Story and photos by Darl DeVault, Contributing Editor
Seniors over 65 were well represented at the 40th Redbud Classic Cycling event on the morning of April 15th as 60 seniors of the 619 riders set out from The Waterford Complex to Jones and beyond. The morning presented chilly and windy conditions on a timed group bicycle ride offering a 10 and 30-mile cycling tour and a 50-mile Fondo through Eastern Oklahoma County.
At 8 a.m., the temperature was a cloudy 53 degrees with a gusty 26 mph northwest wind that rose to 28 mph by noon. Although wind chill cannot be calculated above 50 degrees, when the speeds the riders achieve on a bicycle are factored in, the windchill was likely 40 degrees on the bike those first two hours.
Several seniors took the chilly conditions in stride. Two of the fastest riders in the 30-mile event were in the 65+ age group, almost winning their male and female events overall while easily setting the best time in their age group. Senior Rainer Stachowitz, 67, from Edmond, finished the timed 30-mile ride second of all the 168 males. MJ Marsh, of Oklahoma City, over 65, was the first of 88 women in all age groups to finish the 30-mile distance. Modern timing can sometimes document senior dominance.
“It is impressive that seniors in the 65-plus age group were one and two in their distances overall on a day when some of the volunteers were wearing blankets because of the windy, cold conditions,” said Brenda Schmitz, 30-mile rider, Oklahoma City court reporter and Zumba instructor.
The Spring’s first large organized road ride in Oklahoma would have been much more well attended except for the untypical cold and windy conditions. Often numbering more than 1,000 cyclists, the event brought to mind the condition cyclists encountered the first year the event was timed during its 15th start in 1997.
Comparing and contrasting events over a good many years is something older Americans are good at and can sometimes provide the reader with a different way of looking at seniors’ endeavors.
Record low temperatures in April of 1997 did not deter 285 frozen cyclists who braved the bitterly cold 26-degree weather, which almost matched the record cold temperature for the day of 23 degrees in 1953.
The cyclists were determined to participate in the first timed version of that 15th Annual Redbud Classic. The popular first major ride of the Spring began at the Waterford Complex in Nichols Hills. The 10-mile and 30-mile tours started at 7:30 a.m. along the same route as the 50-mile timed event. The 10-mile course was a quick out-and-back along N.E. 63rd, turning around at Bryant.
The cold and windy weather greatly affected the cyclists, both the would-be riders who thought better of the bitterly cold day and did not show up and those who rode the event.
Usually, as many as 1,500 riders started the bicycle event back then, but on a day when the water in their water bottles froze solid, far fewer cyclists braved the cold. With predictions early the preceding week for only 35 degrees and the night before only 32 degrees, turnout for the event was light. Many who rode found they weren’t prepared for the numbing cold of the frigid temperatures and the harsh 15-30 mph winds.
Jones volunteers hosted the turnaround point for the 30-mile event, and the Jones police and volunteer firefighters directed traffic on a day with a wind chill index below zero. Jones native Linda Schilling joined with seven other Phi Epsilon Sorority volunteers, of whom some wrapped themselves in blankets, to help at the rest stop.
The turnaround’s rest and refreshment stop was outside at the Jones Main Street Plaza, where many cold cyclists put aside the idea that they were losing valuable time in the first timed event by rearranging their clothing. The area was littered with people trying to warm up their feet and shake off the cold. Extra time was spent finding ways to unfreeze their water bottles so they could take on fluids for the ride back.
Many riders set about finding cardboard, newspaper, or plastic to put under their cycling clothing to help block the wind and be warmer on their bicycles for the return trip. Wheeler Dealer Bicycle volunteers came to the rescue with small plastic bags the cyclists could put on over their socks in their cycling shoes to help with their cold feet.
Some riders decided that to be completely warmer sooner was the better part of valor. They cut short their 50-mile ride in the blustery conditions. They decided to turn for home to only complete the 30-mile distance since the course was identical to and from the Jones turnaround.
The top riders who wanted to continue to complete the 50-mile distance strained up the many hills of Eastern Oklahoma County and earned bragging rights as inaugural timed-event winners. Having always included Jones, and the challenging hills leading to and from hilly Hogback Road, the 50-mile ride was a good test of the riders’ early-season conditioning.
The leader of the 50-mile timed ride was easy to spot, as an Oklahoma City Police patrol car with lights flashing led the way. Sponsor KWTV’s helicopter also hovered nearby, videotaping much of the ride and sending live shots statewide.
The event was well-organized, and the riders were well cared for from a safety standpoint. Oklahoma City, Nichols Hills, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department and Jones police ensured the participants were safe at every major intersection along the route.
Despite the low turnout in 1997, the Redbud Classic brought recognition to Jones, and the entire Jones Police Department turned out to support the event. Nick King of Choctaw and Steve Allen of Midwest City, who have done the ride for the last five years, said they were impressed with the event’s organization and safety measures. The event has grown to be one of Oklahoma’s most popular cycling events, drawing riders from all over.