With his 80th birthday in his rear view mirror, local cyclist Don Smith decided recently he wanted to do at least one more ride to Fort Erie and back.
A cycling enthusiast for most of his adult life, he continues to ride regularly through town and further, going out at least three times a week, with many of those trips about 25 miles. Other days he does short trips through Niagara-on-the Lake, the town where he grew up, and that has given him many good memories.
On July 16, a cloudy day with no humidity, he decided it was the right time for a long bike ride, and set out along the Niagara River Parkway toward Fort Erie. “I just woke up and felt good enough to do it,” he says.
When he returned, he had completed the 124-kilometre trip in five hours and 43 minutes cycling time, plus three short breaks — 15 minutes for coffee at Tim Hortons in Chippewa, lunch in Fort Erie at Burger King, and on the way home, and another 15 minutes at a Niagara Parks Commission rest stop for a short break, and to refill his water bottles.
“I felt great on the return leg, and made good time. My body felt good, with no stiffness except a sore right shoulder which was cleared up by the next day.”
Smith says he had a hip replacement in 2016, “which was no trouble at all. I hardly know it’s there.”
It was his third round-trip ride to Fort Erie, the first two accomplished when he was 78 and 79.
Smith’s been riding for 45 years, has made many long trips, including to Windsor and Toronto, and has great memories of the rides and the people he met along the way. He’s also cycled to the Finger Lakes, through Letchworth Park and back home, he says.
He has completed two Hairshirt rides, from Toronto to Niagara and back to Toronto, called a double century because it’s a 200-mile ride. He did that in 1981 and 1985. He participated in the Canada Classic Rally, in Paris, Ont., in 1983 and 1984. And he won’t ever forget the one-day event through Halton Hills — he refers to it as the Halton Hilly — but he has forgotten the year he did it. “That was a good ride. It was maybe 20 years ago, and I loved it.”
Smith explains his interest in cycling began when he was riding to work at C&C Yachts with a friend. He also worked at the Pillar and Post part-time, repairing the fleet of bikes they kept for those staying at the hotel.
He was enjoying cycling to work so much he decided to join the St. Catharines Cycling Club, and when he started riding with more experienced cyclists, he became more serious about the sport.
When C&C Yachts closed, he needed to find a way to support his growing family, and built a workshop for himself behind his Lakeshore Road home. He did a bit of home renovation work, and then, with five kids all needing bicycles, and his own interest in cycling, he decided his next career would be The Bike Shop, which he operated for 35 years, finally deciding to close up shop and retire in 2015. His wife Joan helped him, taking phone calls, and looking after customers when he wasn’t home.
When he wasn’t at the shop, he was likely spending time with his kids, and then grandkids.
In addition to supporting his family, his bike shop, along with his riding, has allowed him to meet many interesting people, he says.
His first was a Canadian Tire Medalis,t which he rode to work at C&C. Next came a Peugeot, when he was riding with the St. Catharines Cycling Club. When he started the bike shop he got a new Colnago, which he used for 35 years. It’s hanging on his bedroom wall, he says. The bike he uses now is a Trek Domain 6, carbon fibre, 17 pounds. “Man, what a machine, like a sports car,” he says. With 22 gears, equipped with strobe lights front and back, he uses is mirror on his helmet, so he doesn’t have to turn to look behind him. He says he needed something to make it easier to get up and down hills, especially the one to Queenston Heights, and this bike does that for him.
On the way home, he stops in to visit with his brother Jim, known around town for being a local historian, and a collector of old photos. Not surprising, as boys who grew up in the family home on Regent Street, Jim and Don both have watched history unfold around them.
“We do a lot of reminiscing, going back over the old days in town,” says Don.
“There are only a few of us still living in NOTL from those days. We go over the names of people we remember, most of them not here anymore, and we sit around solving all the town problems. It blows my mind how much the town has changed. The subdivisions, the infilling, it’s overwhelming. I guess I’m old-fashioned. I was brought up in a small town, so different from today. I loved that town. Jim would say, ‘you could shoot a cannon down main street and not hit anybody.’”
Smith will ride as long as he’s able, and at the moment, he’s in good enough health that he hopes that’s a long time. “I woke up this morning, and felt terrific. Cycling is a wonderful sport. I wouldn’t be in the health I am if I didn’t ride,” he says.
“In the winter I ride on a turbo trainer, all computerized. You can ride with a group of cyclists if you want to. The technology today is amazing.”
But any day he can get out on his bike is a good day. “I always have fun. It’s a blessing to me. The best thing I ever did was start that bike shop, and this is where it led me. I’ve met so many people along the way, so many wonderful people.”