks to the popularity of the sport since Lance
Armstrong rose to prominence in 1999.
In Tucson, Ariz., for instance, a decades-old weekly ride known as the
"Shootout" has grown to nearly 200 cyclists, drawing occasional
crackdowns by the Pima County Sheriff's Office.
Several of the large rides have triggered car-vs.-bike outbursts.
Last summer, a Los Angeles emergency room doctor was accused of road
rage when he slammed the brakes of his car in front of two cyclists he
had just passed near his Brentwood home. One of the riders flew
through the back window, breaking his teeth and nearly severing his
On the Folsom ride, cyclists report that a driver once put his pickup
in reverse and threatened to ram riders. Motorists hurl debris, shout,
even swerve toward them as they pass, they say.
These race-oriented rides are distinct from most recreational rides,
where the pace is slower, the behavior usually more civil.
While pack mentality can be problematic in many social settings,
cycling adds another layer of complexity: Drafting, or tucking behind
other cyclists in a paceline to reduce wind resistance, enables
inferior athletes to keep up with much faster ones, if only for a
"Speed, pure speed," said Steve Ward, a 47-year-old novice racer, when
asked to explain the allure of the Folsom ride, which starts and ends
at the Coffee Republic cafe. "You can sit in somewhere around 15th
position and do relatively little work and go very, very fast."
In recent weeks even Ward, a software developer, has skipped the large
group ride to join eight to 10 others for a separate workout.
Rick Humphreys, a state geologist who has been racing so long he's
known as "Retro Rick," stopped doing the Coffee Republic ride a couple
of years ago, when the tone shifted.
"I don't want to be associated with a ride where people are breaking
laws and upsetting lots of people," he said.
Given the flouting of traffic laws in Folsom and elsewhere, the makeup
of participants may seem surprising: men and women in their 30s, 40s
and 50s – doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, business owners and
state workers – who can afford the $5,000-plus bikes seen in the Tour
The competitive rides have allowed scores of middle-aged cyclists to
get into such good shape they can trounce athletes in their 20s, but
their growth spurt is fueling animosity toward cycling.
"Motorists disrespect us and cause tons of problems, but we're doing
the same things to pedestrians," said Bob Mionske, a Portland, Ore.-
based lawyer, Bicycling magazine columnist and former Olympic cyclist
who specializes in bicycle law. "We are heading toward a bad place."
More close calls
Cyclists who have campaigned for years to get motorists to share the
road find themselves having to apologize for the kind of riding no one
"There is a reason I don't do the Coffee Republic ride," said Michael
Sayers, a longtime professional cyclist from Sacramento who retired
last year. "I went out there one time and I absolutely refused to go
back ... . I've told them they are going to ruin it for the rest of
Perhaps they already have.
A few weeks ago, a California Highway Patrol officer showed up at the
coffee shop to urge riders to reform their ways, citing numerous
Sgt. Gordon Canham of the Auburn CHP office noted that bikes are
subject to the same traffic laws as motorists and would pay the same
fines if cited. Running a red light, for example, costs upward of
Did the rogue riding tone down? Not if a recent Saturday ride was any
indication, when a car driven by a Bee reporter trailed the group.
In the first minute, a rider pedaled down the middle of the street,
refusing to move to his right. In less than five minutes, several
cyclists crossing Oak Avenue pulled in front of the The Bee's car,
forcing two more cars to stop.
Ten minutes later, the entire group crossed four-lane Douglas
Boulevard, bringing cars approaching at 45 mph – in both directions –
to a sudden halt.
"I've never seen it so dangerous as it has been," Blumenfeld would
comment later. "I've seen more close calls than ever."
The riders headed to Itchy Acres, a neighborhood with narrow roads and
no sidewalks. One amateur racer, 52-year-old Tracy Muegge, had
recently urged riders to slow the pace through Itchy Acres – but to no
On this Saturday, Matt Obregon, a college student and part-time racer,
ramped up the speed and shot ahead.
The race was on.
Three dozen others gave chase, barreling through a stop sign before
nearly forcing a man and his dog into a ditch. The cyclists blanketed
the lane and a few moved across the center line to improve their
position in the pack.
It would have been impossible for a car to get past.
Unwritten rules of the road
Typically, well-behaved groups will call out, "Car back," and slide to
the right. Not here.
In cycling circles, behavior and style often are summed up in terms of
being "pro" or "not pro." When told of the scene through Itchy Acres,
Sayers scoffed and said, "That is absolutely not 'pro.'
"What a lot of riders have lost touch with is these group rides are
not racing. They're training. There is a place to go fast and a place
not to. You just don't do that in congested areas."
At the professional level, the pack or "peleton" is a marvel of
unwritten rules based on tradition and is almost entirely self-
policing, with unofficial leaders and enforcers who crack down on
those who fall out of line.
When asked about his ride, Obregon, 20, a pre-law major at California
State University, Sacramento, initially denied he had run stop signs,
asking, "Do you have video of me, or something?"
He later conceded the ride may have gotten out of hand but said the
group had a mind of its own.
"I'm just a student. I'm a realistic person. No one listens to
anyone," Obregon said. "They're Type A people and they all have good
The us-first pack mentality evident in Folsom can encourage people to
behave differently than when they ride alone, according to John Meyer,
a Sacramento clinical psychologist who specializes in sports
psychology. A former college basketball player, Meyer also is a
"There is something about being part of a group, the anonymity of
that," he said. "It's funny what that unleashes."
"When we get a paceline going, there is something adrenaline-making
about that, where as a group you go by the slower riders... . You're
riding by on a cool bike in a cool group 12 inches from the tire in
front of you. It gives you an identity and it does kind of kick up
that 'us-vs.-them.' "
Being in a group also allows some to dominate their surroundings as
they ignore rules, according to Rich Maile, 45, a local bike mechanic
and racer who competes nationally.
"One of the things I see is just general lack of courtesy," Maile
said. "The (Coffee Republic) group has swelled ... . Forty to 60
cyclists feel they have more of a right of way than a couple of
During the recent ride, the cyclists came upon Vince Martinez and his
dog without warning, blowing past at close range.
"There are kids in strollers out here," said Martinez, 48. "I know
these guys want to go fast and that's great. But this just isn't the
place for that."
Later, on busy Sierra College Boulevard, the riders kept mostly to the
bike lane. But as a downhill approached, a man and a woman on a tandem
swung out wide and accelerated, forcing a car to swerve.
Meyer says that kind of behavior probably is not limited to their bike
"There's a fair number of them that would look and conduct themselves
in much the same way in their life in general," said Meyer. "That guy
that is totally self-centered on his bike ... you might see a toned-
down version of that in his personal life or in the workplace."
Several cyclists say rides like the Coffee Republic will not change
until someone is seriously hurt or law enforcement issues tickets.
Short of that, Meyer says, the behavior likely will go unchecked
unless the cyclists look within because, he said, "The first step is
Blumenfeld, who dreamed up the Coffee Republic ride with a friend a
decade ago, isn't hopeful.
"It's cool that it got so big, but it's sad that it has become a
rebellious ride," she said. "The thing that bothers me most is the
attitude. It's a recipe for disaster that doesn't have to happen."