Fort Mill Times

An 'Epic' ride

Holden Hammontree, 12, recently completed a 110-mile bicycle ride with his father, Scott, below.
Holden Hammontree, 12, recently completed a 110-mile bicycle ride with his father, Scott, below.

LAKE WYLIE -- Holden Hammontree can't drive yet, but at this rate he'll be able to go just about anywhere he wants.

Hammontree, 12, recently completed a 110-mile bicycle ride only two months after first venturing out of his neighborhood. The River Hills rider and sixth-grader at Crowders Creek Middle School started his two-wheeled touring in December.

"I started around Christmas," Hammontree said. "I started doing open road rides outside of my neighborhood about February. I'm definitely hoping to be able to do this for a long time."

Hammontree's father, Scott, is an avid rider with Gaston County Cyclists who introduced his son to the sport. The pair began with 20-mile rides in River Hills and worked up to 30- and 40-mile trips. Scott taught Holden basics such as sitting in, keeping his nose out of the wind, drafting, riding in a group and road safety.

"Being 12 years old, he doesn't understand traffic laws, how traffic works," Scott Hammontree said.

Yet during the April 18 Cycle North Carolina event in Washington, N.C, Holden demonstrated skills his father never taught him -- uncanny endurance and mental toughness. Sandwiched between a 60-mile ride Friday and a 20-mile "recovery ride" Sunday, the Hammontrees pedaled 110 miles during the Saturday main event.

How impressive is the 110-mile ride, finished in seven hours and 15 minutes?

D. Vercota, a personal trainer at Sportscenter Athletic Club in Lake Wylie, said calculating total work done or calories burned in the roughly 15 mph ride is almost impossible, depending on terrain, breaks, body weight and a host of other factors. Yet for comparison, Sportscenter holds regular cycling classes which end -- even with experienced spinners -- after an hour.

"I'd say that's a pretty big feat for someone to accomplish," Vercota said of Hammontree's ride. "It's outstanding for a 12-year-old."

Most people riding into the 110-mile or seven-hour ranges do so either to raise money for charities or to compete at the "Lance Armstrong level," Vercota said. Either, she added, could be a future option for Hammontree.

"I'd say he's on his way," she said. "The kid's got spunk. That's something that will stay with him for a long time."

For non-riders, pedaling 100 miles or more at a time seems pretty impressive, based on Holden's reactions at school and around the neighborhood. Among experienced cyclists, he finds a different response.

"They can hardly believe it," Holden said.

Naturally, expert cyclists know more of what goes into endurance runs than most people, including how to keep a front tire locked into the back tire of a drafting partner or that most wrecks occur between bikes and other bikes, not bikes and cars. Or, the Hammontrees say, how drafting behind a partner -- similar to cars drafting on a racetrack -- can cut down the work load by 25 percent, which Holden admits is a much bigger help than it sounds.

"I like riding with my dad in front," he said. "I let him break all the wind. Usually the bigger the guy, the more air he breaks."

Draft or no draft, though, 110 miles is a long way for most anyone to ride a bicycle, let alone a middle schooler with little experience. The "epic" ride also offered a few challenges, such as no rest stops for a 27-mile stretch toward the end.

"When you're on a long ride, seven or eight hours at a time, you can get kind of nervous," Holden said. "You're rear aches, your leg kind of hurts, you're eating a lot."

Yet Holden has no intention of stopping. His sister Claire just turned 10, and the big brother hopes she might take a liking to the family pastime. Holden also hopes to begin entering races in his age group, but may have to race with older riders depending on the competition he can find.

His father doesn't know if cycling will be a lifelong pursuit for his son, but enjoys the notion that it could be.

"People ride into their 60s and 70s," Scott Hammontree said. "There's not much better aerobic exercise than riding a bike."

For now, though, Holden plans to keep riding for the satisfaction it brings him, regardless of how many people understand the extraordinary nature of his feat.

"My favorite part?" he said. "Just being able to do something that not a lot of people your age are able to complete."