It is a perfect summer evening, with a clear blue sky. Up the hill comes the local biker gang. They are here for an interview and arrive full of energy, ready for just about anything. They sit down, pass around ice cream sticks and tell their story.
It all started years ago when the six of them would ride their bikes from their homes, past the business section of town and onto the schoolyard, the last rider pedalling furiously on her tiny pink bike, determined to keep up with the older kids.
Riding to the school was a big adventure, with a parent or two in tow. From the beginning, onlookers admired the group’s attention to safety as they walked their bikes across the intersection and onto the designated section of pavement. It was serious business then.
Now, they are as free as the breeze and a regular part of life in the Grove. Is there a leader of the pack? Yes! They all nod and point to one of the oldest, Wyatt Benard. He organizes their rides. When asked if he has to keep anyone in check he says no, they all get along really well and know what to do.
They are out and about almost every day, in every season. Beau Deneef explained that in the winter, slipping and sliding on ice adds to the fun. However, when Wyatt broke his foot in an accident in the snow all of the bikes sat idle for weeks until he could ride again. His brother Chase explained that no one felt like riding without him.
Since bicycles were invented, young people have pretended their bikes are everything from motorcycles to whatever your dad drives. If your dad’s a Ford man, your bike is a Ford. There are loyal Chev, Ford and GMC backers sitting around the table. They talk about “revving up their engines” while they’re riding and “sounding like a diesel.” Recently, they tried attaching playing cards to their bikes with zap ties to get some sound from the spokes. They used only the joker cards so as not to ruin any decks. A modern twist to the old days when we clipped cards to our bike fenders with clothespins.
Riding bikes has become much more athletic and jumping – “getting some air” as they say – is the big challenge. Anything with a slope and a drop is good: low walls, berms, jumps made of wood scraps. The discussion turns to bike parks. They rate the parks they have tried in various communities. A favourite is the trail at the 99 Mile ski hill, “a really fun downhill run with some level spots.”
One annoying problem with riding bikes has not changed: these folks have had flat tire problems. “Three in one day,” Chase says. They know there are these really expensive tubeless tires but for now, it’s the old, deflate, remove the tube, patch and pump up again.
Despite their skill and careful riding, the sport doesn’t happen without some peril. Colton Abrams describes a “face plant” incident in the snow. His sister Mikayla laughs at his story about the time another person flew over the handlebars of his bike and landed on his feet.
The Forest Grove bikers are proud of their reputation as rule-abiding riders. So they were very unhappy when a local “Karen” wrote on Facebook that they were not practicing social distancing when they were riding together. How ridiculous is that, they declare indignantly. Here they are outdoors, riding in a line, easily six feet apart!
This leads to a discussion on how lucky they are to live here where they are free to be outside, having so much fun when kids in cities are stuck in apartments and houses with nothing to do. After all, they can even play golf and soccer and on the school playground equipment and almost always have the place to themselves.
Dusk is beginning to settle in when they decide to hit the road. They put on their helmets and hop on their sturdy bikes. One after the other, they tear off down the steep hill where they skid to graceful stops well before the main road, hoping to make a “snake shape” as they do so.
Willoe Deneef stops for a minute before she heads out. She has come a long way from the little pink bike. Why is she so fearless? I ask. “Well I just followed in their steps,” she says, “but I’m having trouble with my brakes. Sometimes I have to drag my feet a bit to slow down and stop.”
Now she rides as hard and daring as the others, her ball cap on backwards, and bent low over her bike as she flies off down the hill.