Few people participate in a sport from childhood through their senior years, but cycling enthusiast John Helps is living proof that it’s possible. At 92 years of age, Helps pedals along the coast three times per week with fellow bicycle club members. It’s a routine they’ve enjoyed for several decades.
It was the 1990s when in The Cambrian Helps first saw a notice for the new cycling group. The longtime North Coast resident credits Bob Harmsen, Dick Partridge and Lew Dexter with the idea.
“We’re called the Cambria Old Folks Bicycle Club,” charter member Helps said.
Helps is the oldest active cyclist in the club, but not the oldest member. That honor goes to 97-year-old Ken Hart.
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According to the club’s contact person Peter Chaldecott, no one has ever called the group the Cambria “Old Folks” Bicycle Club to their faces. Rather, he reports, the name is Cambria “Ocean Front” Bicycle Club. Both men’s grins widened when they revealed that the club is most often called Cambria “Old Farts” Bicycle Club.
Today, Helps rides a “luxurious” recumbent tricycle, nothing like the balloon-tire bicycles of his youth in California’s Belmont Shores/Long Beach area. In the 1930s and 40s, bikes were a kid’s only mode of transportation—unless, as Helps mentioned, you could afford a Model A or T jalopy or a hot rod.
Helps remembered riding his bicycle to the theatre to watch Tom Mix and Errol Flynn movies for 25 cents. As with children of the era who grew up in Cambria and San Simeon, Helps noted, kids in southern California were taught to be respectful to actors. Don’t point. Don’t pester.
As an adult, during 1970s gas shortages, Helps rode his bike to junior high and high school where he taught (math, industrial arts) and counseled students. It was then that Helps suffered a dislocated ankle and broken leg due to a bicycle/car mishap in a crosswalk. Regardless, the accident didn’t curb his gusto for cycling.
By 1980, Helps and his wife Constance “Connie” bought their Cambria lot. Soon they were hammering nails and raising the walls of their new home—unless, of course, Helps was out biking the beachfront roads. On his own until the COFBC was organized, Helps rode a Schwinn touring bike back then. Those were the heydays when the group rode from Cambria’s Shamel Park to the former Carriage Inn in San Simeon or as far as the pier.
Currently, COFBC members arrive 8 a.m. in San Simeon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reflective clothing is advisable, but the club’s only official rule—helmets are mandatory. Individual cyclists choose their own routes then meet at 9 a.m. for a hot beverage at the table outside of the market at San Simeon Lodge. In addition, members who are over 80 years of age meet at The Cavalier every Tuesday at 8 a.m. for coffee and conversation.
Retirees are welcome to join Helps and his friends at the COFBC. Contact Peter Chaldecott at 805-927-8575 for more information.