By Mike Costanza
Harvey Botzman gets a special kind of feeling from riding his bicycle.
“I like the feeling of freedom,” said the 79-year-old Rochester resident. “You can just go anyplace and under your own power.”
Since Botzman began long-distance biking in the 1980s, that wish for freedom has taken the retired substitute teacher and author far beyond the Rochester area. During just one 2015 trip, he put about 170 miles on his collapsible bike.
“I biked down the whole coast of New Jersey, taking a train to New York and a ferry to Sandy Hook and then bicycled all the way to Cape May, New Jersey,” he said.
Botzman particularly enjoys cycling around the Great Lakes. His trips around Lake Ontario, which generally covers about 600 miles, have given him some of his most memorable experiences.
“There’s so many small towns around Ontario, on both sides of the lake, that you can just wander into and some of the larger cities, like Toronto and Rochester” Botzman said.
On long journeys, Botzman straps a tent on his bike and camps along the way, stopping to buy food or meals in the towns or cities he passes through. When he can, he ends his day at a restaurant with a bar.
“If you sit at the bar, it is more likely that you’re going to meet people,” Botzman said. “In Hammondsport [Steuben County] I met a guy who used to be on the Tour de France. He was a mechanic for riders.”
A trip around Lake Ontario might seem a bit long, but the veteran cyclist has traveled even farther for the fun of it. A 1988 trip to Chicago took Botzman across the top of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. By the time he was done, he had traveled about 1,200 miles.
When biking routes that begin far from the Rochester area, Botzman puts his collapsible bike in a case and travels to his starting point by plane or train. Last July, he traveled to Niagara Falls by train, and then pedaled to Syracuse and Utica before heading back to Rochester. By the time he came home, he’d ridden about 220 miles.
Botzman has shared his knowledge of long-distance biking and the Great Lakes in seven books, including “Round Lake Ontario: A Bicyclist’s Tour Guide.” His last work was a revision of “Erie Canal Bicyclist & Hiker Tour Guide.”
When not wheeling his bike to faraway places, Botzman enjoys pedaling around the Rochester area. He’s a member emeritus of the Rochester Bicycling Club (RBC), director emeritus of the New York Bicycling Coalition and an adviser to Rochester Reconnect, which seeks to normalize the use of bicycles in the Rochester area.
Peter Swift just isn’t slowing down.
“I have no real limitations at 92,” the RBC member and retired business owner said.
Swift ran every weekend with a local track club until back trouble sidelined him. After he successfully underwent back surgery, the Rochester resident began casting about for a form of exercise that would be easier on his skeleton. Bicycling fit the bill.
“I was probably in my 60s when I started riding,” Swift said.
He soon found himself on a bicycling team that entered in the Tour de Cure, the American Diabetes Association’s annual nationwide fundraiser.
“Pretty much, when I first got a bike, I was doing the Tour de Cure,” Swift said. “I’ve done that for about 25 years.”
In addition to supporting the ADA, Swift rides in Bike MS, which raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society each year. He used to put as much as 100 miles on his bike for each of the fundraisers, but these days limits himself to riding just 100 kilometers for such causes, or just more than 62 miles.
When not pedaling his bike for good causes, Swift can be found tooling around the Rochester area or a touch beyond it.
“In the spring, I do a ride with a friend of mine [who] lives on Keuka Lake. He calls it the ‘fall classic.’” Swift said. “We ride around Keuka Lake with a group of friends, about 43, 44 miles.”
Kathy Riegel, the president of the RBC, said bicycling brought her and her husband, Steve Riegle, together.
“Steve was encouraged to start [bicycling] by his late wife, Mary Ellen, and I was encouraged by an avid cyclist I dated at the time,” the 64-year-old retired nurse said.
The two met after they joined the RBC, and married in 2002. Since then, they’ve taken their bikes on local, one-day rides of as much as 70 miles and much longer ones through parts of Southeast Asia, Western Europe and Eastern Europe.
Steve, a 65-year-old retired software engineer, enjoys the challenges that such trips bring.
“Long trips force you to change your routines,” he said. “Culture, language and logistics challenges are all part of the fun.”
The couple has taken as many as 30 long bicycling trips in the past 10 years alone. An approximately 1,000-mile ride they took through Laos and Myanmar in 2014 was particularly memorable.
“It was our first time in a non-western culture,” he said. “It was fascinating to realize how common our human beliefs and aspirations are, even though the customs and expressions and rituals are so different.”
Kathy Riegel was struck by the effects of military rule upon Myanmar, which she refers to by its old name, “Burma.”
“At one time, Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia, but five decades of military misrule turned it into the poorest,” she said. “So much was 50 years behind and I came home with questions that had me reading for weeks.”
Last October, the couple took back-to-back bicycle tours through the Puglia region of southern Italy and most of Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands. They pedaled about 300 miles through Puglia with friends, and then headed to Croatia to pedal about another 400 miles alone. Both were self-guided trips that were set up with the aid of a tour company.
“In self-guided tours, the company provides the bikes and the routes, your lodging is set up for you, and luggage can be moved for you from place to place,” she said.
Some of those benefits fell by the wayside when they began island-hopping by ferry through the Dalmatians.
“Since we were going island to island, we carried what we needed on the bikes,” he added.
When they could, the Riegels stopped to talk to the people they encountered.
“We had good conversations with many locals which made us more aware of Balkan history, including the wars in the early 1990s,” he said.
In the coming months, the couple plans to bicycle through the Umbria and Tuscany regions of Italy, and follow that up with a ride through part of Morocco.
“We have heard that it is very interesting and we have never been to that area of the world,” she said.
Long-distance cyclists have a few tips for those who want to put lots of miles on their bikes. He advises would-be long-riders to pace themselves.
“Don’t ‘give it all you’ve got’ each day, because you won’t recover enough for the next,’” he said.
Botzman only rides folding bicycles and said anyone who wants to begin long trips far from home should get one.
“It’s just easier to travel with,” he said. “You can take it on a plane without any hassle [or] on a train.”
Interested in Biking?
Rochester-area bicycling clubs may offer rides for those at all skill levels or be more oriented toward competition than cruising. Rides might be member-only or open to anyone with the proper equipment and a desire to roll. For more information, check the following places:
Rochester Bicycling Club
Genesee Valley Cycling Club
Towpath Women (ladies only)
Rochester Area Cyclists
Rochester Youth Cycling Club (mountain bikers in the 6th to 12th grade)
Great American Bike Tours