A rugby player back when he was in college, Dave Catlin suddenly found himself scrambling to find a lower-risk fitness avenue after breaking an ankle.

The Franklin resident settled on cycling, and he’s stuck with it religiously ever since. Little by little, more people have been joining him.

Catlin and Adam Kasch, members of the Central Indiana Bicycling Association, have been leading that organization’s local group ride out of Franklin for a few years, and their group has steadily grown — especially in the three years since Gray Goat Sports opened and provided a home base for local rides.

“Having the bike shop here has been a huge help,” Catlin said, “because Adam and I started this ride five or six years ago and it would be five people. It gradually grew to maybe 10, and then when the bike shop opened it probably doubled.”

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Both the local cyclists in the group and the organization as a whole are hoping that such growth continues. In an effort to generate more interest, they’re reaching out to more casual bike riders who might be scared off by some of their perceptions of what group rides are like.

Chris Rito, who lives just outside of Johnson County and has been taking part in the organization’s regular Franklin ride Thursday evenings as well as Gray Goat’s Saturday morning group rides, said many of those perceptions aren’t really accurate.

“I know there’s an intimidation factor,” Rito said. “They just assume they can’t keep up with the ‘hardcore’ riders. But the reality is, there’s probably somebody at any bike shop or any CIBA ride, certainly, where there’s going to be people that ride your pace or will ride your pace.”

The organization has made more of an effort to help inexperienced riders find those people, too. The association pairs newcomers with mentors who will ride at their pace, allowing them to get acclimated to a group ride setting without having to be fearful of getting left behind.

Jason Ochoada, the president of the central Indiana group, said connecting with more casual riders has become one of his top priorities.

“We did have a lot of people showing up, getting intimidated, riding to the first turn, turning around and getting back in their car,” Ochoada said. “And we want to end that.”

He adds that while the number of people who race competitively has dropped in recent years following the exposure of Lance Armstrong and the rampant doping within the sport, there has been a steady rise in the number of recreational riders.

Former athletes such as Catlin and Rito, who were looking for an low-impact fitness alternative after injuries, account for much of the growth. Cycling, they said, has allowed them to remain fit without as much wear and tear.

“The joints just take a beating when you run,” Rito said. “The pounding on your hips, your ankles, your knees, that’s just a beating that’s hard to overcome. Whereas even when you’re pushing it really hard (on a bicycle) and you’re moving the joints, you don’t have the compression, you don’t have the pounding.”

While such benefits are obvious, several perceived barriers keep some from jumping into cycling. The organization is trying to convince people that those barriers aren’t nearly as daunting as they might seem.

Catlin believes that safety is one concern of prospective cyclists, but he notes that riding in a pack can help reduce the risks.

“Group rides are a lot safer because you’re on a known road. You’re with other riders; you’re very, very visible, so it’s a great way to start.”

Another sticking point, of course, is money. Some avid riders will spend well upwards of $10,000 on a bicycle — but Rito notes that several riders in the local groups keep pace riding off-the-rack bikes which can be had for less than $1,000.

“It becomes more efficient and easier if you have a lighter or more expertly tuned bike, but it’s certainly not a necessity,” Rito said.

“That’s not free,” Catlin added, “but that’s what people pay for cable, and cable doesn’t make you healthy.”

For those who look past the barriers and jump in, there’s usually no turning back. Not only does the activity become addictive — Rito said he starts to get antsy if work or weather prevent him from riding for a couple of days — but the social aspect is underrated as well.

The rides go at a reasonable enough pace that people can carry on conversations while still getting a decent workout, and the members of the group have developed some of their closest friendships with one another.

Now, they’re looking for even more friends.

“If (people) just show up and come out and ride with us,” Rito said, “they’ll realize that a lot of those misconceptions are errors. It’s a lot more fun and a lot more straightforward, and a lot easier, than a lot of people give it credit for.”

If you go

There are a pair of group rides each week in Johnson County, both starting from Gray Goat Sports (25 E. Court St., Franklin):

Thursdays, 6 p.m.

Saturdays, 8 a.m.

Both rides are free for anyone who wishes to take part.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.