He saddles up and rides for hours at a time. Surrounded by solitude, Dr. Bennie Weber navigates roads winding through vineyards, up and down coasts and climbs the foothills.
Weber is Lodi's 62-year-old cycling Lone Ranger, or, as his friends call him, the Lone Rider.
Since retiring from his career as a podiatrist in 2003, Weber averages at least 13,000 miles a year on his bike.
In 2009, he got even more serious about his cycling. He challenged himself with the goal of riding 120 century rides, or journeys of at least 100 miles each. Weber knew he could do 10 a month, and even though they took six to eight hours apiece, he fulfilled his vow. He even took off the month of October for a trip with his wife, Linda Maybury, to the East Coast, forcing him to complete the last 30 treks in November and December.
"It's like a truck driver; most of my riding when I do these kinds of distances is by myself," Weber said.
That's because most people can't keep up with Weber. Even when he isn't alone and riding with the Stockton Bike Club, which sometimes uses Ione as a trailhead for its rides, he peddles more than everyone else. While the other members strap their bikes on to racks on the cars, Weber climbs on his bike just to get another 50 miles on his mental odometer.
"His miles are really on the high end. That is not heard very often for what you would consider a recreational rider," said Ray Righetti, a Woodbridge cyclist and Stockton Bike Club member who added that Weber's well-designed eating habits and training methods make him a unique cyclist. "He is a great example of how to discipline yourself and how to do it the right way. He is an inspiration to all of us."
Weber, who has been cycling since 1987, estimates he clocked at least 18,294 miles on his bike last year — a greater distance than he drove in his car. He also believes he recorded 575,500 feet of vertical gain, as many of his treks ventured to destinations like Camanche, Pardee, Jackson and Bear Valley.
With each century taking around 6 to 8 hours to complete, Weber also guesses he was on his bike for 1,306 hours in 2009. Weber figures that if he would have driven in a car the distance he biked, it would have cost at least $3,500 in gas.
He bikes so much that he wears the tread out on his tires. Weber said he goes through about 25 tires and 40 to 50 tubes a year, making him a frequent visitor to Lodi's City Bikes. Weber doesn't have an oversized heart like Lance Armstrong or any other superhuman physical traits that make him able to peddle for such long periods of time. Instead, he insists it's simply that he's built up his cycling tolerance.
"I don't feel like I am an exceptional athlete," he said. "I just enjoy riding and I have built it up where I can go out and do a 100-mile bike ride whenever I want and my body doesn't rebel."
Oh, the places he rolls
Sometimes Weber does cycling events with large groups. Other times he jumps on a tandem bike with his wife. Occasionally, his iPod keeps him company on trips. But most of the time it's just Weber and his bicycle. For a man who started out running to stay in shape and now has completely transformed into a cyclist, Weber wouldn't have it any other way.
"It is better for my physical fitness because I can cover a lot of territory, and if you are out riding you have a lot more to see," he said. "The wild flowers in the Sierras or the agricultural fields in Lodi … I just find it very peaceful and relaxing to go out and ride."
In 2004, while participating in the Davis March Madness charity event, Weber logged 4,486 miles — all in the month of March. He averaged more than 144 miles a day and lost 10 pounds during the endeavor. He totaled enough miles to go from Lodi to Lima, Peru.
Weber, who used to compete in about 30 to 35 races a year with Delta Velo, a cycling club out of Stockton, only races occasionally now.
"Even though he doesn't race as much anymore, just logging those miles is a pretty amazing feat in itself — at any age," said Delta Velo cyclist Damian Gonzalez. "A lot of people half his age aren't as motivated as he is."
Dr. Bennie Weber: By the numbersAvid cyclist Dr. Bennie Weber, a retired Lodi podiatrist, rode 120 century rides (treks of at least 100 miles each) in 2009. Here's a look at how his numbers stack up:
— In 2009, Weber clocked at least 18,294 miles on bike. That's nearly enough to go from Lodi to Rome, then return to Lodi and then go back to Rome again.
— Weber guesses he spent 1,306 hours on his bike in 2009. That's more than 54 days.
— If Weber had driven the 18,294 miles he rode on his bike, it would have cost him around $3,500 in gasoline.
— In 2009, Weber estimates he burned 522,686 calories just from riding, or the same it would take to burn off 1,066 Big Macs.
— Last year, Weber totaled 575,500 feet of vertical gain in his riding. That's enough to go from the lowest point on Earth, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, to the top of Mount Everest, almost nine times.
— With an average of 13,000 miles on a bike for the last seven years, his total of 91,000 cycling miles is enough to go around the world, along the equator, more than three-and-a-half times.
Outside of the cycling he does in the Central Valley, Weber also volunteers for Cycling Escapes, a bike tour company. He leads tours that last about six days and cover up to 400 miles. The tours explore places like Moab, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah, as well as cycling hot spots all around California, Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, Nevada, Montana and Arizona.
"It's great to meet customers who are interested in doing the tours and interested in getting out," Weber said.
Around the world, across the country
Weber has also biked in Europe. Three years ago, he traveled to France and Spain, and successfully completed select Tour de France stages. He climbed routes throughout the Pyrenees and French Alps. While he said the experience was amazing, Weber also boasts about the cycling terrain that's in his own back yard.
"We have as good of riding here up in our mountains south of Tahoe and around Bear Valley. Those areas have similar types of climbs — just not the mystique of going over to France," he said. "In these economic times we have now, you don't have to go to France. You can go to the Sierras."
This year, aside from guiding a tour in Southern California earlier this month, Weber has been taking it easy. Easy for him that is. Last week, with the steady rainfall and forceful winds, he went five days without climbing on his bike. A true addict to cycling, that's about as long as he can go without pedaling. In lieu of riding in the rain, which he still sometimes does, he often gets on a trainer — or stationary bike — at his home in the winter months.
While he doesn't have any specific goals in mind for 2010, he does have one big item he still needs to check off his cycling list — riding across the country. He has yet to decide whether he will undertake the close-to-3,000-mile task on his own, with his wife helping out in a vehicle, or pay a tour company to do it with.
"It is still on my wish list, but it is not a wish," he said. "It will happen sometime."
Whenever that happens, he'll spend countless days riding off into the sunset.
Hi-yo, cyclist, away!