Every Saturday, a group of extraterrestrials meets to cruise the roads of Boone County. They are a peculiar sort: their heads shaped like eggs, their clothes marked in green neon, their eyes shaded and oval-shaped.
Their traveling machines are similarly odd: vast networks of tubes and cables, powered by circular gearing systems and two spinning gyros.
After fine-tuning their instruments, the group members gather around. A voice cracks the murmuring crowd.
“Where are we going, guys?” the leader asks.
Underneath the alien-like helmet and glasses, her everyday identity is Jill Mackey, president of the Columbia Bike Club. She is surrounded by the Easy Riders, a branch of the club that consists of 15 to 20 middle-aged riders who gather on weekends for casual road riding.
“No cooler than 40 degrees and no precipitation are the necessary conditions,” Mackey says.
This particular ride is known as a “Show and Go.” By 10 a.m., the cyclists are on the road — many of their more-serious, two-wheel counterparts have already logged hours of riding time.
“Everyone shows up and then we go,” Mackey says.
Bob and Jane Smith founded the group in 2002 after they moved to Columbia from Omaha, Neb., where a similar riding group existed. Rides were soon scheduled, and eventually a Web site and e-mail list helped spread the word.
“It started off as a group of people wanting to ride together at a more casual pace than that of the Bike Club,” group member Louise Flenner says.
Louise and her husband, George, both 56, have been riding for more than 20 years. They’ve attended the group’s “Show and Go” rides since the inception.
“It’s a good chance to meet and get to know people,” says Louise, who, when not on two wheels, is an outpatient therapist in Columbia.
New bikes, member gossip and upcoming events are the topics of pre-ride discussions, followed by an overview of the morning ride.
Actual routes and distances are determined by the riders’ abilities. Some use the meeting as motivation to get out of the house and merely ride at their own pace. Others are intent on sticking together.
The group’s motto, enforced by Bob Smith, in essence is, “Do not leave anyone behind.” During rides, Smith stays with the slowest rider to ensure no one gets lost. When Smith isn’t present, riders will take a short break or, depending on the distance, grab a bite to eat and allow others to catch up.
Rides range from 25 to 60 miles and have been known to start from Centralia, Hallsville and the Boone County Fairgrounds. New Haven Elementary is the fallback site.
While most of the riders are there for fun rather than for competition, they are happy to support their more hard-core cycling comrades. Today, a group of members will help with the Froze Toes challenge, a 31-mile loop around a rural area northeast of Columbia. The race starts and ends at Two Prairie Elementary School on Highway Z.
Back on the Easy Riders circuit, a familiar voice echoes a final starting call across the New Haven Elementary school parking lot.
“Let’s go, guys,” Mackey says.
An explosion of snaps follows as cycling cleats are mounted onto pedals.
One by one, the cyclists exit the parking lot as the group rides on, invading the horizon.