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By Jim Datsko
[Reproduced from the Winter 2006 AABTS newsletter]

Didn't some historian once write "you cannot hope to see the future until you understand the past"? With that in mind, I have collected thoughts from some of our club's other original members to put together a brief history of the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society's "old days".

Most of the charter members of the AABTS came from the ranks of the Ann Arbor Section of the Detroit Chapter of the American Youth Hostel (AYH) organization. A review of the July, 1976 AYH newsletter (an appropriate date for our bicyclist's independence) reveals that while the AYH had numerous other outdoor activities, it seemed that nearly all the work was being done by the bicyclists. While Ann Arbor had two other pre-existing bike clubs then, one political and one racing, we just didn't feel like doing their style of rides which were either painfully slow or painfully fast.

Our small group of a dozen or so Ann Arbor riders felt that it was time we had our own club, devoted solely to that recreational pursuit. The first meeting of mutineers was to discuss seceding from the AYH. A few minutes after adjourning the AYH meeting held at the Michigan Union; the peaceful secessionists meeting was held down the street at Bicycle Jim's. Here the rebels could have a beer - something forbidden on U of M property.

Much like our patriot forefathers, this motley crew met clandestinely to discuss forming a club and possible names for it, such as "Numb Bumms". The second meeting occurred with a POTLUCK at Paul and Linda Malboeuf's apartment on N. Main Street. It was shortly followed by another meeting at Phil Howrey's house where the Articles of Incorporation were signed on his dining room table. The Potluck dinner meeting tradition had become firmly entrenched.

Another leader in this early movement was Reuben Chapman. Kindly "Uncle Reuben" a rebel? Whoever would have guessed? Maybe if you saw the unlikely rebel doing a club ride on his moped due to having one of the club's first chill-injured knees you would believe it. We soon learned to wear leg-warmers below 65 degrees temperature.

The Articles of Incorporation (Non-profit) were then filed by myself with the State of Michigan on March 25, 1977. After much wrangling with the IRS bureaucrats, we were eventually granted an exemption from income tax as a 501(c)(7) social club on December 30, 1977. Our group was so small at that time, that 3x5 index cards were proposed by Herb Hartsook as ride sign-up sheets. Later in 1977 or early 1978 someone typed up a club mailing list which contained a whopping total of 45 names. Of those original 45, two have died, and six are still active club members: Phil Howrey, Tom Powell, Reuben Chapman, Steve Segall, Klaus Wolter, and myself.

The first membership drive took place on April 13, 1978 in the basement of the Ann Arbor Public Library. Dave Knox's beautiful and deeply moving multi-media slide/music show on the Bike Centennial '76 cross-country Tour was shown (now Adventure Cycling.) Many members felt his scenic show was responsible for the subsequent boost in the club's size. Dave also proposed staging an invitational ride to be called "One Helluva Ride", and the first year's turn-out of 237 riders amazed our fledgling club in 1977. With no real club treasury yet, we were fortunate to have the fruit for the snack stops donated by Les Bohm's new company, Eclipse. Our club rapidly grew to over 300 members by 1983.

The Saturday Breakfast Ride was always the most popular of our three or four weekly scheduled rides. It was a time when our cyclists of all abilities got together for choice riding, conversation, and to hear the announcements and latest club news. The ride usually left 15 minutes late. That extra 15 minutes served as an outdoor replacement for regular indoor club meetings. This was not destined to be a club for those who
could only "talk a great ride". To find out what was happening in AABTS your only option was to show up on Saturday and do the ride with everyone else. We also conducted on-the-road clinics on safe and efficient cycling, including proper pace-line technique.

The Saturday favorite was the XXL apple fritters that the Dexter Bakery used to serve. Some of us actually took photos of their size to show to disbelieving friends, much like the portions on the Jackson All Star Dairy Ride. Soon, the breakfast ride settled into a pattern of rotating Saturday destinations among Saline, Whitmore Lake, and Dexter. Latecomers were advised of the exact destination by a chalk message on the
Gandy Dancer sidewalk. However the independent spirit of the AABTS persevered. Another mutiny occurred on a Saturday ride in the late 1970's when Mike Sanders and Jim Datsko refused to go on the scheduled breakfast ride to Saline on account of safety concerns due to the increasing volume of traffic. They instead led a mutineer's ride to Dexter. Ever since that break-away, all the Saturday breakfast rides have been out Huron River Drive to Dexter and points beyond.

In those early days, the 11 miles to Dexter was too much for many of our newer members. So we would usually stop halfway where they could take a short rest at Delhi Rapids before pressing on toward Dexter. Many of those restees were taken under the wings of our more experienced riders, and before the end of their first season they too had become Century Riders.

Other rides we formerly staged were a clover-leaf shaped double century ride, a self-contained tour of Manitoulin Island in Georgian Bay, Canada, a week-end ride to Lake Michigan and return, and Steu White's formidable but ever popular Tri-State ride which included camping and water-skiing. For a few years we even competed with the Friday night bar crowd by holding a Friday after-dark night ride around Washtenaw County. For the night ride we used the old generators that rubbed against your front tire to obtain power. Until one dark and stormy night when Wayne Malburg ran over a chunk of road-kill as we tried to outrun an approaching thunderstorm. Wayne's tire flung chunks of fresh road-kill on his face, and he then tried to drink from his water-bottle and wash the skunk flesh off his mouth only to discover his water-bottle was also plastered with it after squirting some into his mouth.

By 1978, the Board of Directors were graced with their first female director, Kathy Porter. She promptly began to add a touch of class to our otherwise often non-stop sweaty-male rides by originating the Corn Roast Ride at Silver Lake Park. This was the very first of our clubs famous destination-event rides. Another significant milestone in the history of AABTS occurred when Jim McGraw volunteered to publish a club newsletter, and the first issue, being all of a single page, rolled off the press in March, 1980. Soon this became the most eagerly anticipated piece of mail in everyone's mailbox.

Winter had always been a time to hang up the bike, and gain weight. Duane Thomas, a likable cigarette-smoking, coffee-thermos-toting, barstopping novice rider changed all that after a couple of years of being dropped by our faster riders. One sunny early-spring Sunday morning in the early 1980's Duane threw open his garage door and wheeled out his bike having secretly trained on rollers all winter. He then not only kept up with but shortly proceeded to drop some of our stronger A+ riders that day. The gentleman's agreement to take it easy all winter was now cancelled - instead our riders worked to stay in shape and some even rode thorough the winter. Duane's artifice resulted in his being rewarded with the club presidency.  Also a sister club that had developed in tandem to our club for the first ten years was finally discovered, the Washtenaw Ski Touring Club. That discovery led to a cross-flow of members looking to enjoy outdoor recreation during all four seasons in Michigan.

By now, the AABTS had grown to become a strong and positive force in many people's lives. Members preferences in new (bike-friendly) cars, home locations in Ann Arbor near ride starts, merchants and professionals to patronize (club members), and even choice of (club member) mates, have been shaped by the AABTS.  Members moving out of state would stay in touch with the club, and via the newsletter invite us to visit and try cycling their new locale.

One of the strongest motivators for many remains the tracking of club miles. In our club's early years very few members would avail themselves of the many interesting invitational rides that were beginning to be sponsored by other clubs. To change that, I wrote an article for the October, 1983 newsletter entitled The Out of Towners which described the joys of DALMAC, TOSRV, CFC, Hilly Hundred, etc. To supplement that effort, the Board revised the policy in the mid-1980's to permit granting of club miles on invitational rides. Now we often have more of our members riding an out-of-state invitational, than actually doing our own local rides. We also used to award club miles for commuting by bike to the start of a club ride. My high-mileage commutes from Manchester probably contributed to the cancellation of that policy.

While our club has prided itself on following our chartered purpose of "recreational bicycling" rather than political action or racing, our club unofficially dabbled with one form of racing during 1983-85. This was partially a natural outgrowth of Lu Chaney's time trial series, our  State Championship Level of Thursday night (roast -off) training rides, and the fact that the local Velo club was making too many disparaging remarks about the slowness and lack of bicycling skills of our membership. We tired of their mimicking our exact routes during the same time we were doing a club ride, to show how much faster they could ride.

To defend our club's honor, a four-man AABTS team was fielded for the Second Annual "Big Mac Attack" Team Time Trial in 1983. This marathon event was a 175 mile non-stop race from Mt. Pleasant along scenic and winding old highway US-27 to the Mackinaw Bridge, in which the competing teams rode tight pace lines at flat-out speed. Our AABTS team soundly defeated the Ann Arbor Velo racing club, and placed 2nd overall. The following year the Velo Club's description in the Ann Arbor News Recreational Supplement was changed to read "racing and touring".  We also fielded a team the next year in which the Velo Club didn't enter, and AABTS again placed 2nd overall, barely bested by the ringer Grand Rapids racing team composed of licensed Cat I racers. Our first year team members were Tom Rymanowicz (Bike Shop Owner), Jim Datsko (lawyer), Duane Thomas (Landscaper), Phil Howrey (Econ. Prof.), and Mike Muha - alternate (Computer Guy). The third year was the charmer, when Lew Kidder led a team with David Evans, Bruce Dykaar, and Dave Baty to a solid first place overall.

Maybe history has gone full circle and will repeat itself with another secession, but I hope not. Sometimes it seems that Brad Bates perennial and always popular Wednesday night ride, complete with its own potluck series and dues (church parking donation) has almost become its own spin-off bike club. The same with the Plymouth ride series.

Well, that's the AABTS history in a nutshell.