A former professional cyclist has created a weekend community cycling ride in Dade City that welcomes riders of all skill levels.
The ride, organized by Josh and Kaleigh Thornton, takes place each Saturday at 8 a.m., at the parking lot next to 14112 Eighth Street in Dade City.
Rides are typically two hours long, with varying paces, depending on each member’s skill level.
Thornton, a professional cyclist from 2005 to 2009 and former member of the U.S. National Team, wanted to create a community ride to promote the cycling industry and bike advocacy in the area.
He said there’s currently a core group of 10 to 15 riders that have been showing up each Saturday over the past few months.
“It’s a really good ride, because it truly is for all skill levels,” Thornton, 37, said. “There’s other rides that are very fast and for very skilled riders, and a lot of people are intimidated by that, so this is kind of neat because it’s for anyone. We wanted something that really started in Dade City; there was nothing like that.”
“There’s no cost. Just show up and go, and hopefully hang out and meet some new people,” he added.
Throughout the course of the two-hour ride, the cyclists usually log about 30 miles, pedaling at an average pace of 13 mph to 15 mph. However, some less-experienced riders can opt to start out slow, and work their way up.
Thornton noted the group will typically “head out toward the hills” and ride along Darby Road. Other times, they’ll head north and hop on the Withlacoochee Trail.
“The roads that we pick are generally the less-traveled roads. That’s generally how most cyclists try to think,” he said. “We do have a couple different routes that we’ve done.”
Instead of trying to finish first, the rides are more about enjoying the scenery, and getting in some early weekend exercise.
“We have a protective group; we’re looking out for the other riders,” Thornton said. “You ride differently when you’re thinking like that as opposed to where you’re muscling around with the guys, jockeying for position.”
While still a small group, Thornton hopes the local rides will grow to the point where there can be multiple groups — like an A, B and C group —that can more closely match each rider’s skill level.
Although no longer a professional racer, Thornton is still very much involved in the cycling industry.
He operates a bike promotions and coaching business called Wicked Awesome Racing, and has also spawned a cyclo-cross racing series.
As opposed to a road race on pavement, Thornton’s Wicked Awesome Racing Series events are held on closed courses, like at Stanley Park in Lacoochee.
According to Thornton, cyclo-cross is currently the fastest growing form of cycling.
“It’s a much different form of cycling,” said Thornton, who competed in both road races and closed-circuit races (criteriums) as a professional. “It’s almost like a minor steeplechase kind of a race. It reminds me of cross-country in high school. You have a modified road bike— a little bit wider tires with knobs on them and the brakes are more like a mountain bike style brake.”
“The cool part about it is it’s a seven- to eight-minute loop, so you see the (racers) multiple times. It has this spectator-friendly aspect to it that you really don’t get when you go to a road race,” he added.
With Pasco County’s rolling hills and varying elevation points, the area offers an ideal setting for the cyclo-cross races, Thornton said.
“I’m from New England originally, and people see photos of (the course) and they don’t believe its Florida, because they think it’s flat as a pancake and there’s (only) beaches here,” he said.
Published April 6, 2016