Another Saturday Ride
The Day I Met and Rode with Tom Ritchey in Germany
Words and photos by Pat Engleman.
I am a lucky guy in many respects. Sometimes I have to step back and ask myself, “Did that really happen or was it just one of those things I dreamt up? Was it the real thing?”
One of these times starts on a summer Saturday along the Neckar River in Heidelberg, Germany. My good friend Jeff, who works for Ritchey, asked me a few weeks earlier if I could adjust my vacation plans to be in Heidelberg, “This Saturday to go for a gravel ride with Tom.” That was all he asked, just like it was a normal day.
I asked, “Tom…who?” thinking this might be one of his friends I met along the way. But then he said, “Tom Ritchey, of course!” My plans were immediately changed, and I anticipated being dropped by the mustachioed legend himself and a bunch of European media, industry, and friends of Tom on a gravel ride.
I was outfitted with a bike by the good folks of fahrstil magazine, then milled about and met some of our new riding buddies while fidgeting with bikes, kits, and nerves while the arrival of Tom and his wife Martha was anticipated by all.
Tom breezed in just as I thought he might move through a group of like-minded folks - confident and focused with a long stride you would expect from someone of his size. He was here for a group ride like he has done thousands of times - while most of us were going to have a once in a lifetime ride.
We had the customary group photo and then we were off through some commuter trails headed for the top of this medieval town. Our ride out of town was social with everyone filtering through the pack and enjoying the beauty of the late June day while we anticipated what our route had in store for us. I had a chance to ride next to Tom for a little bit of this rollout through town. I introduced myself as Jeff’s friend and we were quickly talking about riding in the Philadelphia region where I live - and where Tom was born!
This river valley ride soon pointed up to the top of the mountain, our goal for the day. We traversed a series of gravel paths with directional signs in the middle of the woods. I gotta say riding in Germany is unbelievable, and this crew made it even better. During a stop to regroup, I happened to be standing near Tom when he asked if anyone had a multitool that he could use. Like a dueling cowboy on a dusty street, I had a multitool at the ready and in his hand. He thanked me for it, commenting that it was not one of his brand's tools and mentioned how much it weighed. His statement was that of a disciplined engineer and less of a capitalist trying to sell me on something shiny and new. I was just happy I didn’t fumble the handoff!
The ride snaked through the woods and continued up the mountain until we visited a war memorial perched high above the city. Being in a war memorial in Germany was a trip. The reverence for their war dead is complicated but beautiful, nevertheless. We all took a chance to snag some pictures from the amazing vista and chatted about the ride so far. On our ride out of the memorial garden, we encountered a large set of stairs on our path. Tom, to the shock of some in attendance, rode right down them without any hesitation or warning to any of us. The ease of the move, on a cyclocross bike, on an unfamiliar path looked as easy as turning the page of a book. His confidence on the bike is evident in almost every move he makes.
After a secondary summit where we looked out over town, ate some German gummy worms, and shared some cold drinks, the ride headed back across the ridge then down the valley where I somehow (gravity aided) found myself riding near the front of the group with Tom. I felt like I was high above Fairfax, California watching a legend spin his legs and work the roads like a veteran sculptor. But here we were in Germany, waiting for directions from our guides for the day.
Our grupetto stopped to chat while soaking in the shade of a nearby tree. Tom filtered into the group and shared what he thought of the roads and how he loved the gravel paths down the mountain. He was just out on another group ride and made us all feel like we were just part of the regular Saturday ride crew.
Back in town after a harrowing descent on borrowed bikes with folks across a half a dozen languages, we all settled back into town to hear Tom talk about bikes, the future, oversized tubing, disc brakes, and all the other things we wanted to ask someone with his experience. Every response was logical, clear, and multifaceted. The ego some would expect of a person of his stature in the world of cycling in a room full of bike nerds never appeared. All that was shown through Tom’s words and actions was just a brilliant man who was talking about what he loved to a bunch of his Saturday riding buddies.
We all enjoyed some sausages off the grill and some German beers while sitting outside of the clubhaus talking to our new riding buddies and sharing some laughs with the assembled crew. We talked about old bikes, epic rides, plans for the future and the next time we would meet each other. I don’t know if I will ever get to ride with Tom again, but you bet I drop that experience into conversation when it is appropriate, and I always talk about just how cool yet thoughtful my ride with Tom was. I hope you all get to be so lucky to have a ride like this one.