The Saturday morning ride is sacred. If you don’t believe it, talk to my friend’s wife. He told her and she felt compelled to take it under consideration.

“I told her we couldn’t leave town first thing in the morning to see the kids because I was going on the Saturday ride,” he said. “I told her we could leave after the ride.”

“We” could but “we” didn’t. Point made, though: Nothing and nobody messes with the Saturday ride. Not a spouse, not grandkids, not a wedding and should somebody insist on getting buried, please schedule it after 2 p.m. so we can have a post-ride lunch and a nap first.

Saturday is not just a bike ride. It is an opportunity to shine. A chance to exhibit athletic brilliance, exercise dominance and demonstrate superior fitness. It’s a time for guys (girls too) to become boys again and for boys to play.

We — between 10 and 25 of us — have been riding together for more than 20 years. The miles add up. We’ve been to New Zealand. We’ve been back.

The Saturday ride leaves mostly from Beach Park. Eight or nine in the morning in the winter. Dawn in the summer.

Ours is not the only group. There are three or four others. Some are slower, some faster. Each has its own character.

The Saturday ride gathers steam through group emails a few days before. Who’s in? Who’s out? If you’re out, why? Afraid, don’t want to mix it up, out of shape? Riders taunt, challenge and predict. The stage is set for heroics and heartbreak.

The ride starts. God forbid you get a flat tire on the bike path. If you do, you may be held accountable for the quality of both your tubes and tires.

“Have you ever thought about buying a new set of tires? I have tires hanging in my garage that are 10 years old that are better than those tires.”

If a tire change takes more than five minutes, the offending cyclist may be shoved aside while a more experienced tire changer takes over. If he does, expect constructive criticism guaranteed to last the length of the ride and one or two more.

Conversations are important. They can be deep. Deep or not so deep. Quiet is good too, when the only sound is breathing, breathing that can sound like moaning when breathing becomes a challenge.

Saturday is the time to talk about kids, grandkids, parents and losing parents. Weddings — children getting married — are popular especially when a fellow rider has spent thousands and has nearly bankrupted himself and his family.

One friend paid for his daughter’s wedding only to have her get divorced a couple of years later. No one touched that. Not because they felt sorry for him but no one could figure out how to make it funny without having to duck a flying water bottle.

Everybody falls. Hits the ground. If not now, soon. If not soon, eventually.

It’s hard to joke about falling, but not impossible. Usually, it’s better to wait until the road rash heals. The correct response to accidents, no matter gruesome, is “How is your bike?”

We’ve lost a few along the way. Norm, John, Alton. We talk about them. Miss them. Spin their epic moments into taller and truer tales.

Occasionally, there are squabbles. Somebody goes too fast. Somebody goes too slow. People don’t wait.

Responses vary to slights. Some leave the group. They take a timeout. Don’t show up for a few Saturday rides.

However, the wheels keep rolling. Eventually, most return. Even those who move out of town, when they visit, show because they know they can count on the Saturday ride.

Toward the end of the ride, cyclists talk about food. What they are going to eat when they get home. Pastrami, hamburgers, pasta. Anything goes after the Saturday ride.

The memorable rides are the ones with the most laughter. We remember those. Hard to remember who won this hill or that one.

We’ve seen beautiful places, stood on the tops of mountains and felt grateful. Grateful to live in a place where this is possible.

“We stole this one, didn’t we?”

We did. We have. God willing and the creek don’t rise, we will.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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