Every Thursday night, from Spring Forward to Fall Back, Ruth Baggett welcomes a group of bicycle enthusiasts on the front steps of her art gallery at 1025 Jefferson St. and begins a 22-mile ride through Paducah.
Participants can take one of three primary routes: 14 miles, 18 miles and 22 miles.
"It has everything. It has the old part of Paducah, the industrial part, the countryside, historical neighborhoods, downtown and the riverfront, Lower Town and back. My ride has it all. It paints the true picture of Paducah," she said.
It's an apt description, as the name of the ride is "The Art of Cycling."
Baggett started the Thursday night group ride six years ago around the same time she opened her gallery.
"The first year I had seven core people. They showed up all the time," she said. "The second year, there was 14. The last two years, I've averaged about 26 people a week, but there has been as many as 40."
There are all different age groups who ride, and more importantly, all different skill levels.
Linda Adams of Lone Oak has been riding in the Art of Cycling group ride since it began.
"It is the most family-oriented group ride," she said. "You can have a 1-speed and have just as good a time. That's what's nice about this ride. Any kind of bike is good."
New riders can even begin with only one mile or three miles, Baggett said, whatever they feel comfortable with, and no novice rider is left behind. It's one of the things Michael Crouse, a Thursday night regular, loves about this particular crowd.
In some group rides, he said, "everybody's fast and you get left behind."
Alan Racey, who acts as group leader when Baggett is unable to attend, said that's exactly what they don't do.
"We don't leave anybody behind. It's not a race," he noted. "You could have a flat tire, you never know what might happen. We don't like for anybody to go by their self."
"It's important that we look out for each other. There's safety in numbers," she said.
It's part of the reason why people join a group ride, for the security of a group, but also to connect with others who are passionate about the sport, she explained.
"I encourage everyone to talk with each other, ride with each other, so it becomes more of a social group," she said. "What's the point of a group ride if not?"
Ben Butler of Paducah started the Thursday night ride about two years ago. His cycling club, Chain Reaction, rides four nights a week, using the Art of Cycling route as one of those club rides.
But even though he's a member of a cycling club doesn't mean he's at the front of the pack.
"There's a group that goes 20 miles per hour and there's a group that doesn't. There's a group you could walk beside," he explained. Butler describes himself as being in the medium-speed range.
Besides word of mouth advertising, the Art of Cycling is one of several groups rides in the area that are featured on the website of BikeWorld of Paducah.
"Our biggest role is helping other community bike events, even more important than promoting our own events," said Martha Emmons, co-owner of BikeWorld.
It may seem contrary to most business philosophies, she said.
"Store-sponsored events might seem commercialized; like we are trying to sell people something. There's a natural skepticism about it. But our passion for cycling came before our store," Emmons noted.
"Ruth has done a great job with making everybody comfortable. She introduces herself; she introduces the new person (to the ride). Many people have made lasting friendships at Ruth's ride."
Join the group at 6 p.m. every Thursday at Ruth Baggett Gallery at 1025 Jefferson St., Paducah.
Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.
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