For Dean, cycling offers a way to stay active after injuries forced him to give up golf. For Alan, cycling allows him to spend time with his friend who would no longer be spending Saturday mornings on the golf course with him. Riding gives these two men time together. In turn, they keep each other committed to cycling.
Golf used to consume Dean Weinberg’s weekends. Over time, however, the stress of the swing wore down his shoulders and spine and forced him to retire from the game. Cycling never really had been a part of his life. He did a little riding here and there. He did a trip with his family through Backroads that took them riding through the Grand Canyon – which Dean says was “just amazing” – but was never seriously into the sport. Alan, an avid golfer, watched his bike gather dust in the garage. He claims that over two decades, his bike maybe saw 200 miles.
After Dean’s forced retirement from golf, he suggested to Alan that they pull their bikes out of their respective garages and do Bike the Drive. Alan tells us: “We were looking for new sports to do because he wasn’t playing golf anymore. We somehow ended up deciding we’d go riding… and it all started with Bike the Drive in 2014.” This event, at the end of May each year, gives cyclists the opportunity to ride the length of Lake Shore Drive, enjoying views of the Chicago skyline to the west and of Lake Michigan to the east.
After enjoying their 30-mile ride on Lake Shore Drive, Alan and Dean starting cycling more frequently. “It became an every weekend kind of thing,” Dean tells us. “[Bike the Drive] was the start of it.” It wasn’t long before they began noticing other riders, of about the same age and fitness level, were passing them. Alan thought, “We ought to be able to go faster than them,” and decided, “We’ve got to get some fast bikes.” Dean thought it was time to get what he called “big boy bikes.”
Over the winter, the two did their research. Alan knew he wanted a hybrid bike, one that would work as well on the road as it would on the trails. Dean wasn’t so sure what he wanted. He considered a road bike and debated the merits of drop bars versus flat bars. Dean said, “He did some research on the bikes; I did some research on the bikes. We ended up in the same place. It was just finding the right bike.”
Alan’s advice to anyone considering purchasing a bike is to “definitely take the time to do a real test ride on the bike.” He adds: “Don’t just to ride it around the parking lot. Go to a store that allows you to take it out for a ten to fifteen mile ride. Riding around in a parking lot in your street clothes is a lot different than what it feels like to go for a ride.”
He tells us that after extensive Internet research, they checked out several brands and settled on the Specialized Sirrus. They came into Higher Gear to test ride the Sirrus for fit and to check out the components, but wanted the higher end carbon version of the bike.
Alan shares: “It’s a pretty big decision to make – buying your first bike, especially. Test ride as many bikes as you can before you make your decision.” He adds: “We got great help from the people at Higher Gear. Brendan and the team were very helpful. We’ve had a great experience; it’s been a very happy experience.”
For Dean, “finding the right bike” meant finding a bike that was comfortable to ride. He shares: “When buying a bike, it’s more about fit than anything else. I’m very comfortable on this bike. I ride it more because I have it. I don’t groan about getting on it. It’s really about finding the right fit for you.”
The two 2015 Specialized Sirrus Expert Carbon Disc bikes arrived in April and the dynamic duo have been riding every weekend since. “He plays golf on Saturday, so we ride Sunday,” says Dean. Alan and Dean do most of their Sunday rides on the local network of trails, a big reason they chose the Sirrus, a bike that can handle off-roading. According to Dean, they’re really only riding on the road “to get from one trail to the next.” They both cite the Des Plaines River Trail, a multiuse trail that follows its namesake river through most of Lake and part of Cook County, as a favorite.
Alan takes advantage of the trail system to commute to his job in Mundelein. He makes the one-hour trip in to work and back home again once or twice a week. Before this year, Alan had never considered navigating the busy roads he takes to work by bike. “The road is like a death wish. There’s no bike path and the condition of the road is horrible.”
In May, one of his work colleagues invited him to ride in for Bike to Work Day and met him on the way in to work to show him a route to avoid the busy roads. It’s a route that involves riding through a field and a playground, navigating through a ditch and a gully, and about 800 feet of off-roading. It’s a route that Alan would have never discovered on his own and one for which his Sirrus is perfectly suited. “Out of fifteen miles, I only spend a quarter mile on a road.”
Alan’s spending time on his bike because he really enjoys it. “If I don’t like something, I’m not going to do it.” In contrast to his former dust-collecting bike, Alan’s Sirrus has covered about 1300 miles already this year. “Since we got the bikes in April, it’s been a ton of fun.”
Dean is more of a weekend warrior – and considers himself “still a novice” – when it comes to cycling. His work travel prevents him from riding consistently during the week. But, he makes the most of his time on the weekends, committing every Sunday to ride with Alan and even doing some rides with his family. He and his wife will pedal down from Highland Park to Wilmette for lunch. He’s done some local rides with his youngest son, who just graduated college and the two did a Backroads trip in Iceland earlier this summer. And in May of this year, both of his sons joined him and Alan for their second Bike the Drive adventure.
Dean, who was nervous when he had to give up golf, says that he is cycling for the exercise. “I enjoy the long distance rides. It’s time for me to clear my head and it’s far better than exercising in a gym.” He adds: “I like the workout that I get. I work out in a gym four to five days a week and do a lot of cardio. Being on the bike, outside and in the fresh air is so much better than being inside, in front of a television.”
Dean shares, “I like the endurance part of it. I come back from a ride and feel good.” He is considering adding some organized group rides in his future, but his first goal is to ride more often.
Alan says he’ll stick with riding with one or two other friends. “I understand the concept behind the peloton, but I don’t know that I would find it enjoyable to be riding six inches behind a guy wearing Lycra shorts. I’d rather go down to the Des Plaines River Trail in the morning to see if I can see some deer.”
Alan says that he enjoys riding with Dean. “Since we’re riding the same bikes, we’re very well matched.” And riding together helps them both to stay committed. “I think the fact is that we do push each other,” admits Alan. “You tend to keep one another motivated.” Dean agrees: “Without a doubt, it’s helped us.” He says it helps to know “this is what I’m doing on the weekend.”
For both Dean and Alan, the decision to buy “big boy bikes” that can handle the trails was a “fantastic one.” They are enjoying their time exploring both on their own and together. Alan says he would recommend the Sirrus to “anyone who is looking for that kind of experience: to be able to do 50-mile road trips, but is also sturdy enough and stable enough to go for a nice ride on the trails.”
Dean’s advice to anyone considering trying cycling is to do it. “I enjoy it, so my advice is that if you’re thinking about doing it, I would definitely do it.” And, take his and Dean’s experience to heart: cycling with a buddy is the best way to enjoy and stay committed to this fantastic sport.
Take the duo’s advice: find a buddy – and commit to an afternoon or weekend to come in to Higher Gear to test ride your next bike!