Skip to main content
                        Friday Horsey Tandem Group
HomeHistory

The Bluegrass Wheelmen Organize

The actual date of the founding of the Bluegrass Wheelmen (as the club was originally known) is somewhat uncertain. One document gives 1966 as the date of the club's organization, but an earlier, descriptive leaflet states that the "Wheelmen came into existence in June 1970," a date which seems supported by other references. In any event, it may be said that the club grew out of an increasing interest in bicycling for adults during the 1960s and the appearance of numbers of younger professional individuals in Lexington drawn to the area by IBM and the University of Kentucky. One could well say that the club began, literally, on the road. As Ron Stokley, an IBMer who took the lead in founding the club, put it, "I went out and found people on the sides of the road that were bicycling. I'd stop them and get their name and phone number. I'd give them mine, and I'd say one of these days I'm going to have a meeting and try to pull all you people together and we'll see what we can do in the way of forming a club."

According to Ken Graham, an engineer with IBM and a charter member of the club, there were several meetings at private homes and one public meeting downtown at which members displayed their bikes in an effort to arouse further interest before a formal organization occurred. Stokley pursued his interest in a club by talking with the owner of a Louisville bike shop who gave him information about the League of American Wheelmen and also about the Louisville Wheelmen. Also supportive was Bill Dodd, who had just opened Dodd's Cyclery on Harrodsburg Road. Having accumulated enough names and drafted some preliminary by-laws, Stokley secured a meeting room at Turfland Mall, sent out announcements, and sat back and waited. To his surprise, a good number of people turned out. We have no date for this event, but it may well have been June 1970.

The name originally proposed for the new club was the Lexington Wheelmen. Interestingly, the first point of dissension among the group was over the name when prospective women members objected to the perceived sexism of "wheelmen." Their objections were calmed, apparently, by citing the tradition of the national League of American Wheelmen and perhaps by the example of the Louisville Wheelmen. But the name finally selected at the suggestion of Ken Graham was the Bluegrass Wheelmen, in deference to the number of people from towns around Lexington. (The name was changed to Bluegrass Cycling Club in 1994.) Along with Ron Stokley and Ken Graham, other known charter members of the club were Grace Donnelly, Don Burrell, Connie Heird, Charlie Stewart, and Chuck Lever. Stokley became the first president, succeeded by Graham.

Many early club members were also members of the League of American Wheelmen and suggestions from the League had been helpful in setting up the club. Not surprisingly then, the club decided to become an affiliate of the League and did so in 1973 (at least that is the earliest documented date). A year later the club also joined the Amateur Bicycle League of America, which was the predecessor of the United States Cycling Federation. In 1972 the Bluegrass Wheelmen became a legal entity with its incorporation as a nonprofit organization under Kentucky law. The summer of 1972 also saw publication of the first issue of Outspoken, a bimonthly newsletter and schedule of activities under the editorship of Connie Heird. The name of the newsletter had been suggested by Grace Donnelly and its masthead designed by Ron Stokley. For many years Outspoken was mimeographed on bright orange paper -- the editor had the unenviable job of cutting the stencils -- and run off on the mimeograph machine at Central Baptist Church, where the club met during the 1970s.

Equipment 

By the standards of 1998 cyclists in those early days had some pretty simple equipment. Ken Graham mentions a lot of young kids riding single-speed banana-seat bikes, while most adults rode 3-speeds. Ron Stokley says that he began with a 5-speed and then bought a Schwinn Continental, which was "really still a plumbing pipe wonder," and did most of his early club riding on it before purchasing a Gitane Tour de France. Most of the so-called quality bikes in those days seem to have been French. Motobecane and Peugeot were popular marques - or English Raleighs, though some members had Schwinn Paramounts, which was a high quality bike comparable to European bikes. At that time there were only two bona fide shops in Lexington -- Dodd's and Joyner's -- and they were both Schwinn dealers. Louisville and Cincinnati were the nearest sources for European bikes as well as components. It was not uncommon, according to Stokley, for club members to get off from work and drive to Cincinnati to shop for bike parts, and they did a lot of mail ordering.

Early Rides

A lot of riding in Lexington during the 1960s was commuting; very few riders had any interest in competition. Many of the early club rides were short trips appealing to family groups. One favorite was a ride out to the Man o' War statue on Huffman Mill Pike. But early Bluegrass Wheelmen were also doing longer rides as well. Some joined rides with the Louisville Wheelmen. In the year of its founding the club held its first century, called the Six County Century, on a route laid out by Ken Graham. The route tells a lot about traffic in Lexington at that time. It began and ended at Castlewood Park and went out Broadway, Maxwell, and Tates Creek to Ashgrove. From Ashgrove it traversed parts of Brannon, Clays Mill, and Higbee Mill. Except for a section on Russell Cave and Bryan Station back to Castlewood Park, however, most of the other roads are still reasonably good for cycling. Also club riders began to participate in TOSRV regularly; back then the crowds only numbered around 3,000. Among his other activities Ron Stokley liked to seek out new touring routes. Familiar with the Red River Gorge area through the Scouts, he drove the back roads and set up a loop, and in the fall of 1970 the Wheelmen staged the first Red River Rally. Groups of riders were escorted through Nada Tunnel with cars to illuminate the way. Somewhat later he learned of the covered bridges in Fleming County from a colleague at IBM. Intrigued by that information, he and his wife drove through that area and created the Covered Bridge Tour that became a popular club ride. Bluegrass Wheelmen, particularly Grace Donnelly and Cathy LaFollette, actively worked to direct the Transamerica Trail through Kentucky in 1975 and established much of the route followed by the Trail.

Advocacy

Another important phase of early club activity was advocacy. One of the state legislators proposed a bill that would require bicyclists to ride against traffic and carry slow-moving vehicle signs, among other restrictions. The club became heavily involved in opposing this legislation and with help from the League of American Wheelmen and the ideas of John Forester, a vigorous advocate of bicyclists rights who wrote for the League's magazine, formulated counter legislation that was passed by the legislature and signed into law. As Ron Stokley says, the reason Kentucky bicyclists have the rights they now enjoy is because of the efforts of the early Wheelmen."We did work long and hard and fought a pretty much uphill battle...to fight all this legislation that basically regulated us to the role of pedestrians. And that would be something that I think the club could point to and say that they were very much responsible for the passing of very progressive legislation for that time period." The club also worked, unsuccessfully, for the passage of a local bottle deposit ordinance and promoted bicycle paths. In 1974 it received an Environmental Improvement Award from the Metro Environmental Commission of Lexington-Fayette County for its role in establishing the South Limestone Bikeway, which seems to have effectively disappeared. There are, no doubt, other activities and individuals from the early years of the Bluegrass Wheelmen that would be interesting, but, alas, we have no records of them. What we do have, though, shows significant accomplishments for a club that probably had no more than fifty members and an even smaller active cadre. Well done!

Information for this article was drawn from correspondence with Ken Graham and Ron Stokley and from club records. This brief history of the Bluegrass Cycling Club was adapted from articles by Jerry Crouch that appeared in the May-June and July-August 1998 issues of Outspoken.