Mark Mitri rode a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 motorcycle for the last half-dozen years and planned to trade up this year to a Harley-Davidson.
The rise of bicycle riding in the region changed his mind.
Mitri, and his closest friends and family members, caught the bug in the spring of 2018, at the start of Slow Roll Buffalo season.
They soon forged a new biking club, Slow Spokes, which started with eight members and climbed by season’s end to several dozen.
Afterward, Mitri – arguably the club’s biggest champion – was named GObike Buffalo People's Choice Cyclist of the Year.
“Everything just grew and blew up,” said Mitri, 60, of Cheektowaga, who decided to buy a new pedal-assist electric bike instead of a new Harley this year, so he and other avid riders in the now 266-member Slow Spokes can help safely direct traffic at two weekly bicycling events:
- Blues & Rock N "Roll" rides at 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 28, led by 97 Rock DJ Anita West out of Old Man River, 375 Niagara St., City of Tonawanda, and followed with live music.
- Group rides at 9 a.m. every Saturday through Oct. 12 at the Clarence Hollow Farmers Market, 10717 Main St., Clarence.
Slow Spokes members ride regularly at Slow Rolls, which start at 6 or 6:30 p.m. Mondays through October at various spots, including next week at Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo. There also are related special rides, including a Tonawanda Stampede at 3 p.m. Aug. 31 at Dockside Bar & Grill, 153 Sweeney St., North Tonawanda.
They also have a hand in what they think is the first poker run in the region open to both bicyclists and motorcyclists. Those interested in taking a ride through the Tonawandas can gather from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 24 at the Miller bandshell in Niawanda Park, City of Tonawanda, pay $5 to register, then take a ride at noon that includes five stops where participants pick up a playing card. The best hands will win more than $1,100 in prizes. All riders must wear helmets.
Rockin’ the Blue Line – a concert featuring local bands – will follow at the bandshell at 3 p.m.; proceeds from both events will support efforts to address domestic violence. For more info and to register, visit the upcoming group events section at facebook.com/groups/SlowSpokesBuffalo.
Original members of Slow Spokes include Mitri's brother, Rick, who arranged their first Slow Roll ride, Mitri’s longtime girlfriend, Patti Marshall, and her brother, Thomas, who coined the group name. Many of the members wear fluorescent yellow-green club T-shirts on rides; you can buy one for $15 – or $12 if Mitri or another member gives you a poker chip with the club logo on it – though you can join the club free at the Slow Spokes Facebook page.
“Anything to do with biking and activism, I'm just right there trying to push it,” said Mitri, owner of Computer Depot, which builds and services computers and computer systems.
Q: Slow Spokes has no dues. What is the club like?
We're a very fun-loving bike group. It's not serious. We're not doing the Tour de France. We're not making anyone ride out at 30 miles an hour for 100 miles at a time. We're out for joyful group rides. The motto is, “We go out as a group, we come back as a group, no matter what.”
Q: What do you enjoy most and least about biking?
What I enjoy the most is getting out with some really great friends. The friends I've made through the squad, and the Slow Roll people, are just the greatest. They're into fun, into doing things outdoors, just being active. The least would be riding in the rain. I used to be a more fair-weather rider. Now I'm more committed and I go rain or shine.
Q: You and others with Slow Spokes serve as "corkers" on group rides. What is a corker?
A person that seals the street off so that no traffic comes. You're blocking the street, corking the street. Then there's obviously the ride leader and some people that stay in the rear. At Slow Roll they call it SAG (Support and Gear); they're the very last line of defense and they have tools and equipment to fix bikes if you break down, and then they have sweepers that ride throughout the group … making sure nobody falls out of the ride. And then we have other riders that we call ride helpers that ride throughout the group. Because if everyone is in front, everyone is in back, people tend to forget what they're supposed to be doing [to stay together] and instead wiggle and wag.
Q: What can say about the Blues & Rock N "Roll" rides?
That was a brainchild of Anita West and Dan Wilkins. Dan is general manager from Old Man River and Anita is obviously big in promoting music and blues. She loves bike riding. The most riders we've had is 86 for one week.
Q: Are you working with an area motorcycle club on the poker run?
Yes, BACA, or Bikers Against Child Abuse. The Niagara County chapter comes every Wednesday to the blues rides and we save a spot for their bikes. They are big, burly dudes but they're the biggest puppy dogs in the world.