Polar Bear ride lives up to its billing

by Hugh Fisher

Allen Michael, left, talks to Rocky River Road Club president Bob Kerns after the Polar Bear Metric Century bicycle ride on Saturday, Jan. 8. More than 300 people turned out to brave the elements in the 62-mile annual ride.

There’s a reason most bicycle rides and races take place in warm months.

Put a cold headwind in the face of a person on the back of a bike and the chill is going to get intense very quickly.

But the 370 riders in Saturday’s Polar Bear Metric Century charity bike ride didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s the Polar Bear. It’s supposed to be that cold,” said organizer Jim Mead of the Rocky River Road Club.

This was the 13th annual Polar Bear ride, hosted by the club as a fundraiser for local charities.

Despite what most non-athletes would call frigid temperatures, and the possibility of bad weather the night before, Mead said Saturday’s weather turned out better than expected.

“It’s mostly sunny, there’s no frozen precipitation,” Mead said just after the ride began. “We’re absolutely psyched.”

Not a timed race, just a fun ride through the county, the Polar Bear offered cyclists a choice of scenic routes.

The longer “metric century” 100K loop covered about 62 miles, leaving Davidson and stretching out to western Rowan County.

A shorter 50K – 31 mile – course attracted more first-timers.

Rest stops spaced along the course offered riders a safe place to stop for water and a restroom break.

And Rocky River Road Club president Bob Kerns and other volunteers were out on the course in case of trouble, since many who take part are new to organized rides.

Among them: Allen Michael, who just recently took up cycling.

Already an experienced runner, Michael kept pace with the leaders. “I was averaging about 20.4 (miles per hour) for the first 12 miles,” he said.

He was having so much fun that he missed his turn and ended up on the 100K track.

When Michael realized his mistake, he turned back.

And he ended up riding part of the way in line with Kerns, who was highly visible out on the course in a red cycling suit and Santa Claus hat.

In the end, Michael said it was a great experience.

“To start out with this group of organized riders was great,” he said.

Novices and seasoned riders alike said the course wasn’t too challenging.

The weather, on the other hand, had a surprise in store.

About 11 a.m., a snow shower moved through the area. Heavy snow fell for about half an hour on parts of the course.

It was enough to briefly whiten the ground out toward Cleveland in Rowan County, though the snow melted quickly once the sun came back out around noon.

“I’ve never done that before,” J.P. Riou, of Cornelius, said about his ride through the blowing snow.

“And of course it happened going uphill, with the wind directly in my face. I think we burned a few hundred more calories because of that,” Riou said.

Trevor Ford, of Tega Cay, didn’t complain at all. He just said he enjoyed watching his feet turn white as the snow blew onto him.

Then again, Ford is a native of London.

“Mad dogs and Englishmen,” Ford said with a grin “Where I come from, this is a summer’s day.”

At the start/finish line on the Ingersoll Rand campus in Davidson, many cyclists put back on the hats, coats and gloves they had shed before or during the ride.

Hot soup, sandwiches and cocoa were among the treats waiting for them.

Besides the physical warmth after the ride, there was the warm feeling of riding for a good cause.

The Polar Bear ride raised funds for the Ada Jenkins Center’s outreach programs.

Mead said he didn’t have an accurate figure on the amount raised. Calls to the center were not immediately returned.

Kerns said that the turnout was better than average, given the cold weather.

“With these kind of conditions, you get a core group,” he said.

And members of the Rocky River Road Club were optimistic that the ride would once more help make a positive difference in the community.

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