Read how a 32-year smoker transforms into a bike hero!
Billy Ritch found health, community, and joy the day he ditched the cigarettes and bought a bike.
Billy Ritch is well known in Alabama’s cycling community. Over the years he and his wife, Stephanie, founded and headed for 5 years the Restoration Ride, which was one of the century rides included in Alabama’s popular Backroad Series. Billy also runs “Cycling Alabama” a large and growing Facebook community devoted to all things cycling in Alabama.
Billy recently retired from Northrop Grumman during which time he worked in the Bio-Hazard Division. His work required a good deal of travel, and on one road trip about 11 years ago from Montgomery to Birmingham, he had a chance to speak to one of his co-workers and friends who enjoyed riding bicycles. Billy said that at that moment, he just decided that he needed a “fresh start” and he decided to make a lifestyle change. He purchased a bicycle from Wal-Mart and began cycling.
Billy lives in Cook Springs and his initial goal was to ride 2-3 miles in his neighborhood. From there, he decided to ride to Leeds and back – a round distance trip of 14 miles. Then, he decided to ride to his in-laws house and back, close to 60 miles.
Soon thereafter, he decided to upgrade his bike. He describes going to Cahaba Cycles “with a Marlboro in his mouth,” and purchasing a Trek 2.3 (which he still owns and rides today, along with 4 other bicycles). He had been a smoker for 32 years, but after purchasing his new Trek, he has not smoked again. “Fresh start” and “lifestyle change” made good.
In less than a year since he took up cycling, he rode his first century – the 2010 Tour de Cure. Billy said that he was amazed at how fast he was able to ride when he was in a group with other people. His typical speed riding alone had been 12-13 mph, but he averaged right at 16 mph on his first Century Ride. After that, he says he was hooked – not so much on riding fast – but rather, riding long and enjoying the adventure of being on a bicycle.
He has ridden 34 centuries in the Alabama Backroad series alone. And, he has spent lots of time riding and camping out. He tried getting his wife interested in cycling (she is an avid hiker) and although she gave it a try, it wasn’t for her. Neither was their attempt at tandem riding which he says resulted in now having a tandem bike with less than a 100 miles on it. So, they often vacation together where he can ride and she can hike.
Billy also is well known for his barbequing skills. He has prepared barbeque for several hundred riders at a number of centuries, including the Restoration Ride and the Birmingham Bicycle Club century. Although he says that he is tempted to turn his cooking passion into a business, thus far he has resisted that temptation as he relishes the freedom to cycle and travel when and where he likes.
Billy is optimistic about what is going on in Birmingham’s cycling community. He views Anniston as the most progressive cycling city in the State, but he believes that Birmingham is making strides in becoming more cycling friendly. Billy views events like Hammerfest, which brings bicycle racers from across the nation to Birmingham in a few short weeks (March 14-15 2020), as a positive for the community. He thinks that the increase in local trails is a positive. Whatever it takes to get more people on bikes is a positive in Billy’s opinion as the more people riding, the more people in cars will accept cyclists (since they will have friends or family members who regularly ride bicycles). Hence, although he hasn’t yet added an E-bike to his collection of 5 bikes, he does believe that E-bikes are a positive as they allow more people to gain the pleasure of riding.