Lifelong cycling passion in high gear for Margaretvlle resident Jo Bernhardt


By John Bernhardt
It only took an initial push with the bicycle wobbling beneath her for a young Jo Flax (Bernhardt) to fall in love with cycling. For almost as long as she can remember, Bernhardt has never strayed too far away from her bicycle.

It was a Schwinn 10-speed with drop handlebars purchased during her college years that would expand Bernhardt’s cycling world. The Schwinn became a constant, following Bernhardt at every stop she’s made along life’s journey. Raising three children would slow down Bernhardt’s fascination with cycling, although she did attach a child carrier to the back of her trusty Schwinn to take the kids along for a ride when they were tots.

Hooked on local rides
Cycling moved more from casual to routine when Bernhardt moved to the Catskills. Jo finally retired her Schwinn in favor of her first hybrid. As the kids grew, Bernhardt encouraged them to cycle often, coercing one of the three to tag along on her daily jaunts around the Pepacton Reservoir.

It was on those rides that Bernhardt noticed that the biking technology had changed yet again. More and more cyclists were pedaling around the reservoir and most were riding road bikes. Unlike the flat handle bars and heavier structure of a hybrid, road bikes were designed lighter with thinner tires for speed and efficiency allowing riders to more easily and navigate long distances while maintaining a more aerodynamic riding position. Before long, Bernhardt’s hybrid just had to go in favor of a road bike.

Atop her road bike, daily excursions grew from 20 miles to 25, then to 30, then to 35, currently stretching between 45 to 50 miles each day. The expanded mileage counts came in handy when Bernhardt reconnected with an old friend, Patti Saxby, part of a biking group from western New York.

The biking group is the brainchild of Brian Krause, a minister from Honeoye, and an avid biker. A few years back, Krause who has biked cross country twice and spent six weeks biking in Europe, was looking for folks to join him on rides, so he placed an ad in some western New York newspapers.

No age restrictions
A group of some 15 riders assembled, two from Buffalo, one from Rochester, the rest from the Honeoye region, that is, except Bernhardt, who with a push from Saxby, signed on to ride. The youngest rider, Krause’s son, Nate, is in his early 30s. The oldest rider, Ned Holmes, turned 78 this year. The rest of the gang fall in between with most in their late 50s and early 60s.
April of 2012 found the cycling gang tackling leg one of what they call ‘The East Coast Tour.’ Staring in northern New Hampshire, the biking group navigated the coastline, cycling between 600 and 700 miles over nearly two weeks before arriving in Chincoteague, VA. The group traversed the New Jersey coastline before Hurricane Sandy’s arrival, rode through Manhattan from top to bottom, and bunked out with the wild horses on Assateague Island.

April 2013 brought about leg two of the Tour. This time Bernhardt and her cycling gang worked from the south heading north, starting in Key West, FL and finishing in Savannah, GA. Tackling bridges was a big part of the journey as the New York cyclists crossed 42 of them, including one that spanned seven miles to get from Key West to the mainland. Forty mph wind gusts were a formidable obstacle in crossing the seven-mile-long Jeykll Bridge in Georgia, offset by the exhilaration that comes from riding mile after mile along the beaches that border the ocean.
The bikers will connect the dots, covering the unridden distance between their two rides in the final leg of their East Coast Tour this April. Future plans also include a fully loaded, without the benefit of a SAG (Supplies and Gear) truck, cross-country trek in 2015.

Exploring new territory
This spring Bernhardt expanded her cycling reach beyond her western New York riding partners. Flying to California, Bernhardt joined the Almaden Bike Club’s 26th annual Sierra To the Sea ride, starting at Lake Tahoe and winding down in San Francisco. The ride took 10 days, traversed the Napa Valley, and included bike climbs of a cumulative 27,00 feet.
“The Napa Valley has the reputation, but our New York Finger Lakes are much prettier,” Bernhardt noted after her excursion.

Before she’s done, Bernhardt hopes to convince Master Navigator Krause to open his maps to the Catskills. Krause maps out details of every trip to the mile, allowing his cycling partners to simply tag along and just enjoy the ride. Bernhardt hopes a future mountain-to-mountain jaunt from the Catskills to the Adirondacks might be on the docket.