Well before the scorching heat took over on Saturday, about two dozen cyclists had gathered in front of Raley’s supermarket at Tracy Boulevard and Valpico Road, ready to venture out onto rural roads around Tracy.
The Saturday morning rides are regular events for Central Valley Velo, a club that gets people out on their bicycles for organized rides. While many athletic events are on hold because of COVID-19, Central Valley Velo has stayed active throughout the pandemic.
“When (COVID-19) first came out, I stopped posting group rides because we didn’t know anything about the virus,” said Ray Prevost, one of Saturday’s ride organizers. “We didn’t know if it was going to be safe for us to be riding in groups. As more information came out, it seemed there was no evidence at all that people were catching it on group rides.
“We started posting, and we’re keeping social distancing during the rides, and even that doesn’t seem to be necessary, but we do all bring a mask for our rest stops.”
The ride he led went from Raley’s to Patterson Pass Road, then over Patterson Pass and into Livermore, and then back along Altamont Pass Road to Grant Line Road, nearly 44 miles.
Another group went along Patterson Pass Road and took a right turn onto Midway Road, a shorter route where the hill climbs were less strenuous.
John Silva, a club member since 2007 and one of the club’s informal leaders, led that ride, a loop of about 40 miles, including roads past Mountain House and Banta.
Depending on the skill levels of participants, a group could go 60 miles or more, with a pace of 20 mph or more for the fastest riders, though some opt to break off into smaller groups and go at a slower pace.
Most days of the week, there is some kind of club ride, ranging from short routes that stay in Tracy and go at a suitable pace for beginners or those who have just dusted off their bikes, to the loops around town or to neighboring towns including Manteca or Ripon. Generally, a club member will post plans for a ride a day or two ahead of time on the group’s Facebook page. Silva said that the different loops allow the club to design rides for varied skill and speed levels.
“Tracy is ideal because we’re in a valley, so it’s flat here, but just a few miles to the west we have the climbs of Patterson Pass and Tesla, so we can go to Livermore and back,” he said. “For flat rides, because of all of the farmland, we can ride on roads that are fairly lightly traveled. If we go to Ripon, we’ll take the backroads out Chrisman to Durham Ferry.
“It really is nice. For those that don’t want to climb or can’t climb, we have a lot of country roads. For those that do want to climb, we only have a few miles to get to the hills.”
He added that the club helps people find the routes in their area best suited for their skills.
“You can go on Google and map out your own route, but if you can get involved with somebody that already rides, they can show you the different local routes that they do,” he said.
Tracey Mutimer of Tracy said she had been riding for several years. Back in March, she connected with Central Valley Velo and joined the organized rides. Since then, she has found the trips over to Livermore the most challenging, and she said the camaraderie inspires her.
“It was just a great way for me to get out and exercise,” she said. “This has been healthy for me. I love the social part of it. I’ve got new friends and old friends.”
Michelle Carrier is one of the longtime members who appreciates having friends who help her stay active.
“For me, I find we have a good social interaction, so I’ve developed really good friends over the 15-plus years here,” she said. “It’s great exercise, and sometimes, when you’re by yourself, it’s good mental exercise, to reconnect with yourself and just enjoy Tracy’s beautiful countryside.”
Sonny Alford, at 16, is one of the younger members. For a high school student in the age of COVID-19, the regular rides are a welcome change of pace.
“In the morning, I’m happy to get out,” he said. “At the same time, when I’m having school online, I have to mess around with my schedule a bit, but whenever I have a chance I’m out here, especially on a Saturday when I’m off school and can get out.”
Silva said about 70 active members regularly show up for rides. Even more people have joined the Central Valley Velo Facebook group, an open group that anyone can see, which shows nearly 600 members.
Silva said that indicates a growing interest in cycling during the pandemic, at a time when gyms and other sports venues are shut down.
“What I noticed is once they went to shelter-in-place, a number of people who were commuters were breaking out their bikes and riding. Now, all of a sudden, they have four hours that they didn’t have because they were either working from home or furloughed,” he said. “That’s when I really saw a noticeable difference. People were pulling their bikes out of their garage and getting them tuned up and cleaned up and getting out and riding.
“The neat thing about cycling, it’s pretty ageless. You have people cycling into their 80s because it’s low impact. It’s easy on the joints, but it’s excellent for your cardiovascular.”