On any long bike ride, cyclists tend to feel each other out.
Who’s hurting on the climb?
Who can’t keep pace on the flats?
Who is going to complain loudest at the foot of the next hill?
When Doug Newberg of Santa Rosa leads a regular group ride on Friday mornings, he tries to assess how strong his riding companions are feeling just before they tackle a steep climb. Over the years, he has come to expect a raised eyebrow from the same guy at the foot of any substantial climb. Then, almost like clockwork, 88-year-old Geoffrey Newton, the owner of that bemused glare, will start turning the pedals a little faster and charge up the hill.
“I’ll say, ‘We’re going up this hill’ and he’ll look at me. But now he’s got it in his blood,” Newberg, 74, said. “He’ll still look at me, though.”
“Physically, he’s unbelievable,” he said of his riding mate.
“We have been on rides and somehow we kind of throw out our ages,” Newberg recalled. “We say, ‘Guess how old that guy is?’ When we tell them his age they just kind of fall off their chair.”
“He’s a pure exception for his age,” Newberg said.
Steve Strain, another member of the loose knit riding group that gathers under the moniker “Freewheeling Fridays,” said Newton isn’t afraid to jaw a little with his friends.
“He loves giving what he calls us ‘youngsters’ a bad time when he goes up ahead,” Strain, 73, said.
Newton figures he puts about 150 miles a week on his carbon fiber Trek Madone, a sleek machine lovingly secured in the garage of the Oakmont home he shares with is wife of nearly 25 years, Barbara.
“He does 150 miles a week,” Barbara Newton said. “I get tired in a car doing that.”
It seems that Geoffrey Newton has had the word “go” in his blood since he was a boy growing up outside Canterbury, England.
All three Newton boys, Geoffrey’s older brother as well as a fraternal twin, joined the British army during World War II. Geoffrey Newton was 17 when he was sent to Burma as a paratrooper. He was training in India when a friend and fellow paratrooper sitting next to him at a restaurant slumped over dead. Newton, who described police officers turning away at the sight, said his friend was stabbed by a man upset over British rule in India.
After his discharge from the army, Newton moved to Canada and later New Zealand — always working as an electrician and always keeping fit.
When he moved to the U.S. in the early 1960s, Newton ran, lifted weights and eventually discovered mountain biking while living in Mill Valley. He brought that love north when he moved to Santa Rosa in the early 1990s. He can rattle off Annadel State Park’s trail names but said he had to give up dirt for pavement when he decided “the rocks were getting bigger.”
“I’m an active guy,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”
Barbara Newton said she knew what she was getting into where she married the ultra-active Geoffrey almost a quarter of a century ago.
“I would never ask him to stop,” she said. “I know he’s cautious.”