CLEARWATER — On Monday morning, Ken Magyar heard the call of the road.
Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue S to be exact. It was the first leg of the day's journey.
The 88-year-old wasn't going to answer it on any motorized scooter.
He climbed on his Cannondale bike he calls the "Silver Fox'' for a 283-mile cruise from Clearwater to Fanning Springs as part of the six-day Bike Florida 2008 Gulf Coast Trail Link Tour with more than 650 fellow bicyclists.
The retiree from Sebring — the grand marshal of this year's event — has a T-shirt that says "Ride Now, Act Old Later.'' He wore a neon yellow vest, silver Nike shoes, spandex black bike shorts and a blue helmet with a rear-view mirror.
Ask him to roll up his pants past his tan line and he'll show off his tattoos. On one well-toned thigh are the words "Share the Road.'' The other says "Florida Freewheelers.''
His eyesight used to give him problems, but after having his cataracts removed three years ago, he can safely finish the six-day event.
Bike Florida was created in 1978 by Linda Crider, the group's executive director, and writer Herb Hiller. Their goal was to encourage vehicles and cyclists to share the roads peacefully.
Fifteen years ago, the annual Bike Florida tour was created.
Crider said the fundraiser promotes bicycle safety and raises awareness of the health benefits of the sport. And of course it's also eco-friendly.
"It's our carbon offset approach,'' she said with a laugh.
This is the first year the majority of the route — 60 percent — will take riders on bicycle trails, including the Pinellas Trail.
Riders came from all over the United States and Canada to participate, setting up a tent city outside of Ross Norton Park and Sports Complex.
One of them was Joyce Bricker, 52, who was wearing a pink lei and riding a Fuji bike. She was happy to be in Florida, even though the sprinklers went on at midnight and soaked her tent.
When she left her hometown of Stratford, Iowa, there was
5 inches of snow on the ground.
She said Stratford has a population of about 900. There are only two cyclists in town, her and "Bikin' Bob'' who could not make the trip.
She works in the maintenance department of Iowa State University. She trains by parking her car off campus and pedaling a mountain bike to her office in 28 degrees below zero temperatures.
A decade ago, she broke her wrist in a biking accident. She pointed to a long, thin scar on her lower arm. Under the skin is a steel plate.
"There are nine screws holding it on,'' she said.
But the injury never stopped her from participating in the sport she loves. After speaking with a reporter, she headed toward Honeymoon Island with fellow biker Otis Conway, 68, of Detroit. He said he hoped it wasn't going to be too windy on the Dunedin Causeway.
"I was getting sandblasted yesterday,'' he said.
Chandler Otis, 53, president of Bike Florida's board of directors and staff mechanic, laughed when he heard the remark.
"No one gripes about hills,'' he said. "They gripe about the wind.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.