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ORIGINAL SPIN: The Bike Dojo takes beginners and veterans alike on cycling adventures with the promise that no one will be left behind.

Enter the Dojo

Bike master Rob Mylls teaches beginners the art of the cycle

Photos and story by Curtis Cartier

ROB MYLLS is a stocky, wisecracking 42-year-old who is most often found behind a set of carbon fiber handlebars. Last July, after his boss at Hewlett-Packard said goodbye with a handshake and a pink slip, Mylls decided to skip the job hunt to chase a dream. The result is the Bike Dojo, "A Cycling Community." And for anyone who joins, Mylls and his partner Delfina Gimeno promise a year-round ticket to gorgeous scenery, better fitness and maybe even some new friends.

"What we try and do is create a community that people can join that teaches them the right way to ride and the best places to do it," says Mylls. "We offer accountability, a lot of know-how and a great group of people that will get you into cycling."

Mylls has spent the better part of 33 years competing in bike races and triathlons. Built like a cross between an Olympic squat lifter and a teddy bear, his tree-trunk legs say "die-hard cyclist," while his upper body physique and gregarious personality say "awesome drinking buddy." Eventually Mylls wants to open a downtown storefront with stationary bikes and a place to meet before rides. But for now, his cluttered Santa Cruz garage—packed with colorful road bikes, cruisers, BMXs, tandems and track bikes, along with barrels of seats, pedals, sprockets, spokes, helmets and race jerseys—is the Dojo's nerve center.

"Basically, I love cycling, I think everyone should cycle, but there is a learning curve, and people want to learn it quickly," says Mylls. "That's where we come in."

For $67 per month ($55 for students), plus $30 extra if you want to use one of Mylls' top-of-the-line road bikes, Dojo acolytes get unlimited rides and a full-time cyclist to teach them proper form and humiliate them when they miss a workout. Part fitness training regimen, part social club, Mylls' operation caters to everyone from seasoned cycling veterans to basic fitness seekers.

So where does a relatively athletic but notoriously lazy reporter fit in? I entered the Dojo to find the answer.

Man vs. Seat

Joining the Dojo took some internal pep-talking on my part—mainly because I bike, I don't cycle. The sweatless, one-mile-smile I spend biking to work most days bears little relation to the quad-pumping, taint-bruising cycling done by folks looking for a proper means of exercise. So as I arrive at Santa Cruz News Cafe on Mission Street on the brisk winter morning of my first ride, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that, despite some scattered spandex, the crew of cyclists looks more ragtag than hardcore.

"I only had a stationary bike, and even if I had had a bike I wouldn't have known where to ride it," says Cassandra Christine, a lithe-looking redhead sucking down coffee before the ride. "Then I met Rob and Delfina, and they taught me all the best places to go. Now I always have someone to go with and someone to check up on me and make sure I ride."Jose Maldonado, a chatty 29-year-old from Oaxaca, came to cycling for the practicality of it but stayed for the competitive satisfaction. "When I got laid off from my job in Las Vegas I gave up my car and moved back to Santa Cruz," says the ever-smiling Maldonado, who rides, rain or shine, to his jobs at Stagnaro Brothers and Toadal Fitness. "I was saving up for a car, but I loved riding bikes so much that I spent the money on a new race bike instead. Now I ride with Rob and Delfina all the time to train. My goal someday is to do an Iron Man."

Having cavalierly ignored Mylls' advice that I bring a pair of padded bike shorts, I ride "bareback" with the group of about 10 cyclists from Mission Street to Santa Cruz Harbor along West Cliff and East Cliff and through several side routes back to our starting point. Hours later, the error of my equipment choice is made clear to me, and I spend the weekend hobbling around like a Texas gunslinger.

On my second ride with the Dojo, I correct my rookie trouser mistake and armor the Cartier jewels in a pair of padded bike shorts from The Spokesman Bicycles. Upping the difficulty in light of my upgrade, we take advantage of the gorgeous January weather and ride up Highway 9 to Felton. As stunning as the twists and turns are, however, I admit they would look that much more attractive with a quaint little bicycle lane tacked on to either side of the asphalt. But safety notwithstanding, the 15-mile ride proves both challenging and enjoyable, with sunlight-flecked redwoods whizzing by amid the calls of passing birds and the shouts of passing drivers flipping birds. Conversation rarely ceases around Mylls and Co., with the preferred formula being ruthless but good-humored ridicule mixed in with movie quotes and the occasional hip-hop rendition of '80s hits.

By the time we reach the bottom (after a photo-op-turned-two-bike-pileup that leaves Mylls and friend Jennifer Nebo with bumps and bruises to both their elbows and their egos) we are 15 miles stronger and about 2.4 cheeseburgers lighter.

Bike vs. Gym

Later, while eating a Sausage McMuffin to replace the calories I burned, I begin thinking about folks who aren't necessarily into cycling but rather just looking to get fit. Eric Hand is a clinical exercise physiologist with Dominican Hospital's Center for Lifestyle Management. He works with people of all ages, some of them diabetic or obese and in desperate medical need of better fitness. According to him, there are few better methods of burning calories than jumping on a bicycle.

"From a cardiovascular perspective, cycling is great for the heart and lungs. It's a good way to increase the overall fitness level and is also great for weight loss," he says. "The key to losing weight is expending more energy than you put into your body. And cycling is especially good because you can accumulate your time while you commute to the store or to work or whatever. It comes down to what's convenient and what works, and for a lot of people, cycling is both convenient and enjoyable."

The data backs up Hand's claims. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports lists vigorous cycling as burning 612 calories per hour. That's more than basketball, football, aerobic dancing, tennis and even swimming. And as my jellolike shoulders attest since the Felton ride, it's not just the legs that get worked riding a road bike. Leaning forward and steering works the upper body, too.

So what did I learn during my brief schooling in Mylls' Dojo? I suppose it's that bike riding isn't for everyone. There will always be those who prefer toiling, hamsterlike, on a stationary machine in the dank warrens of a gym. But there are also those who would rather tone the ticker while watching the waves of Monterey Bay splash against West Cliff Drive. For them, cycling is the way to go, and the Bike Dojo is a great means to get there.

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