Hilton Head Monthly: Ron Knight, Cycling Legend

Here’s a story that appeared in June 2014 edition of Hilton Head Monthly.

Here’s the link to the story.

Here’s the text …

Knight Rider

Cycling a true passion for island resident

By Tim Wood

Ron Knight has always worked better with a goal in front of him. It just took him 47 years to figure out that he’d rather accomplish those goals on a bike.

Thirty years and 35,000 bike miles later, the founder of the Kickin’ Asphalt Bicycle Club is still pedaling and still tackling goals riders a half century younger wouldn’t dare take on.

He tackled the 104-mile Assault on Mount Mitchell and Marion on May 19, trying to become the oldest rider to even finish the grueling trek.

“I did this once when I was 71 and I asked around and found out that the oldest person that had ever done it was 78,” Knight said. “I told them, ‘OK, I’ll see you in seven years.’ And here I am.”

The Assault starts in Spartanburg and is a bearable 76-mile ride to Marion. That’s when the real fun begins. Riders traverse rolling hills then start a steep ascent for 28 miles to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

“It’s about 6,700-feet elevation, but when you factor in the downhill portions of the climb, it’s about 10,000 feet of climbing,” said Knight.

Numbers on the page don’t do justice to just how grueling the Assault can be, the toll it can take on the body. So why does Knight feel so compelled to put his septuagenarian body through this?

“I guess because I’m crazy,” he said with a laugh. “You know, I’m not a fanatical bike guy, I just love staying active. I think it will enable me to live longer, but I know for sure it makes me feel more alive while I’m living.”

This passion was acquired, not genetic. Knight was a salesman for IBM in Ohio and raised four kids before the bug bit him.

“One of my customers had just done the Iron Man in Hawaii,” Knight said. “I was really intrigued by his excitement. He talked me into challenging myself, got me to try it and I absolutely loved it.”

The next year he tackled a marathon, a feat he calls one of the three toughest things he’s done in his life.

That led to Knight taking part in international distance triathlons (1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 10K-run). He’s completed 80 overall, none more satisfying than one he did with family.

“My grandson Gabe and I tackled a triathlon in Chicago. I was 70, he was 12 or 13,” he said. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life, getting to share that with him.”

He’s done plenty of endurance treks that have prepped him for the Assault. Right before moving to Hilton Head 13 years ago, Knight did an LA-to-Boston ride with his former wife.

“What an unbelievable way to see the country. The red mountains in New Mexico and Arizona, riding in the rain … what a trip,” he said. “I dipped my rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean in Manhattan Beach to start. We rode for seven weeks with five total days off. We averaged 83 miles a day. Then I got to dip my front wheel in the Atlantic at Revere Beach outside Boston. My ass felt like hamburger when we got there, but boy was it worth it.”

When he first got here, there was no bike club on the island, so Knight rode with the Coastal Bicycle Touring Club in Savannah at first. He quickly got tired of the back-and-forth to Georgia and quickly found a group wanting to start a group here.

Thus, the Kickin’ Asphalt Bicycle Club was born in 2007. “You know, I tried to pick up golf and do as the Romans do, but it just wasn’t for me,” he said. “So I started looking for other nuts like me and pretty soon, we had 40 people.”

The club started with monthly Lowcountry rides, quickly evolved into weekly rides and stands at 188 members today. Knight and his crew have tried hard to establish rides for all classes of riders, from the most expert to the beginners – or as Knight lovingly calls them, “the Draggin’ Asphalters.”

“We’re a very social club, we don’t do advocacy. Frank Babel and his crew have done a marvelous job with that and we play well off each other,” he said. “We do unique rides all over the Southeast. We have a summer picnic and a holiday party, so outside of the riding, it’s a great place to make friends.”

It’s where he met his triathlon mates, Bob Bredin and Brian Cossachi. Together, they make up Team Viva Viagra.

They do the Beach Bum Triathlon together each year and tackled the Assault together seven years ago.

“They’re my bucket list crew. We meet every Monday for lunch to solve the world’s problems and dream up the next trip. We went tubing in the North Carolina mountains. And we did the Warrior Dash near Charlotte together,” he said. “It’s a 5K full of obstacles, a 12-foot rope wall, running over fire and sloshing through mudpits. That was fun but tough at age 75.”

Knight is on his own this time in the Assault. He finished it in 11 hours and 33 minutes last time but has had two left hip replacements since then. He must complete it in 12 hours to qualify as an official finisher.

He spent extra time training in the mountains this time and even bought a new Trek Domane bike for the journey, retiring his 16-year-old bike.

“I strongly believe I can do it, but I’ve already met my goals here,” he said. “The oldest to finish thing, that’s just a badge. I’ve lost 15 pounds and really challenged myself, so whether I hit the 12 hours or not, I’ve gained a lot.”

And this is far from the finish line. Knight already has a hike planned for June with Team Viva Viagra.

Then the club will tackle a weeklong ride in Germany along the Moselle River in the fall – a follow-up to a weeklong Austria ride along the Danube two years ago.

Knight knows there’s plenty of people that might call him obsessed with riding. He prefers to see it as a means to adventure. He has plenty else in his life – he just finished renovating his kitchen and he’s prepping for another fall of Ohio State football at Mangiamo’s with the Buckeyes Alumni Club.

“I love life and I love to live it to the fullest. I feel great and I want to get every ounce out of this life,” he said. “Hey, I can be a couch potato. And I know the obsessed ones. For me, this is a passion. I love home improvement, the Buckeyes and chasing women. This is just the thing that gets my juices flowing the most.”

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