New family bike club soft-pedals competition Trailers used to tow children COLUMBIA EAST


Ken and Susan Greco of Owen Brown may have a metaphor for the '90s, a balance between the needs of the individual and the family.

They have combined exercise with a family activity and created the Burley Bike Club of Maryland.

The club takes its name from the Burley bike trailer, a red and yellow, two-wheel cart that can be pulled by standard road, mountain or hybrid bikes. The trailers sell for $350 retail or rent for about $25 a day at bike shops. The Grecos use the trailer to haul their son, Christopher, 16 months.

Founded in April, the Burley Bike Club, which is affiliated with the Baltimore Bicycling Club (BBC), claims 125 families on its mailing lists and an average of 15 to 20 families for each monthly ride. Mr. Greco says 80 of the 125 families have the bike trailers.

Membership in the Burley club is free, but since the BBC assumes costs such as mailings and promotes the group in its bimonthly newsletter, membership in the BBC is suggested.

"There's no other organization like this in the country that I'm aware of, or Burley was aware of or bike clubs know of," said Mr. Greco, 43, a salesman for J. M. Ney, a Connecticut-based engineering firm.

Ms. Greco, 43, works for the Howard County Department of Public Works.

Those who have competed and toured in road-bike races will have to apply the brakes when they ride here, since the Burley Bike Club is more about recreation and less about competition.

"Most of the bicycling clubs aren't geared to families in terms of pace and rest stops," Mr. Greco said during a 45-minute lunch break at Lake Elkhorn. As he finished his sentence, a club member rushed his child to the bathroom. It is visibly evident that the father is a tad too late. "These are the problems that regular bicyclists aren't aware of," said Mr. Greco.

The club's last ride for the year began Sept. 26 at Centennial Park, where the usual pre-ride sounds of tires being pumped up and gears clicking were drowned out by children babbling in the parking lot and parents talking of kindergarten and Montessori schools. It was not the usual monastic prelude to a bike tour. Christopher, wearing a purple jumpsuit appointed with stegosaurs, spends time before the ride pushing a toddler cart in the parking lot.

The scheduled start of the ride through Columbia was 11 a.m., but no one was complaining that the group got rolling 20 minutes later. Informality is the watchword of this club. An outsider with a racing jersey is looked upon as something the members were trying to avoid.

The ride started with 19 participants, a low number that can be blamed on the remnants of Tropical Storm Danielle, which put the ride in doubt the night before. Twenty-six trailers rolled in August's ride, a 10-mile trip on the Baltimore & Annapolis Bike Trail in Anne Arundel County.

Unlike other children, Christopher rides in a car seat. "The car seat is comfortable for him," Ms. Greco said. "We tried him in the Burley without the car seat. We didn't like it. He was moving around too much. Only thing he doesn't like about riding is wearing the helmet. He doesn't like hats."

During the ride, Mr. Greco accidentally led the group down a Columbia cul de sac. What the ride lacked in autocratic direction, it made up in informality. Riders not only talked to one another but held conversations that went beyond, "On your left!"

Mr. Greco estimates that pulling the trailers adds 50 pounds to his ride. Another father, Gordon Miller of Gaithersburg, figured his load, Becky, 4 1/2 years, Ethan, 11 months, and the trailer at closer to 100 pounds. So, despite their leisurely pace, the rides are substantial exercise for those who pull the carts.

The children pass the time in various ways. Carrots are the pacifier of choice. One had a Dr. Seuss book tucked into his cart. "Becky, why are you knocking on Ethan's helmet?" Mr. Miller asked.

The trim Mr. Greco, who rode with his wife for 10 years before Christopher was born, said, "Since I've been riding with Christopher, I've been in the best shape ever. It's just the amount of energy I use to pull the trailer."

The trailers can tip over. While on one of the serpentine bike paths in Oakland Mills, Mr. Greco took a turn too quickly and sent Christopher into a tumble. The child was unscathed, partly because his father had placed him in the trailer with his car seat. Mr. Greco remained upright after his son's tumble.

The reverse was true in another case, when a father pulling his children in a Burley trailer on the way back found a combination of new, clipless bike shoes and mud too much and lost his balance. As he writhed in the mud, his children sat in their trailer, upright, the closest spectators to their father's misfortune.

After the return to Centennial Park, four hours later, one rider pushed a few buttons on his bike's computer and declared the ride, including a few wrong turns, was 15 miles long at 6.5 mph.

The irony of the day's ride isn't lost on Brian Schexnayder, 40, of Arbutus, a triathlete, who pulled Kelci, 1, and has ridden with the Burley Bike Club since its founding. "It's all been a transition backward. It's gone from racing to tandem [with my wife] to buggy rides," he said.

The club "gives you an opportunity to meet serious cyclists that are limited by children," he said. "It gives you a chance to work hard and go nowhere. It gives you a chance to get connected with your children. Maybe when they're grown up, you can get back to serious riding."

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