Camaraderie reigns for Les Pédaleuses en Cadence — a group of 50-to-70-year-old women from Clare who cycle every Wednesday from May until November.
The group started back in 2003 with a handful of keen enthusiasts led by Rose Comeau.
Ten years earlier, Comeau had breast cancer. Soon after her surgery, she and her husband went to Florida.
“Walking bothered me,” she says, “but there were bikes where we were staying, so I decided to try it. We biked the whole time we were there.”
When Comeau returned and started radiation treatments in Halifax, she’d go shopping to look for a bike after her sessions. Before long, she was the proud owner of a mountain bike.
“I now have a hybrid, and haven’t stopped. Biking gives me a sense of freedom,” she says. “I feel like I don’t have a care in the world when I’m on a bike with my friends. This is something that I do for myself. After a bike ride, I feel as if I’ve accomplished something.”
Now Comeau contacts more than 50 women via email every Monday during the cycling season to let them know what the route is going to be on Wednesday. She currently has 32 routes that range from 30 to 50 kilometres — mainly in Clare and Yarmouth — that she can modify for any given day.
As the outings span lunchtime, Comeau either books space at a restaurant en route, or members bring a lunch and stop at a point of interest like a lighthouse for a picnic.
“There’s always lots of chit-chatting. The friendship and social aspect is wonderful,” she adds.
One year, one of the husbands in Clare brought the group over to Freeport from Meteghan in his lobster boat. The women took the ferry to Brier Island and toured the island by bike. A few hours later, another husband brought them back.
Comeau, who recently turned 71, and her husband now spend their winters in Florida, and although she doesn’t wish the time away, she keeps an eye on the calendar in anticipation of returning to Clare each spring, and a new cycling season.
Dianne Thibault, who recently retired from teaching in Clare recalls her love of cycling as a child.
"Cycling meant freedom and expanding horizons. We pedalled to the beach, to the lake and to neighbouring villages in Clare. It meant a lot. Even now, when I get on my bike in the spring for the first time, I feel like a kid again.”
Thibault credits her bike with keeping her fit. She likes how it provides lots of exercise without stressing her hips or knees. But what she most appreciates is the ability to explore new routes and country roads.
“Travelling by bicycle allows you the luxury of sightseeing, and to notice details that you miss when you speed by in a car. And stopping to admire the view or take a picture is never an issue.”
The retiree considers a bike to be the perfect machine. “It performs efficiently, without leaving a carbon footprint. It’s versatile and can carry groceries, a child in a carrier seat, or gear on a trip. And because it’s so quiet, it also allows you to socialize while you pedal with friends.”
Gail Lansky concurs. Last year, Lansky suffered knee pain as a result of osteoarthritis and a re-torn meniscus. Along with swimming, her surgeon recommended cycling. She was happy to hear this, as she’s been riding with Les Pédaleuses en Cadence for eight years.
“Cycling this spring and summer got my knee back to where it was before the onset of the pain,” she says.
Through cycling, Lansky has found countless opportunities to meet people and has learned how to make conversation with people she’s met for the first time.
“No matter what our backgrounds are, cycling is the one thing we have in common, and we always find something to chat about. I am one of two Americans who ride with Les Pédaleuses and from Day 1 have felt accepted by these women in Clare. We learn about each other’s customs, religions, careers, travels, likes and dislikes.”
The 57-year-old Lansky lives in Massachusetts but spends the summer in Clare.
“Each spring, I longingly wait until July when I return to Cape St. Mary and join the ladies on Wednesdays. The women in the group have come to be friends and we stay in touch during the year through social media.”
Lansky’s daughter, Sasha, lives in New York. A competitive cyclist, she visits her parents in the summer. Two years ago, she talked her mother into taking part in a triathlon. More recently, they took part in the Gran Fondo Baie Sainte-Marie (held in Clare), and had a blast.
For those not familiar with the term “Gran Fondo,” think: a big bike ride, with lots and lots of cyclists. Participants range from seasoned pros to recreational cyclists who compete with others, compete with themselves or simply cycle for fun.
Originating in Italy, the first Gran Fondo was the Nove Colli held in Cesenatico on July 12, 1970. Today, this particular event draws upwards of 12,000 riders.
In a nutshell: imagine a group ride (race or tour) where you cycle relatively long distances surrounded by scenic views. Toss in roadside support, refreshments stations along the route, superb hospitality by the host community, a few prizes, lots of great food before and after the ride and camaraderie galore. It all adds up to one big party.
For 2017, more than 200 Gran Fondos will take place throughout North America. Canada is hosting 34. Click here to see all events planned across the country this summer, including two in Nova Scotia and one in Prince Edward Island.
The Gran Fondo Baie Sainte-Marie, the first Gran Fondo to take place in Nova Scotia, will be held in the Municipality of Clare, Sept. 23 and 24.
In 2015, the first year, there were 412 participants with two rides: a 117-kilometre Gran loop and a 35-kilometre Piccolo loop. Last year, the organizers added an extra loop — the 67-kilometre Medio and 831 people took part.
For the 2017 event, organizers plan to host 1,000 cyclists and will add one more leg — a Super Gran loop of 161.5 kilometres for a total of four events.
Larry Peach, the marketing co-ordinator for the event, is thrilled beyond measure with the response from the community and the participants.
Peach loves to share the story of how Phillip Brown, a cyclist from Kentville, who is a Special Olympics athlete, presented a plaque to the chair of Gran Fondo Baie Sainte-Marie as a token of appreciation for the hospitality and generosity he experienced during the event.
Peach adds, “Phillip was so pumped about our event that he had our Gran Fondo logo tattooed on his leg!”
About a week prior to the event, the organizers send a letter to every Clare resident explaining what a Gran Fondo is, how traffic will be affected and how to best share the road with cyclists.
“In the letter,” Peach says, “we also encourage residents to show off our famous Acadian hospitality by cheering on the cyclists from the side of the roads, to wave Acadian flags and ring cowbells.”
One homeowner added a touch of humour by posting a sign that said: “It's just a hill. Now get over it.”
In two short years, Gran Fondo Baie Sainte-Marie has become the largest cycling event east of Quebec.
Want to join Nova Scotia's active cycling community? There are many options for riders from novice to pro. Want to take a course or find out where all the bike shops are? Check. Want to take part in a weekly group spin like the Sweet Ride Candyasses provide? Check. Or perhaps you love to compete and are looking for a sportive, crit, cyclo-cross race or BMX sprint? Check. And if you’re not familiar with the lingo, no problem. Bicycle Nova Scotia explains all, along with promoting cycling for all ages and interests.