This year, before COVID, over 600 bike riders from over 25 states retraced the steps of the Civil Rights Marchers from Selma to Montgomery. The event was about much more than just riding a bike, as participants toured historic sights and were led by civil rights leaders and historians. The annual ride is an example of a cycling event done right, and we wanted to know more about the co-founder of the ride in 2015, Alabama Bike Advocate Bruce Herbitter.
The Making of an Alabama Bike Advocate
Bike Advocate Bruce Herbitter is 67 years old. He was born in the Bronx and attended Brooklyn College majoring in biology. Although he was a biology major, he has spent his adult working life in the steel industry. Most of that time was spent in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, but about 20 years ago, he and his family made the move to Prattville (he and his wife soon will celebrate their 44th anniversary), where he presently lives while making a living selling metal buildings.
Bruce did not take up cycling until he was in his mid-late 40s. Although he had been an athlete earlier in his life, running track and wrestling, he really had not done a lot of physical activity for a number of years before hiking with his son’s boy scout group on the Appalachian Trail in the Green Mountains in Vermont. Although Bruce said that he “thought he would die,” he did manage to survive the hike. He returned home with a new found desire to get back in shape. And, so like a good husband, he asked his wife’s permission to purchase a bicycle – which permission was freely granted. And, as they say – the rest is history.
Bruce’s first bike was a Trek Navigator and he began by riding primarily on rail trails, like the Ladiga trail. He remembers how happy he was to ride 9 miles which prompted him to call his wife who offered to drive over and pick him up if he could not make it back. He did make it back and he continued to ride. For many years now, Bruce has ridden 3,500 miles/year or more (about 60,000 miles since he started riding). Unlike some, Bruce claims that his speed really hasn’t gotten faster over the years – he says that when he began riding he basically averaged about 14 mph and that he still averages about 14 mph. Bruce currently rides a brevet bike which is a French touring bike with wide tires of 32-38 millimeters. He says that he was at the front end of the move to wider tires which we have seen in the cycling world over the last decade.
The Montgomery Bicycle Club
Bruce joined the Montgomery Bicycle Club in 2004. He volunteered to help with rides. Over the years, he has held a number of leadership positions in the Club and he still leads a number of group rides. Bruce presently chairs the Club’s Rides Committee and he ensures that weekly rides are scheduled for Club members with varying degrees of ability. Bruce says that he sees people come in and get started and “graduate” from D to C to B and sometimes to A rides and seeing this progression makes him proud.
The Selma to Montgomery Commemorative Civil Rights Ride
This Alabama Bike Advocate is most proud of his role in founding the Selma to Montgomery Bike Ride to commemorate the Selma to Montgomery Voters Rights March. This commemorative ride originated in 2015 when Bruce and a friend were riding and talking about the March and both men agreed that it’d be nice to further commemorate it. Neither had any idea how popular and emotionally moving the ride would be. Bruce says we wondered whether we’d end up with 20 people wanting to ride from Selma to Montgomery in February. Instead, they had to cut off sign-ups at 350. The ride presents plenty of logistical challenges as cyclists are bussed to Selma and then ride back to Montgomery – taking the same 55 mile route that the Civil Rights marchers took.
This year’s ride, which took place in late February before Covid shut things down, had 600 participants. The day before the ride, about 125 cyclists went on a 10-12 mile, 3 hour tour of various historic sites in Montgomery. At various stops, the riders got to hear talks by historians, ministers and even a few participants of the actual March. Bruce said that he really believes that “bicycles can bridge racial barriers” and that as relationships develop on the bike and during a ride, these relationships often develop further off the bike and after the ride. This ride has grown in popularity very quickly and people from all over the country and from all walks of life have made the trek to Montgomery to participate. Indeed, the 2020 ride included riders from 25 states.
Saying Oui to Randonneuring
Cycling is a great sport and there are all types of distinct cycling types. One particular type of cycling is randonneuring. It is long distance unsupported endurance cycling. Although there are time cut-offs, it is not a race. Randonneuring goes back to the beginning of the sport in France and Italy and is all about camaraderie. Bruce is the RBA – Regional Brevet Administrator for Alabama Randonneurs. The Club annually puts on 9-12 organized “brevets” (rides). The brevets are usually 200 km, 300 km, 400 km, 600 km going all the way up to the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris event held every 4 years. A 1200 kilometer ride is just shy of 750 miles. The goal is to average at least 9.5 mph, which doesn’t sound too difficult until you consider that the average time includes all time off the bike as well – like sleep. And, the cyclist must be self-sufficient – no sag vehicle or support – the cyclist has to have his clothes, food, gear etc. and provide for himself. So, as you might imagine, randonneuring does not appeal to everyone. That said, Bruce states that the local Alabama chapter has grown from 6 riders 5 years ago to 40 riders today.
Continued Growth Ahead
Alabama’s cycling community is fortunate to have Bruce Herbitter in it. And, Bruce is happy to have found cycling and to have become a passionate Alabama Bike Advocate for people who cycle. As much as anything, Bruce is proud of the relationships he has developed through cycling over the years with people of varied backgrounds and from all walks of life. He is proud of the greater diversity present today in the Montgomery cycling community and the State’s cycling community and he remains committed to the continued growth of the sport.