Seasons Magazines

Seasons Magazines

Enjoying the Ride

For Matt Stuart, it all started with a commute.

For Matt Stuart, it all started with a commute. Before the competitive racing, the 470-mile trek to Shenandoah Valley, and the circumnavigation of Virginia on a touring bike – and before the 7,000miles of cycling that Stuart put on his bike and his body last year alone – there was simply a ride to work.

A firefighter and EMT who served for 28 years in West Hartford, Stuart started pedaling the 12 miles from his Collinsville home to the station for the first time in 1986. “I got tired of sitting in traffic and started biking on fair weather days,” says Stuart. Soon after, he decided to commute year round by bike.

“As a firefighter, you must be in great shape, and cycling helped with my conditioning,” says Stuart, who now volunteers with the Farmington Fire Department, works part-time for the Connecticut Fire Academy, and runs his own professional photography business. “All my commuting and racing cardio helps me, as a near 60-year-old guy, keep up with the younger guys.”

And Stuart is not alone. From adventure cycling and short-track racing to bike clubs and 100-mile-plus rides, Connecticut – home to more than 500 bike routes – provides a rich tapestry for cycling enthusiasts of all levels. Patricia Budil of Canton discovered her passion for cycling after an ACL tear from adult soccer at age 31 sidelined her from daily running. “It was devastating at first, but I came to realize that running really beat my body up,” Budil says.

She soon started taking spin classes and learned of the long rides her spin instructor, an avid cyclist, completed. “He would talk about doing 100-mile [bike] rides and I thought that was crazy, but my goal became to bike 100 miles too,” she says.

Budil started by joining a cycling club operated by Benidorm Bikes in Canton. “The group would go for a 30- or 40-mile ride and I really enjoyed the hills and the scenery along the routes.” She bought her first bike in May 2012 and completed her first century – cyclist slang for a hundred-miler – that September. That was just the beginning.

Since 2014, Budil has been riding two centuries a month. Last year, she biked more than 3,700 miles. She is a frequent participant in brevets – a type of non-competitive, long-distance cycling event to be completed within a set time limit. They can range from 200-kilometer distances (124 miles with a 13.5-hour cutoff) to 1,200 kilometers (745 miles with a 90-hour cutoff). Budil’s longest trip to date has been a 300-kilometer or 186-mile trek from Westfield, Massachusetts into New York and up through Vermont, which included 13,500-foot elevations, two mountain passes and lots of hills.

It took her from 6 a.m. to nearly 10 p.m. It is the physical and mental challenge of distance cycling that appeals to Budil’s goal-oriented approach to the sport. She says she enjoys testing her limits with distance cycling. “There are times [during a race] when it’s cold or raining and you’re tired or hungry and it becomes more mental than  physical,” she says, “but I enjoy the sense of accomplishment and the stories I get to tell.”

And the photos she gets to take. “One of the things I like more about cycling versus running is that you cover more distances and I’m always on the lookout for pretty scenery,” she says. She makes it a point to take one photo on every ride to document her cycling journeys: typically her bike, at rest, framed by a scenic backdrop.

But it’s more than the pictures and scenery that fuel her passion for cycling. It’s the goal setting. “I try to set goals to push myself, whether it’s trying to beat sunset on a certain

LEADING THE PACK: Steve May of West Hartford stays one spin ahead of his fellow riders as he rounds a turn in the Keith Berger Memorial Criterium in New Britain in 2017. Photo by Matt Stuart 24 Seasons Magazines • SPRING 2018 ride or achieving a certain distance,” she says, noting some treks can burn between 4,000 and 5,000 calories. Her goal this year is to complete her first 400-kilometer (roughly 250-
mile) race. “It’ll be a chance to test myself and see what I can do,” she says.

Steve May of West Hartford first discovered cycling in his 30s after a back injury. It was both the camaraderie and competitiveness of the sport that drew him in. Initially, he says, it was a way to keep fit as an alternative to running. It’s grown into a lifestyle that crosses multiple styles of cycling, including long-distance excursions, road races, cross-country biking and short-tracking racing, known as criteriums (the
NASCAR of cycling, according to May).

Last year, May, who just turned 50, estimates he biked more than 8,000 miles, the equivalent of nearly 22 miles every day of the year. “I cycle at least six days a week,” May says, noting he’ll hit the roads even as the temperatures drop to the high teens. “It’s anywhere from 10 hours a week [during the winter] to 24 hours a week in summer.”

Whether it’s a 100-mile ride with friends to Vermont, a morning pre-work ride with a cycling club or a ride on the training bike at home, much of May’s time is designed to train for USA Cycling-sponsored racing events, which run across the northeast region from April through November.

“I started competitive racing about 10 years ago,” says May, who participates in some 15 to 20 races a year. He says the connections and the social aspect of racing are what he enjoys the most. “It’s great talking to people from across New England before a race or while warming up; it’s a very social sport,” he says. “You meet different personalities.”

And different bikes. In fact, May’s favorite annual event is D2R2, a cyclocross cross-country event that draws riders from across the country to bike one of several courses across Franklin County, Massachusetts every August. “There are thousands of people and it’s a celebration of bike culture with hand-made custom bikes, special bikes,” he says. “It has a race feel to it, but everyone is there to have a good time.”

Beyond the sheer enjoyment of it, participants benefit a good cause. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Franklin Land Trust, a local nonprofit that collaborates with landowners to protect forests, farms and other natural resources in the region. During D2R2, riders also gain a better appreciation for the importance of land conservation as they traverse some of the most historic and scenic landscapes in the area.

Given the hours and miles that May cycles each year, he admits there are times – at the end of a race or a long distance – that biking has its downside. “It can be very taxing when your muscles are cramping, and you need to grind through it,” he says. “But [in life] when I come up against a challenge, I reflect [on overcoming cycling’s physical demands] and it can help me get through things.”

One challenge that May and his cycling brethren continue to face at times, he says, is the attitude of drivers. “Some drivers see us as a nuisance, like we don’t belong on the roads,” he says. “But I can’t ride on a sidewalk at 20 miles an hour, so we have to use roads; we have the rights of a vehicle.”

Matt Stuart agrees. A racing team member of May’s, he has had similar experiences with aggressive motorists. “We need to ride like we’re driving a car,” says Stuart, who now lives in Unionville. “We need to signal our turns, use mirrors and work with cars and other users of the road to stay safe.”

In a state with a high populations of cycling enthusiasts, from casual bikers to distance riders to competitive racers, it’s good advice, especially for those like Stuart, who are fighting traffic on a morning commute.

Matt Broderick is a Simsbury-based freelance writer. His longest bike trip ever was 50 miles. His shortest was 20 yards, at age 6, when a bumblebee flew up his nose.