Bicycling with purpose

Lake Oroville cyclists gather for fun rides, community outreach

LOBO members, from left: Anna Kastner, Lex Parker, Lyle Wright, Bill Reid and Tom Prendergast.

LOBO members, from left: Anna Kastner, Lex Parker, Lyle Wright, Bill Reid and Tom Prendergast.

photo by meredith j. graham

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Anna Kastner has been bicycling for years. She started out on her own, and then made some friends on the trails. They started meeting for weekly rides and one day they encountered a member of the Lake Oroville Bicyclists Organization (LOBO).

“I started riding more and more, and then I went to my first LOBO meeting,” Kastner recalled. “I decided to join because I like to help people—I’ve been active with Kiwanis and the YMCA. This was a way I could also do something I really love to do.”

By her second meeting, Kastner was voted president. She was surprised, but up to the task.

LOBO is more than just a cycling club. What started out as a loose-knit advisory board is now a full-fledged nonprofit with dual focuses: to increase ridership on Oroville’s trails by ensuring they are safe and well-maintained, and to advocate for bicycling throughout the community.

“We want to encourage people to get more comfortable with bikes on the roads or on the trails,” Kastner said. “Some people are scared of riding at first, but after a couple times, we see them start to progress—they get bicycle shoes and clips, and then they start riding by themselves or with friends.”

One of the regular group activities the organization promotes is monthly beginner rides. They are designed specifically with novices in mind, and “the slowest rider sets the pace,” Kastner said. “We’re more about enjoying being on your bike than going really fast.”

That’s one thing Lex Parker, LOBO vice president, loves about the club. He started riding on his own in 1991 for health reasons.

“My doctor said, ‘I can sign your death certificate now or later, but I will be signing it,’” Parker recalled. “He suggested I go out and buy a bicycle.”

He did buy one, a mountain bike. And then he bought a road bike. Now he and his wife, who is legally blind, ride a tandem. “We love to get out on that together,” he said.

LOBO, which has about 50 members, caters to all kinds of bicyclists, with about half dedicated to road biking and the other half to mountain biking. They travel all over Butte County, and into Sutter and Glenn counties as well.

“In 1998, my son got me into riding,” said Tom Prendergast, now 75 years old and a new LOBO member. “I was on the dam with a friend and we met Anna—we rode together and we really enjoyed it. The kind of people who belong to LOBO are the reason I keep biking.”

LOBO formed in the mid-1990s during the relicensing of Oroville Dam. Lyle Wright was a founding member, and he’s proud to say he was the first to pay annual dues. In the early days, the club’s main function was advocating for bike trails surrounding Lake Oroville. Wright remembers working with representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as the Department of Water Resources, on a recreation plan for the area.

“We wanted to make sure bicyclists were represented during the relicensing,” Wright said.

The efforts paid off. What exists now is a complex network of trails open to cyclists that surrounds the lake’s forebay and afterbay, ranging from the 41-mile Brad Freeman Memorial Bike Trail all the way down to smaller routes that are less than a mile long.

“We’ve got hills, we’ve got flats—you can see the whole valley from here,” Parker said. “And we’re lucky our trails are open 24/7, rain or shine. We ride at night—in the summer, it’s real nice.”

Night riding plays a big part in LOBO’s biggest annual event, dubbed 24-Hours of Gold, every October. The group takes over the Loafer Creek Campground and gets special permission to open trails to individual bicyclists and teams that are up to the challenge of riding for a full 24 hours. (Teams split up the ride into smaller time periods.)

In addition to regular rides and the annual 24-Hours of Gold, LOBO takes on its own advocacy role in the community. Members regularly work to ensure trail and road conditions are safe for bicyclists, and about six months ago LOBO adopted Bedrock Skate and Bike Park in downtown Oroville. Members go there twice a week to pick up trash and make sure there’s no graffiti.

LOBO is also active in programs like the annual Butte County Sheriff Office’s bike give-away, and in local school events that feature bicycling. They help the kids get fitted for their bikes and helmets and also try to teach etiquette and safety rules.

“I joined LOBO because I wanted to be involved in something that was more than just riding by myself,” Parker said. “It had meaning and purpose in the community.”